Monday November 21st, 2011

HOUSTON -- The public perception is that no one from Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.'s camp wants to see Chavez against Sergio Martinez. Chavez, the thinking goes, is too raw, too flawed to match up with Martinez, the lineal middleweight champion who is regarded as one of the top three fighters in the world. Chavez's people will shield him, I've heard countless times, they will match him up against lesser opponents because Chavez is a potential cash cow in the making.

On Saturday, shortly after Chavez defended his alphabet title in an impressive fifth-round knockout of Peter Manfredo, Chavez's trainer, Freddie Roach, vehemently refuted that idea.

"I want Martinez right now," Roach said. "[Chavez] will kick his ass right now, in my opinion. I don't think [Martinez] is that good a fighter. Sergio is a great athlete, I'll give him that. But I don't think he is a great fighter. Anyone that gets knocked out by [Antonio] Margarito ... I don't see the greatness. Take away his athleticism, and he is not a great boxer."

If Roach and Chavez really want Martinez, it's an easy fight to make. Upon hearing Roach's comments, Martinez's promoter, the easily combustible Lou DiBella, promptly offered to make Martinez-Chavez a winner-take-all fight and said he would put his house up against Roach's. The greater point, however, is that in the eyes of Roach, Chavez, who has no amateur background, is reaching the point where a Martinez fight should be on his radar.

"The progress has been coming in the gym [and it's] been great," Roach said. "Sometimes in the ring he gets in that defensive mode where that is all he does, but once he gets more comfortable, more natural at it he will be much more effective. He's not really countering the attacks right now. He's waiting for them to finish a combination, then counter. I'd like to see him counter a little quicker.

"Everyone told me he is lazy, he was just doing this to impress you. I don't give a f--- as long as he keeps impressing me. He's one of the hardest workers there is out there. I give him a lot of credit for that. Whatever I have asked him to do, he has does. He was embarrassed by the [Sebastian] Zbik fight. He wanted to change, and he did. He sees very well. He sees an opening and he attacks with his punches."

While Chavez-Martinez still seems unlikely -- Chavez's promoter, Bob Arum, who has one of the loudest voices in the decision, told me Chavez was one or two fights away from being ready to challenge Martinez -- there are other appealing options. Andy Lee, a popular and rising middleweight, is a possibility. As is the all-Mexican showdown between Chavez and junior middleweight titleholder Saul Alvarez.

Chavez-Alvarez is more enticing to Chavez's handlers. The matchup would do big business in Mexico (or a U.S. city with a strong Mexican fan base) and would net each fighter a career-best payday. The problem will be making a deal. Alvarez is represented by Golden Boy, a promotional company Arum is reluctant to do business with. More importantly, Alvarez, a 154-pounder, is insisting on a catch weight for the fight. His promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, says Alvarez would fight Chavez at 156 pounds. Arum said he would not go lower than 158.

Roach says he doesn't want any catchweight for the fight.

"Chavez is the middleweight champion," Roach said. "If [Alvarez] wants to the title, come up and get it."

Whoever Chavez fights, it will be in a bigger show than many thought. Love him or hate him, Chavez proved a lot against Manfredo. He cut down a solid veteran and he closed the show in impressive style. At 25, Chavez is getting better, stronger and more well conditioned with each fight.

He will never measure up to his father, the estimable Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. He will likely never be inducted into the Hall of Fame, either. But those are two lofty criteria. What Chavez has shown is that he has the talent to be a solid titleholder with an entertaining style and a burgeoning fan base to boot. Measure him against the accomplishments of his father, and Chavez Jr. comes up short. Measure him against many of his peers, and there is little doubt he is on the same level.

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