Julio Cesar Chavez Jr's pro boxing career hasn't always been easy, and has been filled with criticism. That he was famous only because of his father. That he was gifted decisions at various points in his career to maintain an undefeated record. That he wasn't beating opponents of real substance. That he was lazy, arrogant, entitled, and enabled.
He's struggled with his weight. He's failed two drug tests, one for a banned diuretic, another for marijuana. He got a DUI while in training camp for a fight a few years back. He's had curious injuries that cropped up at seemingly opportune times, including once reportedly injuring his hand on a ceiling fan.
Chavez, now 29, may be at a make or break sort of point in his career, too. Though Showtime's All Access describes in detail his rocky relationship with his father, who had many of his own troubles over the years, and his own various issues, Chavez (48-1-1, 32 KO) is still seen as something of a troublesome fighter. Talented, tough, and strong, but with flaws that many don't expect to go away any time soon, seen as being woven into the fabric of his being.
For one thing, Chavez is now fighting as a light heavyweight, a decision made from necessity more than anything. Ahead of a 2013 fight with Bryan Vera, Chavez had major struggles with his weight, renegotiating the max in the contract, and eventually having to move the fight from June to September. A middleweight by trade, the max weight for the fight wound up being 173 pounds. He struggled that night, escaping with another controversial decision victory, questionable enough that a rematch was forced despite the fact that Vera was supposed to be nothing more than a tune-up opponent after Chavez's 2012 loss to Sergio Martinez, the fight for which he tested positive for marijuana and was fined and suspended.
In March 2014, Chavez fought Vera again, this time performing better at 168 pounds, and winning a deserved 12-round decision. He then entered into a drawn-out dispute with Top Rank, the company that had for years promoted him and helped to make him one of the sport's most profitable cash cows, and didn't fight again for the rest of the year.
Eventually, the dust settled on that, and Chavez was free from Top Rank. Now with powerful adviser Al Haymon, the second generation star looks to get his career back on track this Saturday night against Andrzej Fonfara, a tough, blue collar type boxer originally from Poland, and now fighting out of Chicago.
Fonfara, 27, is not a star. The general perception of him could probably be accurately described as a bigger, better version of Vera, another workmanlike fighter who can take a good punch, fights hard, and ultimately ought to lose fights at this level.
But the "bigger" part could give Chavez some trouble. Fonfara (26-3, 15 KO) held his own with the division's lineal champion Adonis Stevenson in 2014, losing a hard-fought decision in Montreal before returning late in the year with a win at home in Chicago against Doudou Ngumbu. After a not particularly promising 10-2 start to his career, Fonfara has gone 16-1, and though largely against mid-tier or worse opposition, he acquitted himself pretty nicely against Stevenson, an opponent expected to be above his level.
Chavez has largely relied on his impressive size and sometimes stunning overnight weight gains in his career as a middleweight, where he was a very big man. At 6'1", Chavez was taller than most of his opponents. He won't be taller than Fonfara, who is billed at 6'2½. On fight night against Rubio in 2012, Chavez was weighed at 181 pounds by HBO. Against Martinez seven months later, he declined being weighed, but it was estimated that he was around 185 pounds. For the first fight against Vera, he was at 186.
Fonfara is a lanky fighter, with a long neck and a billed 76-inch reach, three inches longer than that of Chavez. Even if Julio weighs more than Fonfara on fight night, and he probably will, Fonfara won't be as drastically outsized as many have been in the past, and the physical difference between Fonfara and Vera, a 5'11" middleweight blown up for both fights against Chavez, will be pretty drastic.
If Chavez can't overpower Fonfara, he could be in some trouble, particularly if he's had another of his infamously loose training camps. It's expected that he'll be in shape and serious for this bout, as it's his first on Showtime, his first with Haymon, and his first with new trainer Joe Goossen, who has history working with volatile fighters -- namely, the late Diego "Chico" Corrales, who had plenty of his own demons.
Fonfara's best bet may be to test the conditioning of Chavez from the outset, to see how in shape he really is after 13 months out of the ring, a trainer switch, and whatever else he's done in the last year, and to see if he can make Julio uncomfortable fighting someone truly his own size for the first time in a long time. Don't forget that when Chavez started out in 2003 as a 17-year-old fighter, he was a super featherweight for his debut, and a lightweight for another year before moving up to 140 (2004-05), 147 (2006), 154 (2007-09), and then 160 (2009-12). But Fonfara also started out much lighter, debuting as a welterweight in 2006. He's been a light heavyweight since 2010, however.
And even if Chavez is coming in at his best, he could still struggle, because the reality is, he's just never been all that good. There was some belief that he had improved his game under the tutelage of Freddie Roach, but it was really smoke and mirrors, like most of his career has been. On his very best days in the ring, Chavez is probably a B, and he hasn't always been at his very best. There have been nights where he was a C and still able to win, or a C and gifted victories. The one time he fought an A, he was thoroughly outclassed for 11 rounds by Sergio Martinez before finally doing something in the final round, which wound up being too little, too late.
Fonfara isn't an A, either. He is really a familiar level of opponent for Chavez, and as such, Chavez should be expected to win this fight. But it's not a gimme. Fonfara doesn't roll over for anyone, and this is a massive chance for him to score a signature win against an attraction fighter. Add in the fact that both Chavez and Fonfara are known to go offense ahead of defense, and you've got the makings of a sleeper fight here, one that has flown under the radar and will be overshadowed by the guaranteed war between Lucas Matthysse and Ruslan Provodnikov happening the same night.