Ever since Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. decided to follow in his legendary father’s footsteps and become a professional boxer, he was well aware of the shoes he would have to fill. The likelihood of another legend being a fruit shaken from the family tree is slim to none. You’ll have a better shot hitting the lottery, twice. Despite the insurmountable pressure of being the son of a legend, Chavez Jr. has amassed a record of 46-0-1 (32 KOs) and currently holds the WBC middleweight championship. He’s come a long way from the skinny kid who looked nothing like his father in the ring when he debuted in 2003 at the tender age of 17. However, there are many who feel that he has been a beneficiary of careful matchmaking because of his name rather than earning his own keep. But on September 15, Chavez Jr. will finally have the opportunity to silence the naysayers when he faces The Ring middleweight titleholder Sergio Martinez (49-2-2, 28 KOs).
“I can’t help that people say (negative things) about me,” the 26-year-old says when asked the exhausting question about living in the shadow of his father. “He is my dad, but little by little I have proven myself in the ring. You can’t take that away from me – my victories and my championship. I have my own story now. They can say whatever they want but I have proven myself and it hasn’t been easy.”
His opponent on Saturday night would like to debate the fact that it hasn’t been easy for Chavez. The Argentinean, who boxing pundits place as high as number three on the pound- for-pound list, is incensed by the kid gloves that he believes Chavez has been handled with. An intense HBO Face Off session found the usually cool demeanor of Martinez dissolve into a fit of trash talking and knockout promises. Perhaps trying to get into his head as Martinez is 11 years Chavez’s senior, Martinez’s threats have only fallen on deaf ears. “I know he has a big mouth, and on September 15th I am going to shut him up once and for all,” he says with a hint of laughter. “He’s just a big clown.”
Under the tutelage of hall-of-fame trainer Freddie Roach, the younger Chavez is being instilled with the knowledge and game plan that has helped the likes of Manny Pacquiao become one of the top fighters in the sport. Even he laughs off Martinez’s uncharacteristic rants.
“I think he’s trying to motivate himself and he’s a little bit scared,” Roach says. “We’ll see what happens on the night of the fight.” Martinez and Chavez have vastly different portfolios which, at one time, had people believing that Chavez would provide little resistance for Martinez to walk over. While Martinez spent the last three years facing former champions in tough fights, Chavez fought decidedly lesser competition as many, including Martinez, believe that his promoters were merely padding his record and wanted no part of the recognized world middleweight champion.
“I always wanted to fight him,” Chavez, Jr. answers when asked if he has ducked Martinez. For Chavez, it was more about preparation rather than being scared to lose. “When I won the title (against Sebastian Zbik in 2011)I knew I was going to have to fight him and I wanted to fight him. The people want to see it and I want to give the people the best fights in boxing.” Top Rank Promotions president Bob Arum echoes those sentiments. “One of the reasons (they haven’t fought) was Chavez was learning his trade and now he’s a lot better prepared,” Arum says. “We could have taken a chance with him and Martínez about a year ago. The problem would have been it would not have been nearly as big a fight.”
Arum’s probably right. Over the past year, Chavez has become a bigger star as his granite chin, savage body punching and all action tempo have drawn comparisons to his father — who was 57-0 when he was his son’s age. His stellar stoppage of Andy Lee in June set the stage for an epic showdown featuring a slick boxer taking on a smothering mauler.
But how will Chavez deal with Martinez’s speed?
“We’re going to break him down with body punches and make him fight every minute of every round,” Roach says. Well aware that Martinez is one of the most athletically gifted boxers in the sport, Roach suggests that Chavez’s size as a huge middleweight, coupled with constant pressure will be the key to victory.
It’s no secret that this is, by far, the biggest fight of the Culiacan boxer’s career. He’s on the brink of superstardom as his fellow countrymen will surely be glued to their television screens to see if Chavez is a chip off the old block while the sold out Thomas & Mack Arena in Las Vegas will be decidedly behind Junior. A victory will catapult him into becoming the sport’s next biggest cash cow not named Mayweather or Pacquiao. As for a loss? It would severely fracture his image and prove that the skeptics knew what they were talking about. A loss in boxing is difficult to come back from, but for Chavez the blow that he would be dealt could be devastating to his career.
“I don’t like to lose,” Chavez says flatly. “I’m fighting the best in the division and I want to prove that I am the best. This is the most important fight of my life.”