THE ENIGMATIC JCC JR. — There have been two Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.’s over the course of his professional boxing career. Let’s refer to them here as Chavez the Decent and Chavez the Aloof. Neither fighter is all that great, but neither is middling either.
Chavez is a fierce competitor. He’s a large-framed, strong-willed, hereditarily advantaged predator who does not possess his Hall of Fame father’s immense fighting repertoire, the one that made the elder a lightweight machine capable of precise destructive force augmented by relentless vigor, or at least Chavez the Decent doesn’t in the way Senior’s form-perfect ferocity was equal parts fervor and precise mechanics.
But at his very best, Chavez the Decent is an above average professional who fights less like an heir to a Mexican fortune and more like a poverty stricken, mean-spirited bully who throws hard hooks to the head and body until his most-always-undersized-by-design opponents are beaten into submission or concussed into unconsciousness.
It’s fun to watch.
Where the elder Chavez was the embodiment of weaponized artistry, a truly remarkable representation of what Pierce Egan meant when he called men otherwise known as bombastic butchers sweet scientists instead. Junior’s career is the hallmark of a talented but otherwise just barely above average bourgeois tradesman. In short, Chavez Jr. may only be the local butcher born into the trade because of his father, but man that kid can cut a steak when he wants to do it.
As much malcontent the “Son of a Legend” has been accused of over the years, and though at minimum a very large percentage of it was downright warranted, the 31-year-old from Culiacan, Mexico at the very least deserves proper credit for making a name for himself in boxing beyond the Chavez family legacy.
Not only do boxing fans know Chavez Jr. for what he has done, rather than only for dad’s exploits, but he’s been such an intriguing personality that he’s inspired hordes of people who would otherwise not usually care to see him fight flock to see what he does whenever he laces up the gloves.
Indeed, some of these people plainly hate Chavez Jr. for no other reason than him not being his father, but there’s something more here at play, too. After all, Chavez Jr. is one of the more well-known fighters in the same sport his younger brother, Omar Chavez, plies in relative obscurity.
Maybe it’s the second piece of what embodies the two Chavez Jr.’s that draws us to him. Chavez the Aloof seems to revel in what he is, while at the same time not caring in the least. He frequently walks around media roundtables and the like as if he were a crown prince among paupers, royalty among peasants. To be fair to him, at least in boxing circles, he sort of is. For if Senior is one of boxing’s great kings, what else could we call his son?
Chavez Jr. excels at being—well…Chavez Jr. He doesn’t play the part as if it were simply some role handed down to him by forces outside his control. Chavez Jr., if anything, just acts like himself no matter what his family, fans, friends or enemies have to say about the matter.
In a way, he should be equally commended for that as he is for being a pretty decent fighter fighting out from under his father’s immense shadow.
He gets in public spats with his father. He rolls his eyes at comments and questions he doesn’t want to answer or address. He walks up to and engages whomever he wishes whenever he wishes and walks away from people just as quickly.
Because Chavez the Aloof, the one who also isn’t really all that great a fighter and sometimes shows up to fights disinterested in being there, is…in fact…disinterested in whatever he wants to be disinterested in.
He doesn’t care; or at least doesn’t seem to care about his place in the world. One might assume the immense material wealth surrounding him gives him the luxury, one not afforded almost every other successful fighter in our sport.
But that isn’t his fault, and he doesn’t live as if he should be held accountable for forces outside his control.
Regardless, both Chavez Jr.’s, Chavez the Decent and Chavez the Aloof, can straight-up fight. It’s not pretty. It’s not perfect. It’s not something you’d show young fighters as something to emulate. But for a guy who people thought would end up being the less accomplished of his father’s fighting sons, Chavez Jr. has accomplished things most other professionals, including Omar, never attain.
Chavez Jr. is one of boxing’s power figures, and he’s earned it.
While it’s true, no matter what promotional press releases might say, that Chavez Jr. wasn’t the true middleweight champion of the world, somewhere between the hardline stance of “only lineal championship banners really matter” and “all title belts are created equal” is the fundamental reality—recognized or not by the various interested parties—that capturing any of the four alphabet belts recognized as legitimate is a truly praiseworthy accomplishment.
And Chavez Jr.’s thrashing at the hands of then lineal middleweight king Sergio Martinez, in that single attempt to wangle the middleweight championship away from one of the better middleweight titleholders of recent years, showed the kid wasn’t just a product of good genes and clever matchmaking.
When the chips were down, as they were late in a fight in which he was beaten to the punch almost every minute of every round, no matter which Chavez Jr. had prepared for the fight, the Decent or the Aloof — perhaps both — the fighter who came out in Round 12 was the truest indication of what kind of man Chavez Jr. is truly right down to his soul.
Because no matter how hopelessly outclassed he was by the faster, better fighter that night, Chavez Jr. almost pulled the upset by fighting the ever-rising, always more brutal and more bloody tide by clobbering Martinez in the final round. Most fighters aren’t standing there in Round 12 to throw that punch, much less actually land the thing.
Had Martinez not been Martinez, in fact, Chavez Jr. probably would have become the lineal champion. A lesser fighter — perhaps anyone who isn’t elite and first-ballot Hall of Fame-worthy like the proud Argentinian — would have stayed right down there on that canvas.
Still, one wonders if Canelo-Chavez Jr. will play out even more brutally than that fight. Canelo is one of boxing’s top stars. He’s young, strong, fast and in his prime years. He’s an elite combination puncher, and he’s tested himself against the very best junior middleweight fighters in the world. No matter what all the so-called experts have to say on the matter, Alvarez could truly end up being the man to defeat middleweight monster Gennady Golovkin.
And where age-wise Martinez was a champion on the verge of falling off the cliff at the time Chavez Jr. faced him, Alvarez is still a man headed toward that scenic championship peak fighters dream about, with the looks of someone scheduled to stay up top to enjoy a nice long view from the precipice.
Chavez Jr. has done a lot of dumb things. For example, he foolishly parted ways with Top Rank Promotions and their cadre of matchmaking wizards, and has appeared middling ever since.
His primary asset as a middleweight-ish fighter, after all, was always his freakishly large size in comparison to the competition. His move up to light heavyweight solidified the claim that girth and will were his greatest attributes—not artistry and skill.
So the only real question about his May 6 battle against Alvarez is whether or not he’s simply big enough physically to combat the obvious disadvantage he’ll be facing skill-wise. And we likely won’t know the answer to that until late in the fight.
What we do know is what is sure to make Canelo-Chavez Jr. a truly special event. We know against Canelo, Chavez Jr. will return to the playground he once ruled and seek to reinstate his reign there as schoolyard bully. Canelo will be the faster, better fighter, to be sure, but Chavez Jr. is a huge fighter with an iron chin and a natural inclination toward bullying—a decent, larger fighter who could pull the upset by virtue of will and girth alone.
No matter which Chavez Jr. is training for the fight, which one heads to the ring adorned in red, white and green—once the bell rings on May 6, with as good a fighter as Canelo standing in the other corner and boxing’s full attention on perhaps the premier fight weekend of the year, fans are in for a real show.
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