No longer wanting to be known as just the son of a great champion, Julio César Chávez Jr. is ready to prove himself in the boxing ring and become a star in his own right.
While he will be headlining a big Mexican Independence Day weekend fight card just like his father used to do in his prime, the jury is still out on just how good of a fighter Chávez Jr. really is.
He fights like his father, that's genetics.
- Bob Arum, Promoter
That figures to change Saturday night when he takes on Sergio Martínez, the fighter generally recognized as the best middleweight in the world, in a 160-pound title fight full of intriguing possibilities. It's a big step up for the son of the great champion Julio César Chávez, who still struggles with the comparisons to his father.
"I can't help that people say that stuff about me. I am the son and that is who I am," Chávez Jr. said through an interpreter. "He is my dad, but little by little I have proven myself. I have proven it in the ring. You have seen what I have done in the ring the past few fights. You can't take that away from me — my victories and my championship."
Indeed, he has looked impressive in his last few fights, particularly when he clubbed Andy Lee into submission in the seventh round of their June 16 fight in Texas. But though he's technically a middleweight champion, he's still very much a work in progress as an upper echelon fighter.
He'll face a technically superior and better tested fighter in Martínez, who has only lost once in the last 13 years and has held titles at 154 and 160 pounds. Chávez will have a decided size advantage, but to win he will have to turn the fight into the kind of brawl his father used to love.
His father sat next to him at Wednesday's final prefight press conference, where he couldn't resist taking a verbal jab at Martínez, who has been calling for Chávez Jr. to fight him the past two years.
"I think my son is ready for this," the elder Chávez said. "Martínez was talking a lot about Julio, badmouthing him. He's going to make him eat his words."
Odds makers don't give him a big chance of doing that, making Chávez a 2-1 underdog. But he'll have the highly respected trainer Freddie Roach — who also handles Manny Pacquaio — in his corner, and the vocal support of most of the 19,000 fans in a sold-out UNLV campus arena.
Roach has made Chávez into a more polished fighter after taking over as his trainer, but he's also admitted being frustrated by the fighter's approach to training. Chávez stood him up several times at his Hollywood gym, only to call Roach for workouts in the early morning hours.
"We've had a little bit unusual training camp," Roach said. "But we got the work in."
Chávez looked a bit drawn at the press conference as he struggles to make the 160-pound limit by Friday's weigh-in. Between fights he walks around at about 180 pounds, and Roach said he was still six pounds over the weight limit on Wednesday.
Just getting to the point where he is making a guaranteed $3 million before a big crowd is a victory in itself for Chávez, who didn't take up boxing until his late teens. He's been fighting now for eight years, but has been brought along very slowly, matched against fighters who he was sure to beat.
That's changed in recent fights, and so has Chávez. Though Martínez has been trying to get Chávez in the ring for some time now, promoter Bob Arum said it wasn't until now that he thought Chávez was far enough along to be competitive against a fighter the stature of Martínez.
Arum said Chávez reminds him some of his father, a straight ahead fighter who was relentless and wore other fighters down with shots to the body.
"He fights like his father, that's genetics," Arum said.
The elder Chávez is a Mexican boxing icon who dominated in the junior lightweight and lightweight divisions in a 22-year career in which he won 107 times against only six losses. Chávez fought all the best fighters of his era, including Pernell Whitaker, Oscar De La Hoya and Meldrick Taylor.
He also fought in the same arena Chávez Jr. is fighting in, beating Hector "Macho" Camacho almost 20 years ago to the day. At that fight, Chávez Jr. was a 6-year-old sitting ringside wearing one of his father's signature red headbands.
Arum said Chávez Jr. has suffered by always being compared to his father, especially when he was just starting out and wasn't very skilled.
"The initial attraction people had to him was he is the son of Julio César Chávez," Arum said. "Then there was the big question whether he could fight at all. A lot of people diminished his capabilities."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.