Finally, Real Improvement Shown by Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

After thinking about Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.'s victory over John Duddy last night for a few hours, I've come to the (totally sober) conclusion that I actually do think a bit more of Chavez now than I did prior to last night.

I don't back off on saying that beating Duddy is nothing to get excited about. It isn't. Billy Lyell did it. But for the first time in a long time, the young Chavez showed genuine signs of improvement, and that's very important.

Chavez had been stuck in a pattern in recent fights. He was unimpressive against Troy Rowland, just as he had been against Luciano Leonel Cuello and Matt Vanda. It seemed like he had plateaued at a very young age. Remember, Chavez is only 24. When a fighter his age stops getting better, it's never a good sign.

Last night, working his first pro fight under the tutelage of Freddie Roach, Chavez finally looked better. Surely part of that is a credit to Roach; there may be a better trainer or two in somebody's opinion out there today, but Roach is clearly at the very elite level. The work he's done with Manny Pacquiao has been nothing short of sensational, and he's made Amir Khan a better fighter, too. Taking on a project like Chavez was a risky move. Chavez is pretty damn high-profile given his accomplishments (by which I mean the lack thereof), and if Chavez had been the same fighter under Roach's guidance, Freddie probably would have taken some knocks.

But Chavez wasn't the same fighter. In the first half of the bout, it was mostly John Duddy doing the pressuring. Chavez was landing better from range, but when they got close, Duddy seemed to have the upper hand, and that's probably what you would have expected going in.

As the fight wore on, something changed. Chavez found a second gear I'd never seen from him before, and by the key stages of the fight (the ninth through eleventh rounds, specifically), he did a number on Duddy. Sure, Junior still got hit some, because John Duddy isn't the kind of guy to not throw back, but he had snap on his punches, didn't tire out, didn't get lazy, didn't seem complacent at all. If Chavez were a better finisher, I think there were times he might have been able to get Duddy into some serious trouble, but that could also come with time.

Look, Duddy's just Duddy. He is what he is. But even given his limitations and, frankly, his mediocrity, he's still the best scalp on Junior's sheet. If you watched the Troy Rowland fight, or the Cuello fight, or the first Vanda fight, Duddy might have looked like a great bet even from a realistic, knowing who John Duddy is sort of standpoint. Chavez, simply put, had never impressed me. Last night, he did. He took John Duddy apart at the crucial junction of the fight, at a point when I had it even. Duddy had been very competitive and generally right there with Junior through the first eight rounds, save for a couple of clear Chavez rounds. But then Julio turned up the heat, and proved he's a better fighter than Duddy.

He also looked stronger than he did in November, and by a longshot. That could be thanks to Alex Ariza, the strength and conditioning coach he also shares with Pacquiao and Khan. Chavez has always been tall for his weight classes, until he got up to 154, where he was just kind of tall. At 160, his six-foot frame isn't particularly big anymore, but he looked a lot sharper and had way more on his punches than he did against Rowland. It's enough to make me believe his failed drug test after the Rowland fight for the diuretic wasn't a masking thing, but rather that Chavez simply needed it to cut weight. He was weak in that fight, which he was not last night.

If Chavez can continue to improve, there's no reason he can't have a fine career. He will not be his father. Few fighters in history have been that sort of guy, and to expect Junior to be an equivalent to his dad is unfair. Last night was the first time I truly believed he might be more than a guy with a name, though. I can't say I'm sure that he'll be more than that, because there's still work to be done and better scalps than Duddy's that would need taking for Chavez to be considered a legitimate threat at 160.

But it was all a big step in the right direction last night. A world class team seems to have brought out the best in Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

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