- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. will always carry the burden of his famous last name. His father, the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., is hailed as the greatest fighter in the history of boxing-mad Mexico, a country that has produced so many renowned champions.
Chavez Sr. won world titles in three weight divisions (junior lightweight, lightweight and junior welterweight), was considered the best fighter in the world pound-for-pound during a stretch in the early 1990s and amassed more than 100 victories during a 25-year career before finally retiring in 2005.
That is a sizable legacy to live up to for Chavez Jr. (33-0-1, 26 KOs), who fights in the shadow of his father every time he walks to the ring clad in the same type of red headband that his father always wore.
The 21-year-old junior middleweight seems to have a keen understanding of how important his name is to boxing fans, especially the Hispanic fans who have made him a popular attraction despite his limited experience.
"My father's shadow will never go away completely, but I believe that I have shown some people that I am a capable fighter and I now have some fans on my own because of the way I fight," Chavez Jr. said. "The expectations of greatness will always be there because of my name, but I knew that from the start and continue to live with it. But I also want to be the best that I can be, and slowly but surely I am coming along. This is one more step towards the goal of becoming my own man."
The "step" that young Chavez Jr. is talking about is his 10-round bout against hard-punching Ray Sanchez (20-1, 15 KOs), who has won 12 in a row since his only defeat in 2002. They'll meet Saturday in the main event of Top Rank's four-bout "Latin Fury" pay-per-view card (9 p.m. ET) at Tingley Coliseum in Albuquerque, N.M., Sanchez's hometown.
Sanchez, 24, is easily the best opponent of Chavez Jr.'s career.
"I know that this fight against Sanchez is not just another fight," Chavez Jr. said. "It's a very important fight to my career and that is why I have trained so hard for it. There are some fights that have something more about them and they motivate you to go the extra mile during training and in the ring. This is one of those fights.
"My biggest concern is that he is left-handed. I have never fought a lefty before. But I have sparred with a lot of left-handers and have prepared myself to fight Ray Sanchez, in particular, and that makes me confident that I will be able to handle it."
Said Sanchez: "I have being waiting a long time for this opportunity. We are both hungry and want to prove the we belong at the highest level, and this is the first step for both us toward that goal. I'm going right at him, not holding anything back. This is everything I dreamed about, getting him in the ring in my hometown. I will beat Chavez. Take it to the bank."
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum and his matchmakers have built many prospects from scratch into world champions. But even after 34 pro fights, he is unsure about Chavez Jr.
"It's the first real test that he's had," Arum said. "Sanchez is the first guy he will face who has a good amateur background, good experience and hits hard. I don't know how the fight turns out, but you gotta take a chance sometime. Chavez is not like a Miguel Cotto or a Kelly Pavlik, who had this extensive amateur background so you knew what you had pretty much.
"When I talk about my great prospects you never hear me mention this kid because I don't know. He certainly has the bloodlines but boxing is a lot different than horse racing. The one thing I know is Chavez has enormous popularity and he's a hard working kid."
Chavez Jr. will see the return of his father to ringside for the fight. He missed Chavez Jr.'s August knockout of Louis Brown because he has been in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Mexico for several months.
Arum said that Chavez Sr. is well enough to make the trip for Saturday's fight.
"They are allowing him to come to the fight with two attendants from the rehab center who will keep an eye on him," Arum said. "He's been on the wagon for four months and this is like a reward. Julio Jr. is happy that his father will be able to be there. It's why the kid doesn't touch a drop of alcohol. He saw what it did to his father."
If Chavez Jr. wins, Arum said he would probably return in late January and then make the jump to HBO for a late April fight with "Contender" star Alfonso Gomez.
Arce also in action
In the co-feature, Mexican action star Jorge Arce faces Thailand's Medgoen Singsurat -- who won a flyweight title in 1999 by knocking out Manny Pacquiao in the third round -- in a 12-round bantamweight fight.
A win by Arce will propel him into a Feb. 16 showdown with former junior bantamweight titlist Martin Castillo on the Kelly Pavlik-Jermain Taylor II undercard.
"I not only need a win but I also need to look great doing it," said Arce, who is going for his second win since losing a decision to junior bantamweight titlist Cristian Mijares in April. "I expect a tough fight against Singsurat. He is very aggressive and comes forward, and so do I. So it should be a great fight for the fans."
Arce will have a new trainer in his corner, Javier Capetillo.
"I knew I needed to make changes in my training to get back to the top," Arce said. "This is a big fight because if I win I get to fight Martin Castillo, and that fight will a memorable one. It will be like [Erik] Morales-[Marco Antonio] Barrera and [Israel] Vazquez-[Rafael] Marquez. But first things first. I need to get past Singsurat to think about that great fight."
Also on the card: Ivan "Iron Boy" Calderon, the longtime strawweight champion, makes the first defense of the world junior flyweight title against 21-year-old Juan Esquer, who is coming off an October victory against former titlist Kermin Guardia, and welterweight prospect Mike Alvarado faces Michael Clark.
Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com.
The legacy Julio Cesar Chavez carved is a tough one to follow, but his son, Chavez Jr., is doing his best to create his own.