Chavez Jr. intent on creating his legacy
In his eight-year career, whenever Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. walks from the dressing room to the boxing ring with that famous red bandana wrapped around his head, just as his famous old man did, the crowds go wild.
Mexican and Mexican-American fight fans have loyally followed Chavez from day one. That's why Top Rank promoter Bob Arum could take an untested, undeveloped young fighter with a reputation as a lazy trainer and make money with him headlining regular pay-per-view cards against unknown opponents.
Those incredibly supportive fans have been loyal to Chavez seemingly because of their overwhelming adoration for Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. and their desire to follow anything having to do with the former three-division champion, who is widely regarded as the greatest fighter in Mexican history.
All in the family
If Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. defeats Sebastian Zbik to win a middleweight belt on Saturday night (HBO, 10 ET/PT), he and his father, the great Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., will become the fifth father-son duo to win major world titles in boxing history. The others:
|Floyd Patterson||Tracy Harris Patterson|
|Guty Espadas Sr.||Guty Espadas Jr.|
|Leon Spinks||Cory Spinks|
|Wilfredo Vazquez Sr.||Wilfredo Vazquez Jr.|
How could they not support the oldest progeny of their hero?
The truth was, however, the younger Chavez was not considered by many in boxing to be championship material -- or even a bona fide prospect -- which is why Top Rank moved him so, so slowly.
As he has matured, Chavez, 25, has faced slightly better competition, including a unanimous decision win against John Duddy last June.
"It motivates me and makes me better, all those people who are doubting me," Chavez said. "Slowly but surely, I have been stepping up to better competition, better all the time, and I do want to prove to everyone that I am capable of winning a world championship."
Chavez will get his chance against middleweight titleholder Sebastian Zbik of Germany on Saturday night on "Boxing After Dark" (HBO, 10 ET/PT) at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. If Chavez is successful, he and his father would become the fifth such duo in boxing history to win titles.
Chavez will be gunning for a title -- albeit a devalued belt that was stripped from lineal champion Sergio Martinez and handed to interim belt holder Zbik earlier this year -- in the same city where his father won his first world championship, giving the card dubbed "The Son Also Rises" even more meaning.
"This is for all the marbles. This is it," said Freddie Roach, who will be in his third fight as Chavez's trainer. "This is the big one and we know it and we're ready for it."
In the opening TV bout, featherweight contender Miguel Angel "Mikey" Garcia (25-0, 21 KOs) of Oxnard, Calif., returns to HBO for his second consecutive fight to face Mexico's Rafael Guzman (28-2, 20 KOs), who replaced injured Miguel Beltran Jr. on Wednesday. Top Rank will stream the untelevised undercard bouts beginning at 7 p.m. ET on www.toprank.com, including the junior middleweight title eliminator between Vanes Martirosyan (29-0, 18 KOs) of Glendale, Calif., and Mexico's Saul Roman (34-8, 29 KOs) and the return of female junior middleweight star Christy Martin (49-5-3, 32 KOs) in a six-rounder against Dakota Stone (9-8-5, 1 KO), who Martin outpointed over 10 rounds in September 2009, the most recent fight for each. Martin is attempting a return after being shot, stabbed and left for dead, allegedly by her husband, Jim Martin, in November.
Chavez Sr. was 43-0 -- the same number of fights his son has now -- when he knocked out Mario Martinez to win a vacant junior lightweight title at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles in 1984. He went on to have a storied career, winning the lightweight and junior welterweight titles.
Chavez Jr. said he is aware of the history but he's certainly not focused on it.
"It is different times and different places," Chavez Jr. said. "[Chavez Sr.] has already done his history, and I want to make my own history. I hope the fans are there and I hope we have a nice, historic night at Staples Center on Saturday."
Chavez Sr. notched his 107th and final victory against Ivan Robinson at Staples Center in 2005. And just two weeks after his son could win a world title, Chavez Sr., elected in his first year of eligibility, will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y.
With such a famous father, not to mention sharing a name, Chavez Jr. (42-0-1, 30 KOs) has always been in the spotlight and held to a high standard. He accepts that, but he said he's ready to win a title and move out of his father's shadow, at least as much as possible.
"This is the toughest training camp I have ever been to," Chavez Jr. said. "It is preparing me the best I have ever prepared for a fight, and I know how important this fight is for me and my career. This is great for me and I'm very excited and happy that I am fighting for my first world title in the same city that my father won his first world title. My father will also be going to the Hall of Fame and he earned that, and I am happy for him. But right now I'm not even thinking about that. I'm thinking about my fight and winning a world title.
"This is the perfect opportunity for me to create my own history. My name is Julio Cesar Chavez right now and it will always be my name, and I'm very proud to carry that name. I am ready right now to win the title and decide my own history and my own legacy."
Part of creating his own legacy was Chavez's decision last year to seek out Roach.
"I always believed in my son's talent and thought he could get to this point, but I knew he needed a really good trainer, someone like Freddie Roach, who could bring it all out," Chavez Sr. said. "I feel very comfortable that he can win this fight because I know how hard he has worked with Freddie."
Roach and Chavez Jr. trained for about a month before the Duddy fight and for only three weeks before Chavez's last fight, a 10-round decision against Billy Lyell in January. This training camp has been much longer and more intense.
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"This has been a long camp and my conditioning is great," Chavez Jr. said. "I feel great and I spent so much time with Freddie now that we know each other better.
"To me, my overall improvement has been great. Everything has been better, especially my conditioning. [Roach and strength coach Alex Ariza have] taken me to another level. I am learning something new every day. With the condition I am now in, I can do whatever they ask of me and that is a big step."
Roach, a demanding trainer, said he was pleased with Chavez's work ethic -- the kind of dedication he expected, no corner-cutting.
"It will be great to win the world title," Roach said. "It will make his father proud and make me proud. I know Julio is in great shape to do that, and he has done everything he can to be ready for this fight. Everything I have asked him to do, he has responded very well. Julio is a great person and he'll be great for the sport to be champion. I think he will hold the title well and he'll defend it well."
Zbik (30-0, 10 KOs) has faced several of Europe's top middleweights, but he is still untested against the top 160-pounders in the world.
"It will be a night of firsts for me -- my first defense of the WBC middleweight title, my first fight in the U.S. and my first fight on HBO," Zbik said. "I know Julio will be up for the challenge, but I will be ready for him. It will be a night of firsts for him, too -- his first loss."
Zbik, 29, trained by former lightweight titlist Artur Grigorian, claimed an interim belt in 2009 and made three defenses before being handed Martinez's title. Despite the back-door fashion in which Zbik obtained his belt, Chavez said he's taking his opponent very seriously.
"I feel that he is dangerous because he is a world champion," Chavez said. "I know he's a great boxer and I know he's coming to fight. This is the most important fight of my career and he thinks it's the most important fight of his career, as well. He wants to be well-known and this will give him the opportunity."
As popular as Chavez already is -- Top Rank expects a crowd of close to 10,000 -- winning a title would likely boost him even higher in the eyes of Mexican fans and give him more credibility in America.
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"Mexico is one country that has a great boxing tradition, and right now boxing is booming in Mexico," Arum said. "To have Julio win a world title would be enormous for the people in Mexico. Seventeen percent of the population in the U.S. is Hispanic, of which the overwhelming majority is Mexican, so obviously if Julio wins the title, it will enhance his marketability not only in Mexico but in the United States.
"As I remember, before Julio Chavez Sr. fought for a title, he had many, many nontitle fights and he was very well-known to the Mexican fans. And when he finally fought for the world title at the Olympics, they came out to support him. Gradually, he picked up more and more fans, until he was one of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- attraction of his time in boxing. Hopefully, Julio Jr. will reach the level where he has the same type of fan base."
Chavez Jr. said he believes he is ready.
"I grew up in boxing. All my life I saw how good boxing was to my father and I always wanted to be part of it, somehow, some way," he said. "I want to make a name for myself. I am very hungry to do something in this world, to be someone in this world, and I think boxing has given me the opportunity to do so. I am just as hungry as any other guy and I want to win a world title just like any other boxer."
Chavez Jr. isn't just any other boxer, though. He is the son of J.C. Superstar. The comparisons will always be there, even if the great one himself tries to downplay them.
"The expectations from a lot of people are that he should be like me, but he's not like me," Chavez Sr. said. "He's a different fighter and he has different tools. I want him to win the championship for his own legacy, not mine.
"Hands down, my son fighting for a world title, that's bigger than me going into the Hall of Fame. My career is over. His career will start Saturday night."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.
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