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Chavez thinking big -- maybe too big?

8/28/2012
Chris Farina/Top Rank

The rumors have been rampant for more than a year, since right around the time of his first title fight, in June 2011, when it became obvious that making weight was turning into a problem for him. It has grown into such a concern that many believe his next fight will be his last at 160 pounds.

For Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., the climb through several weight divisions is a family tradition of sorts, and a journey through which his father, a former three-division champ, could perhaps help guide him. But if Junior ventures into heavier weight divisions without a proper plan, he may have to learn it the hard way.

However, before Chavez takes the first step on that long, hard road to success at 168 and beyond, he will face a fighter who claims he can still make 154 if he sets his mind to it. And there's no reason not to believe Sergio Martinez, who has accomplished most of the things he set out to do in boxing so far.

One of those feats was grabbing the undisputed middleweight championship from Kelly Pavlik, in what turned out to be Pavlik's last fight at 160 before he moved up to super middleweight. Which suggests that Chavez's challenge Sept. 15 will be doubly difficult. Of course he'll want to make a statement against Martinez in order to sell the idea that he belongs in a division currently dominated by a few of the finest fighters in the planet. But Chavez will have his work cut out simply to avoid joining Pavlik as a bigger man who failed against Martinez.

Let's assume for a moment that Chavez is capable of besting Martinez. The next step would be to take aim at the most talented and profitable fighters in his new division. That's a list that became a short one when Andre Ward cemented his place as one of the world's top pound-for-pound fighters with his run through the Super Six tournament, capped by a well-earned decision over England's Carl Froch. And after Froch routed Lucian Bute -- the only legitimate contender who hadn't been involved in the tournament -- the pecking order became clear: Ward in a class by himself, Froch a step below and ... everyone else.

The conundrum for Chavez, if he does make the jump in weight, is that he'll have his hands full just getting past those fighters jockeying for position below Ward and Froch.

His most serious challenges likely would come from a handful of battle-hardened veterans who can still mix it up. Two immediately come to mind: Denmark's Mikkel Kessler and Pavlik, Martinez's vanquished foe.

Kessler proved he can still bang with the best in a highlight-reel KO of Allan Green in May. He's a tough fighter who could be lured back to 168 despite claiming he will continue his career at light heavyweight, and his style would match perfectly with that of Chavez.

Pavlik makes even more sense, from both a boxing and a business standpoint. In light of the ongoing feud between boxing's top promoters, Pavlik's affiliations -- like Junior, he's a Top Rank fighter -- would be as attractive to the Chavez side as the name value Pavlik would bring to a fight and his seemingly diminished skills. After all, why risk getting the kid bludgeoned before he's had a chance to get his feet wet at a higher weight?

Still, as carefully as he has been moved during his career, Chavez won't be as well-protected operating as a championship-caliber fighter at 168 as he was while rising to contender status at 160. After taking on Martinez in what will be one of the most scrutinized fights of the year, Junior will have to pick a serious opponent for his next fight, win or lose. And that could lead him to names such as Robert Stieglitz, Andre Dirrell or even an over-the-hill Arthur Abraham, who could still give the plodding Chavez a run for his money.

Although Chavez has left the door open to stay at middleweight for an undetermined amount of time, he may not have a choice. The Chavez-Martinez weigh-in ceremony will be one of the highlights of fight week, and even if Junior makes it through the proceedings and hits his mark, the drain to make weight likely will leave him at something less than his peak when he climbs into the ring a day later.

One thing is certain, though: We can count on Chavez's top-five status at 160 pounds being left behind if he does choose to move up the ladder. Win or lose against Martinez, reaching the summit of his new mountain at super middleweight will take time. It could be a while before we find out whether Chavez is capable of rumbling with the gatekeepers of the division, let alone its legitimate contenders and titleholders.