For a short period of time, even some of the more knowledgable fans and media in and around the boxing world bought into the idea that Julio Cesar Chavez Jr had improved, that he was better than he had been when he was considered a running joke (and obvious cash cow), and that he had the potential to break through into the sport's higher ranks.
But I ask you, dear #boxingfriends, would any potentially great fighter really need two fights against Bryan Vera to prove he's an actual top fighter?
With all due respect to the double-tough and always-entertaining Texan Vera, the answer is no.
Chavez, who recently turned 28, set a new personal low for conditioning for that fight, as the agreed-upon weight limit bounced from 165 to 168, and then finally, to 173 pounds. Chavez didn't look good even with the added pounds to comfort his cut, and was outworked and out-fought by Vera over 10 rounds, or so we thought.
Instead, the judges in California apparently saw Chavez winning rather handily on scores of 98-92, 97-93, and 96-94. Of 59 media members whose scores were tallied by Bobby Hunter, 53 had the fight for Vera. Six had a draw. Nobody scored the fight for Chavez. To call it a controversy is, in reality, a gross understatement. It was highway robbery of a gutsy fighter who deserved the break, another prize handed to a fighter whose greatest achievement in the sport came when his parents named him.
Chavez (47-1-1, 32 KO) has been in this position before, actually. In July 2008, he beat tough but limited Matt Vanda via 10-round decision in Mexico, a split nod that included one hilarious 100-90 shutout card in his favor courtesy judge Francisco Mouret, who has no fights worked after that listed on his BoxRec page. Vanda had been very competitive in the fight, with a good argument for a hard-fought win, but the favored son of the WBC got his hand raised anyway. To Chavez's credit -- which isn't saying he deserves a ton of it -- he rematched Vanda and beat him more convincingly four months later.
So this is a familiar situation for Julio, and if he's in better shape this time around (with a 168-pound limit he hasn't negotiated up), there's every good reason to believe he will beat Vera (23-7, 14 KO) convincingly this time around. Vera, for as plucky and fun to watch as he is, is like Vanda a limited fighter, perhaps a bit better, but not so much that, quite frankly, Chavez should be having a life-and-death struggle with him. Chavez is naturally bigger and stronger and has been afforded better training over his career. The thing to remember about Chavez, I think, and what says the most about him, is it's not so much that he's been handed a lot of his success, but that he's also been given every opportunity to be a great fighter if it's anywhere in his soul. He's had top trainers, top conditioning coaches, access to the best equipment and best preparation possible.
For all those advantages, though, Chavez has simply never turned the corner for real, and the fact is, it's because he's just not good enough, even more than he can't seem to consistently dedicate himself to the level of a genuine world class fighter. He's a very basic fighter in terms of skills, with no standout attributes aside, perhaps, from the fact that he takes a punch extremely well. In a perfect world, Chavez would be a true fan favorite, a battler who puts on good fights and can be counted on to show up and give it a good go. At his best, he's an entertaining fighter with a lot of will and determination. Once the bell rings, he's a very tough guy with a lot of good attributes. But what happens before and after, instead of between the bells, has never quite been there.
He's been propped up as a star, and on some level, he is, simply because his father is a real legend. But the top-shelf talent just isn't there. As the years have gone by, chances to break through into the top ranks have come and gone. He was long protected as he learned his trade without an amateur career of any note, which was fair enough. And boxing being a business and all that, it has been smart to coddle him as much as possible, because his name alone is box office.
Now, though, the world has seen him at his best and at his worst. Before HBO caved and let him onto their airwaves in 2011 after Bob Arum pulled a switcheroo and took Manny Pacquiao to Showtime for a one-off event co-starring Shane Mosley (a move that could have decimated the Showtime brand's credibility had it been even a fraction worse than it was), Chavez was brushed aside by the real boxing world. He existed in a marshmallow fluff dream world where he was a rising star, a true prospect. Paying $29.95 for one of Chavez's "Latin Fury" pay-per-views was the equivalent of paying hard-earned money for a Mel Stottlemyre Jr rookie card in 1990.
But once HBO, the WBC, and Top Rank basically conspired to lift the WBC middleweight title from Sergio Martinez and place it on Chavez -- who was barely able to handle the thoroughly mediocre Sebastian Zbik to win the ridiculously vacant belt -- they had legitimized him. "He's gotten a lot better," many of us said. He had not. He had only been gifted a star trainer in Freddie Roach, one who eventually came to loathe working with the spoiled youngster, and we were told, "Hey, Freddie's made him so much better. Look what he did to John Duddy!"
That Chavez did to Duddy what Walid Smichet had already was no evidence of improvement, it turned out. Duddy was a fighter who resembled what Chavez really is -- tough, determined, popular, and no better than your average fringe contender, with a low upside. Further instances of the long con came when Chavez beat up on Peter Manfredo Jr and Andy Lee, the former a fighter everyone knew was a middling competitor, the latter a mirage created mostly by Emanuel Steward selling him as something he was not. (Lee, it should be noted, had been exposed by Vera himself years earlier.)
To date, what is the best win on Chavez's relevant record, from the time he began regularly fighting in 10- and 12-round bouts? Duddy? Manfredo? Zbik? Lee? Billy Lyell? There's a pattern here. It's not that there's nothing to like about Chavez's fighting style, and there's even good reason to consider him a sort of cult fan favorite, because he's a goofy character who takes a good three-quarter step back every time he takes a fake step forward. After all these years, now in what should be his prime, Chavez still does not have a win over an actual top contender. The one time he's fought a universally regarded elite-level foe, he was embarrassed for 11 rounds by Sergio Martinez, and that was a fight where a junior middleweight fighting as a middleweight smacked around a light heavyweight boiling himself down to middleweight. Chavez could have won that fight on sheer power and pressure, but he didn't have it in him until the 12th round, when an overly confident Martinez got into a firefight with a suddenly-awake Chavez, who damn near finished the deed, threatening to steal what would have been a career-defining victory from the jaws of rather humiliating defeat.
In hindsight, of course, it wouldn't have really mattered. Chavez failed a post-fight drug test and the result probably would have been overturned, anyway, even though it wasn't for a performance-enhancing drug (it was marijuana, in case you forgot or you're new to the sport). So even if Chavez had managed to steal that win, he ultimately wouldn't have gotten it. Three-quarter step back for every fake step forward.
Chavez should win on Saturday night. Bryan Vera is a hardcore fight fan's sort of fighter, a maximum effort guy who works hard, fears nothing and nobody, and won't take a step back. Even if he gets forcibly knocked back, he usually smiles, nods, and moves right back in his natural direction, straight at the opponent.
Vera, 32, isn't a big puncher. He's not quick, he doesn't have any defense, he's not a good technician, he's not crafty. There are no tricks to Bryan Vera (23-7, 14 KO). He's a fighter more than he's a boxer, which is why those who have seen him often tend to like him. It's not hard to pick out his flaws, but it's very hard to not respect what he does, and the way he goes about his business. Vera should probably be here, but he should be here because Chavez is desperate to get a win back and save his career, not because Chavez was so bad that he has to defend his honor after a ludicrous bit of judging that ranked up there with the worst decisions of the year. Vera should have had a career-best win. All in all, he gets the same result, but if he loses this fight for real, the sad thing is that his shoulda-been win will be all but forgotten, as Chavez will go on to some bigger fight he doesn't deserve, and Vera will wait for the next call to come.
It would be right to expect that Vera will need to stop Chavez to win on Saturday night. It's a 12-round fight this time, but given that it's Chavez, who is the A-side draw and has the power promoter, and the fight is in Texas, where the commission excels in absurdity, Vera will probably have the same lack of hope to win on the scorecards as he did last time. He would have to truly dominate Chavez to get a decision, one suspects, and that's unlikely. Chavez will look like he's hitting harder, as the HBO crew salivated over in the first fight. And you have to expect Chavez to be in better shape and more able to keep pace with Vera this time, too.
It's tough to see a chance for Bryan Vera to get his hand raised, unless he shocks pretty much everyone and stops Chavez inside the distance. And the most likely way for that to happen is probably Chavez being really out of shape and having to quit at some point, his spirit finally totally giving out on him during a fight, which would be a first.
Expect the expected this weekend as HBO gets back into the swing of things. Chavez's hand will be raised, whether it should be or not.