Popular Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. has potential he must embrace

Thursday September 26th, 2013

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. has shown potential in his career only matched by instances of immaturity.
Julie Jacobson/AP

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is a popular fighter. This much we know. The son of Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez -- just in case the name didn't give it away -- Junior turned pro in 2003, at 17, and instantly inherited a large chunk of his father's fans, many of whom wistfully wondered if the baby-faced boy could fill the void Dad left behind. 

And he has. Sort of. After tanking a few Top Rank pay-per-views -- Latin Fury! -- Chavez has emerged as a ratings monster. Last year, Chavez fought in two of the three most-viewed cable fights against opponents (Marco Antonio Rubio, Andy Lee) even the most ardent boxing fan wouldn't be able to spot in a crowd. That same year, Chavez's fight against Sergio Martinez generated 475,000 pay-per-view buys and $25 million in revenue, whopping numbers for a pair of non-English speaking non-Americans whom most non-blog trolling fans had never heard of. 

It's easy to see why HBO loves him. It's harder to see why he doesn't seem to care. 

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Chavez is immature. We knew it last September, when HBO's 24/7 cameras zoomed in on Chavez's trainer, Freddie Roach, seething in the gym, waiting for a fighter who would never show.  We knew it in October, when Chavez was hit with an absurd $900,000 fine -- later reduced to $100K -- for testing positive for marijuana before the Martinez fight. 

We know it now, too. Just days before Chavez's scheduled return to the ring against Bryan Vera, there is no official weight limit for the fight. Having already ate his way out of 160 pounds, Chavez was scheduled to face Vera at 168. But on Wednesday, with it abundantly clear that Chavez isn't likely to make 168, Top Rank announced that the official weight for the fight would be determined....at the weigh in. 

This, it should be noted, is after the fight was delayed three weeks because of a cut Chavez suffered in training. 

Welcome to the wild world of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., where boxing is a hobby, one he doesn't seem particularly interested in. Think the embarrassment of testing positive for a banned substance would wake him up? Nah. Think the promise of headlining high-profile, big-money super middleweight fights against Andre Ward, Carl Froch or Sergey Kovalev would light a fire under him? Guess not.

"It is very difficult when a young man starts at the age that he did," said Chavez's promoter, Bob Arum. "He had a completely different body than the body that he has now. Now he has matured and he is a big, big kid. There are light heavyweights that look smaller than he does.  We have to question ourselves whether he stayed at 160 too long, even though he was able to make the weight, because I really believe that if you struggle to make weight that you deplete yourself and you can't give as good a performance than if you fight at a more natural weight."

But what is Chavez's natural weight? With a year off and a three-week cushion, Chavez likely won't make a weight eight pounds heavier than he usually trains for.  At 27, Chavez should be entering the prime of his career. Instead, he is adrift, capable of beating the Rubios, the Lees and probably the Veras, but nowhere near equipped to take on anyone better. 

Think back to the Martinez fight. It's a running joke in boxing that getting knocked down in the 12th round was the best thing that could have happened to Martinez, that the flash of vulnerability opened the door to a rematch -- and another monster payday. But it was the best thing to happen to Chavez, too. For 11 rounds, Martinez boxed circles around Chavez, carving up his face, delivering a beating so bad that Roach repeatedly warned Chavez that he was prepared to throw in the towel. Dropping Martinez splashed a fresh scent on an awful performance, like a thick air freshener in a Porta Potty. 

Chavez can have any opponent he wants because every opponent knows the pile of cash that comes with him. He says he wants a title shot at 168-pounds, and Ward, Froch and Kovalev would pack up and fly to Mexico to give it to him. His union with his father, who will work his corner on Saturday night (HBO, 10:15 pm), will only ratchet up his popularity among Mexican fans and glue more eyeballs to their televisions. 

But until he takes his career seriously, he will continue to be little more than attraction. Until he makes a commitment, he will be just a kid cashing in on his father's name.

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