Chavez vs Vera preview: No guarantees as Mexican star returns to the ring

Jeff Bottari

What kind of shape will Julio Cesar Chavez Jr be in as he returns to the ring on Saturday night in Los Angeles? Bryan Vera may have more of a shot than meets the eye.

It's been a year and two weeks since we last saw Julio Cesar Chavez Jr in a boxing ring, and as the popular (or perhaps just famous) son of a legend prepares to get back into the squared circle against journeyman tough guy Bryan Vera, there are serious concerns about Chavez's physical and mental preparation for this bout.

Chavez (46-1-1, 32 KO) lost 11 rounds in a flaccid effort against Sergio Martinez last September before a crazy 12th round rally that saw him nearly snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, flooring the Argentinean but finding himself unable to put the finishing touches on his biggest career fight to date. That performance was hardly encouraging, and when Chavez failed his post-fight drug test for marijuana, he was eventually fined and suspended for nine months by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

Chavez could have returned in June, and indeed that was originally the plan. Bryan Vera was slated to be the opponent. Vera (23-6, 14 KO) has long been known as a limited but very durable and game fighter, usually booked as a professional opponent for guys thought to be on the rise. He has burst that bubble before, when he beat Andy Lee in 2008 despite a first round knockdown. Since then, Vera has gone 7-5, generally losing to his better opponents, but scoring a pair of debated wins over Sergio Mora, and an emphatic victory over Serhiy Dzinziruk.

When the date was pushed from June, it was originally thought to be coming in August. Then it was September 7. And then it was September 28. Chavez parted ways with trainer Freddie Roach, perhaps because Roach had insisted to the press that if he showed up to another training camp with Chavez and the fighter wasn't giving 100%, he would bail on the professional relationship. Maybe Chavez thought there was no sense in working with Roach again, given the inevitable dissolution of the partnership and the ensuing media ruckus it would cause.

Julio has been through a lot of press fire since his last fight. Roach spoke out about his lack of focus and effort costing him the fight with Martinez. WBC boss Jose Sulaiman, long a friend and title gifter, as well as Junior's godfather, said that Junior had a gambling problem and other issues. There was even a brief split with Chavez and his legendary father. Sulaiman and Chavez Sr eventually were brought back into the fold, as it were, but Roach was not. Freddie says he found out that he wouldn't be the trainer anymore via the internet, but Freddie says lots of things like that, often it seems more for a good story than anything else. Either way, he's out.

Roach was given far too much credit for supposed improvements in Chavez's game, anyway. That's no knock on the work Freddie did or tried to do with the fighter, more a reflection on the effect that HBO spots and HBO hype can have in making boxing fans assume someone is better than they are. When you look back on the run Chavez and Roach had together, what really stands out? Wins over John Duddy, Billy Lyell, Sebastian Zbik, Peter Manfredo Jr, Marco Antonio Rubio, and Andy Lee? There's not a legitimate world title contender among that list, and Chavez had plenty of trouble with the thoroughly average Zbik and Rubio.

Were these wins really better than what Chavez had achieved before? Sure, and the fact that HBO finally caved to pressure to televise the legacy hype job helped a lot, too. But Chavez never truly proved himself an elite middleweight, and when he met someone with real skills and ability, he was hopelessly overmatched by Martinez, with only a roaring 12th round serving as some sort of saving grace for a performance that exposed him as the lazy, spoiled myth that boxing fans had rightly dismissed him as being for many years.

Along with the date moving back for this fight, so has the weight limit increased steadily. Originally, it was thought that Chavez and Vera would fight at a catchweight of 165 pounds, over middleweight but not all the way to super middleweight. Then, it was moved up to 168, coincidentally after Chavez was seen on Mexican TV looking rather plump at his brother Omar's fight. Just this week, not long after Vera stated he didn't think Chavez would make weight, the limit was bumped a full five pounds, to a 173-pound catchweight.

This is a light heavyweight fight. Chavez started his career 10 years ago as a super featherweight. Vera is a true middleweight who can stretch himself and fight at super middleweight if he needs to do so.

But despite the fact that Vera will be giving up some size, he shouldn't be totally counted out of this fight. Size matters, but we all know it's not everything. What is Chavez's conditioning going to be? This fight is only set for 10 rounds, but is he in shape for a tough 10? Because Vera's not a guy that gives you breathing room if he can help it.

Chavez, 27, appears hell-bent on sluggishly forcing his way out of relevance. Even if he wins this fight, and even if he does so impressive, what kind of future can we really project on him at this point? He's still young, but he's probably maxed out in terms of his ability. Roach probably made him as good a fighter as he's going to be, which made him above average at middleweight, while also owing some credit to the fact that he would rehydrate a ton before the actual fight was in the ring. If he's no longer massively larger than his opponents, how much can he really do at 168 or perhaps even 175 long-term?

Vera should be good enough to give him a bit of a test, maybe even a short-term eye opener where Chavez decides after the fight that he definitely needs to get back into peak shape; that outlook likely wouldn't last more than a month. Vera also isn't expected to be good enough to actually win the fight, and Julio will be the house fighter with the power promoter behind him. It seems most likely that Chavez will grind out a 10-round decision in this fight, but this is a fight that was originally signed to be something of a soft touch. That may not be the case anymore, and if it's not, Chavez can only blame Chavez.

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