Assessing Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
We have no idea whether Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. will be a world champion one day. His level of opposition has been so weak that gauging his progress is almost impossible.
But that Chavez magic was certainly in the air at the Don Haskins Center Saturday in El Paso.
Junior dismantled overmatched opponent Jermaine White, stopping him on a fourth-round TKO when White said "no mas" after being dropped by a left hook. It was a nice performance by the 20-year-old son of the former three-time world champion Chavez Sr., the man generally considered the greatest Mexican boxer in history. Junior systematically broke White down with body shots before moving upstairs and rocking him to the head.
It was an efficient, workmanlike performance by Junior, who raised his record to 27-0-1 (21 knockouts).
And, despite the fact that Chavez Jr.'s career is still very much in its infancy, the atmosphere was electric.
The crowd sang along to the Mexican national anthem (which was, very inappropriately, played after the American anthem). There was a charge through the arena when the Chavez entourage – decked out in the familiar shiny, red headbands – entered the ring. And when the ring announcer introduced the star (Julio Cesar Chaaaaveeezzz Junior!), the crowd erupted –prompting neck hairs everywhere to pop out like swords.
You'd have thought it was 1990 in Las Vegas, with Chavez Jr. squaring off with Meldrick Taylor. It was like Culiacan North.
And, to his credit, Chavez Jr. delivered under perhaps the most pressure-packed outing of his life. White was probably the most accomplished of his victims (which isn't saying much), and had a good record going in. Combine that with the controversy of the day before – Chavez came in a pound over the 147-pound weight limit initially before getting it right the second time – and the fact that he was headlining his first pay-per-view show, and there is no question that Junior possesses his father's steel-like nerves.
Now, whether he can fight at the world-class level is another story.
It's plainly obvious that Chavez is well-schooled and grew up on boxing. His technique is perfect. He is patient. He gets the proper amount of leverage on his punches – especially his body punches – just like dad did. His blows are meaningful, and Junior doesn't waste a breath with wild shots.
He also has the demeanor of a fighter.
However, it also seems like his game plan is often misguided – especially for a fighter who stands 5-foot-11.
Rather than jabbing and moving, as most American fighters are taught to do when they possess height and reach advantages over opponents, Chavez Jr. fights like his father, who was much more squat at 5-foot-6. He likes to get inside and throw the standard Mexican left to the liver, and the short, compact punches to the head that made his dad famous.
Which isn't all bad. Chavez Jr. has been very effective so far.
But, as he moves up in class, two things will become obvious. Junior doesn't have dad's punching power, and he gets hit more than Senior ever did. Probably because, being so tall, it takes much longer for him to get out of the way of punches. Chavez Sr. could simply dip this way or that, because he wasn't as big of a target.
The bottom line is that Chavez Jr. has talent. There is no question. But how to harness it could pose problems.
Would he dare leave Mexico to train with an American trainer, such as a Freddie Roach or an Emanuel Steward? Hey, Steward knows a thing or two about tall, lanky welterweights.
Besides, Chavez Sr. himself recruited Steward back in 1994, when he was preparing for the Frankie Randall rematch.
On the other hand, it's way too early to know anything for sure. Who knows? Maybe Junior will grow into a middleweight monster, complete with punching power and physical strength. After all, he's just 20 (he actually looks more like 15). And his body is still growing.
After experiencing problems making 147 pounds, Chavez Sr. cracked that his son eats too much.
Whatever the case, it will be an interesting ride watching Chavez Jr. grow into a world-class practitioner. He is doing a lot of on-the-job training, as his father did when he was moving through the ranks in the early 1980s. By the time Senior challenged for his first world title in 1984, he had already amassed some 50 pro fights.
That's an old-school mentality that Junior obviously has adopted. Whether that will be enough to make him a world champ remains to be seen.
(Matthew Aguilar may be reached at email@example.com)