Three world titles are up fro grabs in a Florida fight card on Saturday, but none will have the action and intrigue of Julio “The Kidd” Diaz’s attempt to wrest the IBF lightweight title from Jesus “El Matador” Chavez.
Chavez, 34, returns to the ring after a 16-month layoff following his double-edged victory over the late Leavander Johnson who died from injuries sustained in that fight. Now he faces Coachella’s Diaz in his first lightweight title defense at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, Florida.
This and two other bouts will be televised on Showtime.
What can you do when you’re Chavez, a fighter who’s suffered through several years of banishment to Mexico by the INS; a boxer who warred with a prime Erik Morales for 12 rounds despite suffering a torn rotator cuff to his right arm and knee damage; and a man who knows that his punches led to the death of an opponent?
It’s a paradoxical moment for the Texan.
“I do not know about it taking a toll or if it is going to hinder me in any way in the fight,” said Chavez (42-3, 29 KOs) during a telephone press conference. “I will not know until I am in the fight again.”
Over a year ago Chavez battled with fellow warrior Johnson, a man known for bravery inside and out of the ring. The two traded hellacious punches with Chavez slowly cranking up the punch output until referee Tony Weeks finally stopped the fight as Johnson withstood punch after punch. But it was too late.
For those who had followed Johnson’s career, he was a humble but valiant boxer who refused to quit. No fighter had a bigger heart.
Chavez was devastated by the news when Johnson died a few days after the fight. He flew to New Jersey to attend the funeral and was warmly taken in by the Johnson family. But often the knowledge that a fighter’s own fists led to a death of a fellow boxer leaves a thick but invisible scar.
“I know there are a lot of questions directed at me right now and most of them are whether I am physically and mentally going to be ready because of what happened,” Chavez said.
Those scars never seem to heal.
Years ago during the 1990s a muscular Mexican fighter named Cecilio Espino battered two opponents to death in Mexican boxing rings. Espino moved to California and returned to the ring and became a top flyweight prizefighter. But his fists nearly led to another death in the ring.
“I wonder if it was God saying I shouldn’t box anymore,” Espino said about the two fighters who died at his hands and nearly a third. “Sometimes I would look carefully at an opponent to see if I’m hurting him too much.”
Espino, a heavy-handed fighter at 112 pounds, worked his way to a match against world champion Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson. But before that one-sided affair, Espino seemed to taper off on his usual aggressive self. Against Johnson he didn’t have a chance. That warrior’s edge was no longer there.
Not all boxers respond the same. In Sugar Ray Robinson’s case following the ring death of Jimmy Doyle in 1947, when asked by a judge during a hearing if he knew he was hurting Doyle he responded with: “I’m in the hurting business.”
But Robinson later told boxing writer Peter Heller in the book In This Corner, “for a long time after that I could only fight hard enough to win.”
Will Chavez be able to give 100 percent effort into his punches?
“I think I am going to answer everybody’s questions on Feb. 3,” Chavez said.
Listening to the questions and answers during the telephone press conference Diaz was seemingly lost in the shuffle.
“I do not think this is an issue,” Diaz quickly offered. “I saw him (Chavez) get injured with Morales and that did not back him up at all. It did not affect him.”
Diaz says he admires Chavez as a person and as a great sportsman. But once inside the ropes and the bell rings there are no friends, just opponents.
“You have to be as mean as a dog,” Diaz said.
Other world title fights
Lanky left-handed Chad Dawson challenges WBC light heavyweight titleholder Tomasz Adamek of Poland in the main event.
Dawson is now trained by Floyd Mayweather who worked on his speed and defense for this world title fight. Dawson was formerly prepared by Dan Birmingham.
“Mayweather is working on my head movement and not staying in front of a fighter and moving,” said Dawson (23-0, 15 KOs), who prepared in Las Vegas for the fight. “I am throwing harder punches now.”
Both Dawson and Laila Ali were trained by Mayweather, who was invited to go to South Africa to be in her corner. He took Dawson’s fight that occurs on the same day instead.
“I don’t like to fly,” said Mayweather.
During preparations for Dawson’s fight, Mayweather continually worked on the light heavyweight’s speed and movement. Working the jab was a mainstay as Mayweather put Dawson through jab drills that emphasized quickness and accuracy.
He also worked on the body attack. In one drill, Dawson caught Mayweather with a left hand to the side similar to the punch Bernard Hopkins landed on Oscar De La Hoya. Down went Mayweather.
“Man, I hate left-handers. They do everything different,” said Mayweather. “Southpaws are hard to fight.”
They’re also more difficult to train.
Adamek feels lefties or righties are the same, even though the last southpaw he faced was three years ago.
“You will see who is better and you will see how good I am,” said Adamek (31-0, 21 KOs) who now lives in New Jersey.
In another world title fight, IBF junior middleweight titleholder Cory Spinks (35-3, 11 KOs) defends his title against San Diego’s feared Rodney Jones (37-3-1, 22 KOs).
Let’s hope it doesn’t turn into another punch and hold affair such as Spinks last fight against Roman Karmazin. In that match there was more holding than hitting.
Both Jones and Spinks are southpaws but the San Diego boxer is several inches taller. It’s his first world title chance since losing by close decision to South Africa’s Harry Simon back in 2000. He’s been avoided ever since.
Now 38, it may be Jones last stand.
Fights on television
Fri. ESPN2, 5 p.m., Dominick Guinn (27-4-1) vs. Zuri Lawrence (20-11-4).
Fri. Showtime, 11 p.m., Timothy Bradley (17-0) vs. Michael Clark (36-4).
Sat. Showtime, 9 p.m., Julio Diaz (33-3) vs. Jesus Chavez (42-3).
Chad Dawson (22-0) vs. Tomasz Adamek (31-0).
Cory Spinks (35-3) vs. Rodney Jones (37-3-1).