Sunday, February 3, 2008

A Chip Off The Old Block?

On Saturday night, doe-eyed Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. will once again be cranking up the left hook that looks a lot like dear old Dad's.

For 'Junior' it will be his second straight fight as a pay-per-view headliner and another opportunity for him to continue building his resume as he looks to make his own name.

Chavez will face Jose Celaya on a card that will take place in Mexico. With an obvious eye toward the future, 2008 could be Chavez' breakout year where he fights for one of the many titles available in boxing.

"There's a lot of nostalgia for the old man, and the kid's caught he people's attention," Top Rank promoter Bob Arum says. "So there's a lot of interest."

It's Arum, of course, and his crack promotional team at Top Rank that has worked to build the 21 year-old Chavez into a bankable commodity. But, more importantly, they have allowed the youngster to hone his skills and actually learn the craft that is boxing.

Incredibly, Chavez, Jr. had no amateur fights and he turned pro at the tender age of 17. As a result, he has been matched very carefully and his career has been a series of baby steps. Over the past 4 1/2 years he's fought his way to an impressive looking welterweight record of 34-0-1(27)KO's, which has led to top 10 rankings by two of the alphabet sanctioning cartels.

The younger Chavez is beginning to attract quite a bit of attention, and not only because of his famous name and bloodlines.

Many, however, still perceive the young Chavez to be a poor man's version of his heroic father who won titles in three weight divisions and is widely regarded as perhaps the greatest Mexican fighter that has ever lived. Chavez, Sr. fought and beat the best of a generation of prizefighters, won over 100 professional fights, and his left hook to the body is one of the most storied punches in boxing history.

The young Chavez is looked at by the skeptics as simply another in a long line of sons that will never be as good as their famous fathers. Over the past several years there have been efforts by Roberto Duran, Jr., Hector Camacho, Jr. and Aaron Pryor, Jr., among others, to make their own way in the fight game but none of them have met with the type of success their fathers enjoyed nor did they win a world title. Cory Spinks, son of Leon, has fared the best, but his success has been fleeting. Out of any of the sons that have followed their famous fathers into the ring, it's Chavez, Jr. that really shows the most promise and dedication.

"There's lots of pressure because of my name and because of who I am, but the expectations have been there the whole time," explains the boyish looking Chavez, who still doesn't look like he needs to put a razor to his pink cheeks. "People expect me to be great every time out. I just try to do my best."

When 'Junior' fights, it's his father, older and heavier now, who can be seen leading his son into the ring and nervously sitting at ringside as he battles against grown men several years older than him. But his father has also helped in his son's development and schooled him on how to fire the famous Mexican left hook.

Their bond goes much farther than the boxing ring and the father credits the son with helping him to turn his life around. After his own career ended in 2005, Chavez, Sr. struggled to find his life's purpose and ward off creditors. He ultimately found himself struggling to put down liquor bottles and there were even some reports that he was using illegal drugs. When his son's career began to take off and get notice, the elder Chavez cleaned up his act and stepped in with a steady hand to aid his son's journey.

When 'Senior' is asked for his thoughts on his son, he is guarded with his answers and he has never really talked at length about what he thinks. He tried to discourage 'Junior' from becoming a fighter but once he saw that he was serious and had legitimate skills, he relented.

Chavez, Sr. had a career that spanned 25 years and the lines of 115 professional fights are etched deeply in to the crevices of his 45 year-old face. When he speaks about his son, it's with a profound sense of wisdom, as his eyes have seen all that boxing will ever offer.

The son knows that he can always turn to the warm embrace of his famous father for guidance and wisdom.

About 'Junior's' capabilities he simply states: "He's inherited everything I had and I'm very happy about the boxing career of my son. He's very serious about his career and he's always 100 percent prepared."

The father doesn't train his son, but he is there to offer him advice and tips. "Mentally, having my father there is very important," Chavez, Jr. says. "He's not up in the ring with me, but he's there to cheer me on."

The father is very close and ever watchful and that was never more evident than the June night in 2007 inside Madison Square Garden in the heart of New York City when the son was matched against a 32 year-old journeyman from Omaha, Nebraska named Grover Wiley. The match-up wouldn't have been notable, except in Chavez, Sr.'s swan song, he lost in five rounds to Wiley. It was billed as a revenge match where the son would right the wrongs that Wiley had dared inflict on the old man. Wiley failed to last three rounds against 'Junior' as he simply couldn't stop the left hook from landing.

Wiley was decked three times and he absorbed a frightful beating to the body. Even though Wiley knew the hook was inevitably coming his way he was powerless to stop it and he was eventually reduced to laying on the ropes in a defensive posture as the young Chavez teed off on him. A bloodied and thoroughly battered Wiley had to be rescued by the referee.

"I was done after that first liver shot in the first round," muttered an exasperated Wiley afterwards. "He must have hit me there twenty times."

Grover Wiley, who faced both father and son, went down to the hands of defeat against 'Junior' in June 2007 at Madison Square Garden.

If Chavez, Jr. makes it by Celaya on Saturday night, it's any body's guess as to what might be next for him. There were rumors last year that he was going to face Arturo Gatti, but Gatti lost in brutal fashion to "The Contender" star Alfonso Gomez and immediately announced his retirement. Then there was talk that a match was in the works with Gomez, but that fight was scuttled by Arum after Chavez proved to be a pay per view prodigy when his last fight against Ray Sanchez III garnered over 70,000 buys. Chavez' name was also bantered about by one boxing Web-site as a potential opponent for the come-backing Oscar De La Hoya.

Whatever the case, big things are on the horizon and Chavez, Jr. is proving that he can fight. He's also progressing up through the ranks in a steady fashion, like a sure-footed pack mule traversing the Grand Canyon.

So when will Chavez make his move toward the big names?

"The improvement I've seen in him has been amazing," says a glowing Bob Arum. "But he's still a baby."

February 2008