Boxing: Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
Chavez saw his focus come under scrutiny over the past several years, culminating with a lopsided decision loss to Sergio Martinez in 2012. Weight problems, a change of trainers and a year of inactivity effectively veered the former champion off track.
Despite Chavez (47-1-1, 32 KOs) hanging on to win a unanimous decision over Vera, the fight was closer than the judges' scorecards indicated, drawing more criticism and the ire of fans and media outlets alike to the former middleweight titlist.
For Vera (23-7, 14 KOs), who had previously upset the likes of Andy Lee and Sergio Mora (twice), his performance was par for the course against a favored opponent. On March 1, he will get a second chance at defeat Chavez when the two meet in a rematch (HBO, 9:45 p.m. ET/PT). A victory for Vera, a native of Texas, could pave the way to the first title shot of his career.
In his own words, Vera discusses his first fight against Chavez and what fans can expect to see in the rematch at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
The first fight against Chavez was a good fight for me. I threw more punches and landed more punches. Those facts are not subjective. It is what it is.
I know I won the fight. I controlled the ring and backed Chavez up the entire fight. The public was very positive towards me and they are the reason I got this rematch with Chavez. I have gained a lot of fans since the first fight. The public knew I won the fight and that's very important to me.
As far as the rematch, what people can expect is a determined Bryan Vera. I was good the last fight but this fight I have to be better. I will be in great shape. I will bring the fight to Chavez. I will give the fans a great and exciting fight.
I have put a lot of work into this opportunity and I will take advantage of the situation. I'm ready! Know that I am coming to fight, but more than that know that I am coming to win!
Chavez (47-1-1, 32 KOs) returned to beat Bryan Vera via a mediocre unanimous decision in September. The fight was closer than the judges' scorecards indicated, drawing more criticism and the ire of fans and media outlets alike.
On March 1, Chavez and Vera (23-7, 14 KOs) will meet in a rematch (HBO, 9:45 p.m. ET/PT). There’s little margin for error if Chavez is to regain his status as one of the best in the division and challenge super middleweight champion Andre Ward.
In his own words, Chavez discusses his first fight against Vera and what fans can expect to see in the rematch at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
I am looking forward to returning to the ring March 1 in San Antonio. The fans in the great state of Texas have always been very kind and supportive of me throughout my professional career, and the people of San Antonio in particular have been great to me.
For many people, my fight in San Antonio in June 2010 against John Duddy was my breakout fight, and it led me to my first championship fight one year later. It made believers out of many boxing fans that had doubts about my abilities.
In February 2012, I returned to San Antonio as a world champion and beat No. 1 contender Marco Antonio Rubio in a fight many felt I would lose. That night the fans came out and really supported me as I successfully defended my title.
The only other time I fought in San Antonio was in 2007 when I was just beginning my climb up the rankings. My upcoming fight with Vera will be the 15th time I have fought in Texas, and this fight will be one of the most important of my career, following two disappointing performances -- my first professional loss, to Sergio Martinez, and a disputed victory over Vera in September in Los Angeles.
I believe that Vera fought as well as he could in the first fight and I know that I did not fight my best by a long shot. I will be more prepared physically and mentally for this second fight because I know that I need to get an impressive win against Vera. There is a lot at stake for me in this fight.
We are fighting in Vera's home state this time around and he will have a lot of support in the stands, but inside the ring it will just be us -- mano a mano. And while I felt that I won the first fight with my power and accurate punching, I know that I left some doubt in many people minds because of my weight issues and the fact that I did not have the consistency in my attack that I needed during that fight.
In boxing it always come down to being prepared and being ready to go in the ring and performing to the best of my ability and that is what will happen against Vera this second time around. I need to be active, consistent and land my shots with power and do as much damage as I can early so I can finish the fight with a big flourish.
My fans in Texas and around the world know that I will always give them the best fight possible for them to enjoy no matter the circumstances. Rest assured that for this fight on March 1, they will see me at my best and I will get the win in a very clear and decisive fashion.
When it comes to the matchups we openly pine for, sometimes the allure of what’s at stake can be trumped by the personalities involved and the expectations of what sort of fireworks the fight could produce.
There might not be a single matchup that best describes this equation than super middleweight titlist Carl Froch of England and Mexico's Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., with the good news that it could become a possibility in 2014.
Sure, Froch's pair of 168-pound titles would be a worthy prize to compete for. But they are almost an afterthought, compared with the idea of two unrelenting fighters, both with huge, passionate fan bases, squaring off on the biggest stage.
The titles in this case would be trivial in large part because Chavez (47-1-1, 32 KOs) is in many ways a fighter without a division or solidified identity. His fluctuating weight remains a question mark, as is his commitment to the sport.
But regardless of whether Chavez, 27, proves to be simply the son of a famous fighter with the same name, or a fighter closer in class to the stubborn war horse who once had middleweight champion Sergio Martinez seconds away from extinction, each visit to the ring is a must-see event.
From Chavez's sought-after name value, knockout power and a rock-solid chin, to his spoiled-rotten antics and multiple brushes with controversy, he knows how to entertain. Pairing him against one of the sport's top trash-talkers in Froch -- who, it just so happens, brings his own mix of power, chin and no-fear style -- would bring out the best in both fighters.
What makes the matchup more intriguing is that Froch (32-2, 23 KOs) is dealing with his own newfound set of questions. Entering his November bout with unbeaten George Groves as one of the sport's pound-for-pound elite, Froch's stock took a hit following his controversial stoppage victory, in which he was floored early and showed his age throughout.
Froch, 36, has been open about wanting to secure one or two more "superfights" before walking away and calling it quits. Setting up two immovable objects filled with excess baggage on a collision course has never sounded so good.
So fire up the prefight documentary shows that are sure to be certified gold with these personalities involved and buckle up on fight night. Both guys have shown a flair for the dramatic late in a fight, and neither knows how to take a step backward.
In veiled criticism of his son Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., the legendary Mexican boxer said there are many things that have to be corrected, including the training for his upcoming bouts. Chavez Jr. scored a controversial decision victory over Bryan Vera last Saturday in Carson, Calif., looking slow and unprepared throughout.
"I think we have to correct many things, many things are wrong," said Chavez Sr., who worked in his son's corner for the first time during the Vera fight. "The good thing is that the fight happened. I wanted the fight to happen and [to] finally take control of my son, Julio. For him to have other attitudes, he has to change the way he looks at boxing because he can't do it this way."
Chavez Sr. wasn't specific on what the attitudes were, but noted that Chavez Jr. has to start training thoroughly and without distractions. Top Rank originally signed this fight at 168 pounds, but had to renegotiate the compensation to Vera because of Chavez Jr.'s apparent weight problems just days before the fight.
"Yes, definitively, he has to be more responsible in all aspects," Chavez Sr. said. "[He has to] prepare thoroughly for each of his fights because these things can't go on. Fortunately everything happened already."
Although he admitted he was pleased by the way Chavez Jr. threw punches and how he sometimes counterpunched, Chavez Sr. said his son would have thrown more punches had he not injured his right hand, which was originally feared broken.
"No, [I'm] not very pleased," Chavez said. "I wish that Julio had knocked him out and that there wasn't so much controversy. Unfortunately, he couldn't."
The injury appears to be an inflammation that could curtail Chavez Jr.'s intentions of fighting 168-pound titlist Sakio Bika in December. It also likely eliminates the option of a rematch with Marco Antonio Rubio for an interim middleweight title, after an injury took out regular champion Sergio Martinez, who defeated Chavez Jr. last September.
"Julio wants to fight in December for the WBC super-middleweight championship at 168 pounds," Chavez Sr. said. "If it happens, we will fight. If not, we will wait."
Chavez Sr. left the door open for his son to drop back down to 160 pounds for a second chance against Martinez, but conditioned it on how much dedication his son was willing to do.
"In his world championship bouts at 160, Julio made 158 pounds," Chavez Sr. said. "I believe that if Julio prepares thoroughly and takes things seriously, he can go down to 160 pounds."
Although Chavez Sr. said he will continue to help his son in the corner, he looks forward to the possible return of Freddie Roach, in such a way that helps Chavez Jr. improve his speed.
"I think Freddie Roach will return as Julio needs all the speed he can and in that we will see him in the future," Chavez Sr. said.
Regarding his debut working the corner, the legendary former champion said he felt fine and more relieved than when he shouted ringside instructions in the past.
"I felt good, I felt calm," he said. "We were doing a good job until he hurt his right hand in the fourth round and had to change the strategy. I think that Julio didn't fight for the public, he made a fight to win and for me, he truly threw the best punches, nearly knocking [Vera] out three times."
Vera lost a unanimous decision to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., but the Texas fighter wasn't alone in thinking he had done more than enough to earn the judges' approval.
"I think they know what happened in this fight, and I feel that I won," he said of fans in attendance, many of whom booed the decision -- which was scored 96-94, 97-93 and 98-92 for Chavez. "I was better than him, boxing-wise, and he hit me with a couple of shots because I was being very aggressive, because I felt I had to do that to beat him at his house."
Vera couldn't hide his frustration.
"I'm disappointed," he said. "I'm winning, and my trainer told me I was the winner. When I heard the 98-92 card, I felt they were going to steal it. I felt sick."
Vera said fighting at 173 pounds -- a catchweight that was settled on after the limit had been moved (more than once) from 160 -- favored him, contrary to conventional prefight wisdom.
"I felt like the biggest and the strongest," he said. "I'm a warrior and I sent him backwards the entire fight. He hit me a couple of times because I was moving very fast, but every time, I connected against him."
Vera believes he dominated the fight, moving Chavez around the ring as he pleased and outpunching his opponent, although those factors didn't translate on the scorecards.
After the fight, Vera was outspoken about his wish for a rematch, though he had his doubts that it would happen.
"I would love to face him again," he said. "I don’t think he wants to do it."
Vera brushed off the allegations of Chavez, who complained repeatedly during and after the fight of head-butts and low blows.
"I can be messy, and he has a big head, so I can fight the same way," he said. "He was doing what he likes to do. I don't think I fought that dirty."
Moreover, Chavez didn't rule out the notion of Roach helping him against Vera, whom he'll take on at the Stub Hub Center in Carson, Calif.
"Vladimir Baldenegro, who is my trainer, will be in charge of my corner," Chavez told ESPNDeportes.com. "We are talking to Freddie Roach because our relationship with Freddie Roach isn't over. He is training Miguel Cotto and will train [Manny] Pacquiao [for his fight against Brandon Rios], so logically I will not bring him to Las Vegas."
Although Chavez has maintained that Roach won't be in his corner for the Vera fight, neither side confirmed that they had permanently parted ways. Chavez also had recently announced that his father, six-time world champion Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., would be in charge of his corner for the Vera fight.
Chavez, whose father will also be an official member of his team for the first time, said Roach will return to his corner full time for his next fight. The fighter was criticized by Roach after his loss to Sergio Martinez in September 2012 for not giving his best effort during training camp. He lost his middleweight title on a unanimous decision and was later suspended after testing positive for marijuana.
Roach's return won't mean that Chavez Sr. will stop helping and coaching his son during fights, according to Chavez Jr. But now he will be advising in an official capacity and not from ringside.
"For the next fight, I'm going to work full time with [Roach]," Chavez Jr. said. "Hopefully, Freddie, Vladimir and my father will be in the corner. Let's hope that in this fight [against Vera], Freddie can be in my corner."
Chavez Jr. admitted his defeat against Sergio Martinez was a wake-up call.
"I learned to take better care of myself, physically and mentally," said Chavez Jr. "I took too many fights for someone like me that needs to drop all the way down to 160 pounds by dieting and making a lot of sacrifices. Doing it four times in a year really took a toll on me. It hurt me and I wasn't in prime condition against Martinez. I learned to space out my fights, cut it down a little bit."
The former 160-pound titlist (46-1-1, 32 KOs) said his defeat also allowed him to go back to the basics, which once led him to the top of the middleweight class.
"Training at the proper hours [is important]," said Chavez. "Having all kind of weight issues took a mental toll on me, and that led me to train after hours. I didn't feel like doing things, I was weak. A lot of things happened, but I learned my lessons."
That's why Chavez Jr. said his Sept. 28 fight against Texan Brian Vera (23-6, 14 KOs) at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., marks the beginning of Stage 2 of his pro career.
"The first [stage] brought a lot of learning along the way," said Chavez. "After a year away, I'm back inside a ring against an opponent that might be low-profile, but he is also really dangerous since he is in his prime."
For the fight with Vera, Chavez will have Vladimir Baldenebro as the lead man in his corner.
"It's not really a change of trainers because Vladimir has been with me for nine years," Chavez said. "Freddie Roach was the most famous name in my corner, but Vladimir has always been there. He got the call to be the leading man since Freddie is currently busy training both Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto."
Chavez also said that he and Roach will work together again after the Vera fight and that there are no issues between the two of them.
"We've talked for like 20 minutes about boxing. We were cool, and Freddie said that all the after-hours training happened only for the Martinez fight," said Chavez, referring to what was aired on HBO's "24/7" reality series.
For the upcoming fight, Baldenebro focused on bringing back key elements that made Chavez successful that were not used against Martinez, such as the left-handed hook and more punching power.
Chavez will also have his father, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., as a member of his team, performing a more active role in his corner.
"It will be better, because he will no longer be yelling stuff at the top of his lungs from a distance, he will be able to say those things closer and using a softer tone," Chavez Jr. said of his Hall of Fame father. "Honestly, it was the right decision because his habits were a bit distracting for us. It was not good at all."
Chavez hasn't fought since last September, although he believes being away from the ring for that long will not eventually backfire against him.
"Let’s hope it doesn't since I still have a long life left in boxing," Chavez said. "We'll see what happens, but I feel in great shape."
He also said he will remain in the middleweight division only to face specific opponents.
"I will go down to 160 if there are good fights on the table, like the rematch against Martinez, or a clash against Gennady Golovkin," Chavez said. "Otherwise, I will fight at 168, against Sakio Bika or Andre Ward. Those fights are really appealing, but first we must take care of Vera."
We use pound-for-pound rankings as a method of classifying the best and most skillful fighters regardless of weight. We've seen lists similar to the Grantland Relevance Rankings, which aggregates superiority based on a combination of ability, marketability and importance. Heck, even HBO's Jim Lampley has his "Gatti List," named after the late Arturo Gatti, which attempts to order the best blood-and-guts warriors who lay it all on the line.
But what about a set of rankings aimed at the very reason why we watch fights? Which major-network attractions -- superseding in some cases titles won, drawing power and even likeability -- are the most entertaining, compelling and watchable fighters on any given Saturday?
This isn't a list of simply the best all-action brawlers or most artistically beautiful fighters, but in some ways a marriage of both, with a chunk of personality thrown in -- a nod to the fighters who do a better job than others of selling their brand through creative sound bites and flamboyant antics.
Without any further ado, here are boxing's current top 10 most entertaining fighters, with a tip of the cap to honorable mentions Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Abner Mares, Sergio Martinez, Miguel Cotto and Carl Froch, who just missed the cut:
10. Leo Santa Cruz
Pros: Fights at an absurdly relentless pace behind a high guard, using his long arms to punish with hooks to the body. He's as exciting on a minute-by-minute basis as any fighter in the sport. In his May 4 victory over Alexander Munoz, he became the first boxer in history to have both the Watson brothers and Mariachi Skull Guy in his corner at the same time during the prefight introductions. Now that's some serious representation.
Cons: Even with an ambitious five appearances on television in 2012, Santa Cruz needs a bit more time to build a bigger following and audience.
9. Victor Ortiz
Pros: It's getting to the point where fans can expect one of two scenarios each time Ortiz steps into the ring: It's either going to be a toe-to-toe battle or it'll end in a Tyson-esque meltdown. Sometimes we even get both. Interviews with Ortiz can be an equally bizarre ride. He is at times painfully honest -- such as following his loss to Marcos Maidana when, at 22, he openly contemplated retirement -- and at other times detached and almost unaware of the gravity of what just took place. He added to his fan base with a surprising appearance on ABC's "Dancing With The Stars" and never fails to entertain in some fashion.
Cons: Oritz is the kind of personality you can only take in occasional doses, unlike other polarizing fighters who draw you to the screen time and again, regardless of your level of loathing. And, of course, there's always that VO FaceLube commercial.
8. Canelo Alvarez
Pros: The red-haired and freckled Mexican warrior with the matinee idol looks is, despite having 43 pro fights under his belt, still just 22. Not only does he have an Oscar De La Hoya-like ability to attract mainstream female fans due to his smile, he brings in casual male fans with his exciting style. There's a certain star quality to Canelo that you can't teach, let alone describe, and few fighters his age have looked as comfortable as he does in the spotlight.
Cons: Up until this year, he had been brought along far too slowly for a fighter of his popularity and potential, feasting on an unexciting mix of faded names and journeyman contenders. Although he has made strides, he still isn't fluent enough in English to give his own interviews.
7. Gennady Golovkin
Pros: Has the face of a 12-year-old boy, but punches like Wreck-It Ralph. He also once endearingly referred to opponent Gabriel Rosado as "a good boy" in a postfight interview after stopping him. Such a polite fellow. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find another fighter who is as efficiently violent inside the ring and almost naively sweet outside of it. That contrast is compelling enough on its own, never mind his crushing right hand.
Cons: Despite the fact that he's been a middleweight titlist for three years and is a featured player on HBO, the only thing holding back Golovkin's ability to entertain is the fact that he’s too dangerous for his own good and could end up having difficulty finding big-name opponents -- same as Martinez did. But will it ever really get boring watching him knock out middle-of-the-road competition?
6. Amir Khan
Pros: The combination of his dynamic and top-end offensive talents mixed with his shaky chin make the vulnerable Khan, who fights with a tremendous amount of courage, a must-see attraction. He also has a way of speaking with a confidence that defies the reality of his own limitations, which is encouraging to some and tremendously irritating to others. Either way, we keep watching.
Cons: He's somehow equally overrated and underrated at the same time, making it impossible to get a grasp at any point on just how good he really is.
5. Manny Pacquiao
Pros: Still brings a very exciting style to the table and has arguably the most recognizable name among active fighters. Also, the expectant drama that should come as he attempts to recover from a brutal one-punch knockout against Juan Manuel Marquez while navigating the twilight of his career could be interesting. And, you know, there's always Buboy Fernandez.
Cons: Outside of a pair of recent bouts with Marquez, we really haven't seen Pacquiao in a competitive and evenly matched fight since 2009. The storylines in his personal life have also been played out ad nauseam in the various documentary series leading up to his fights.
4. Brandon Rios
Pros: There might not be another fighter in the sport who loves brawling at close range and testing his manhood more than Rios, who not only doesn't know how to make a bad fight, but might actually be crazy. Rios very well may have more talent and potential inside the ring than his style lets on, meaning he doesn't go to war each fight because he has to, but does so instead because it's too much fun for him not to. He's got the Gatti gene.
Cons: Only a lack of one-punch knockout power really separates Rios from becoming a breakout star and topping this list.
3. Lucas Matthysse
Pros: He has the best nickname in the sport -- "The Machine" -- and an explosive, wrecking-ball style to match. Oh yeah, and he don't need no stinking judges. (How does an 86.5 percent knockout rate grab ya?) Throw in the rat tail, tattoos and the raw emotion with which he fights, and Matthysse has become appointment viewing. The power in his hands, even on grazing shots, is frightening.
Cons: With his stock at the moment being as hot as a fighter's could be, Matthysse has a window to make a crossover leap. But although you could argue that his fists do enough talking for him, the opportunity to address the masses in English after one of his spectacular knockouts would greatly improve his value to the casual American audience.
2. Adrien Broner
Pros: If you find yourself irritated at the end of a Broner interview, it means he's doing it right. Although some say the fighter owes too much of his style and swagger to Floyd Mayweather Jr., Broner is slowly carving out his own niche with his intentionally polarizing persona outside of the ring and his spectacular potential inside of it. By standing right in front of his opponents and sitting down on his power punches, all the while with a smirk on his face, viewers will be tuning in to see Broner knock people out -- or end up the victim of one -- for years to come.
Cons: Even if you're sick of the postfight hairbrush already, no one provides a sound bite quite like the self-proclaimed "Can Man." But Broner often steps too far over the line of decency. See his recent comments during the buildup to his welterweight debut against titlist Paulie Malignaggi.
1. Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Pros: The greatest reality star the sport has ever seen, Mayweather dominates the spotlight he helped create and does so despite a defensive style that is appreciated but not always considered entertaining. Along with his brilliant ability to market fights and the general buzz he creates by making claims that he is the best fighter in history, "Money" never fails to deliver inside of the ring despite his advancing age and multiple layoffs. His pursuit of perfection and the ongoing debates about his legacy remain boxing's biggest storylines. There isn't a more consistently compelling figure in the sport who demands our attention and keeps us watching.
Cons: Outside of any differences you might have with his lifestyle or opinions, the only criticism anyone can rightfully hurl at Mayweather relates to the fights he failed to provide fans when the opportunity was there. His September bout with Alvarez should help quiet the critical chatter.
CHICAGO -- If Carlos Molina is a snake-bitten fighter, the only evidence that betrayed it Friday at the UIC Pavilion was a small cut near his right eye -- which he wore, along with a smile on his face, in a cramped locker room after his main event bout.
It was virtually the sum total of damage that Molina suffered -- on a head-butt, no less -- in a start-to-finish beatdown of former two-division titlist Cory Spinks. Ringside judges scored it 119-106 (twice) and 120-105 for Molina. ESPN.com had it 119-106 for Molina.
“He clinched me and he held me, he bought himself a little more time, but he should have given me a little more space,” Molina said of the butt.
It was that sort of fight for Molina (21-5-2, 6 KOs), who did what he could with what he had in front of him. Facing constant pressure from Molina, Spinks countered occasionally, but his stock answer seemed to be to clinch, drop his head or get on his bike. Molina had implied before the fight that he’d be gunning for a knockout, but Spinks did everything in his power not to comply.
“Of course you always want to put on a good show,” Molina said. “Fans love a good show, and I’m a No. 1 boxing fan, too. I’m not just a boxer -- I love boxing. So I try to put on a good show but at the same time come out with the victory.”
So Molina settled for the latter, delivering a withering body attack to take out the 34-year-old Spinks’ legs. He often led with shots downstairs, and he frequently chopped at Spinks’ hips and ribs in the clinch.
“I was working that body,” Molina said, “and I felt him lose his breath a little bit, and then I came back with the right hand.”
Molina had endured a near-Shakespearean run of recent bad luck in the ring, but Friday’s bout proved to be more comic (in its ease) than tragic. Although he didn’t get the decisive ending he’d hoped for -- and the lack of finishing power, especially in a fight where Molina admitted to more aggressively seeking a knockout, has to be considered a mark against him -- he is rewarded a mandatory bout against the winner of the Feb. 23 title fight between Cornelius "K9" Bundrage and Ishe Smith.
After being on the south end of squirrely decisions against Erislandy Lara and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., not to mention a shady disqualification against James Kirkland, it seems a more-than-just reward.
In the featured bout, Jose Luis Castillo (64-11-1, 55 KOs) looked every one of his 39 years, dropping a clear decision to Antwone Smith (22-4-1, 12 KOs). Although Castillo hooked gamely to the body throughout the fight and even had Smith bleeding from the mouth in the later rounds, his legs had long since deserted him by then. A stationary target waving a token guard, he took jab after jab from Smith, who coasted 100-90, 98-92, 99-91.
Whether or not you buy Morales' excuses, whether or not clenbuterol fits your definition of "performance enhancing," whether or not you believe someone should have pulled the plug on the main event of last Saturday's Showtime-televised card at Barclays Center in Brooklyn -- these are all small-picture questions.
The larger-picture view is that boxing, like almost every other sport these days, has a very real PEDs problem. You can take each individual case and find some sort of justification to sweep it under the rug. But at a certain point, the collective evidence becomes too troubling to ignore. If boxing hadn't already reached that point before Morales' "B sample" grabbing headlines, it certainly has now.
For most of the past decade, it was one name here, another name there, some testing positive, some implicated without ever testing positive. Fernando Vargas. Shane Mosley. Orlando Salido. Evander Holyfield. James Toney. Roy Jones Jr. and Richard Hall, both, after fighting each other. There would be a noteworthy incident every year or two, but it never threatened to change the way we viewed the sport.
Six months ago, if you had told me 75 percent of the boxers in the world were juicing, I'd have called you a nut-job conspiracy theorist.
Now, I can't help wondering whether 75 percent is too conservative an estimate.
Between May and October, Lamont Peterson, Andre Berto, Antonio Tarver and Morales -- all current or former major belt holders -- failed drug tests. (And if you really want to get your pink underwear in a bunch, you can lump Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. into that group as well, for spending more time with lowercase roach than uppercase Roach in training camp.)
There's no logical reason to believe that more boxers are using banned substances now than there were in the past. If anything, you'd think fewer would be using, on account of increased testing and their peers getting caught. So whatever PEDs problem boxing has now is probably a problem it has had for decades.
It's just that in 2012, for the first time, those of us who would like to pretend this problem doesn't exist have no choice but to acknowledge that it does. For all we know, boxing is no cleaner than baseball was in the "magical" summer of McGwire and Sosa, no cleaner than cycling or track and field or pro wrestling.
Boxing is not clean. Therefore, by definition, it is dirty. And that makes everything messy. For many of us as fans, that's the worst part of all of this. It's not necessarily that we demand a drug-free sport. It's that we're selfish and we want a sport in which we can appreciate the athleticism, skill, power and heart displayed by our favorite warriors without having to think about the asterisk loaded into every glove.
There are some who believe the sport is headed in the right direction, that you have to bust fighters and cancel bouts to eventually get to a better place. There are others who view all of the needles and urine containers as a waste of time because they believe all PEDs should be legal.
I don't have all the answers. In fact, I don't have any of the answers. There are no solutions out there that will satisfy everyone. The only thing uniting all boxing fans is a desire to see quality fights, and at the moment, the reality of fighters turning up with drugs in their systems is at odds with that desire. Peterson-Amir Khan II and Berto-Victor Ortiz II -- two very attractive fights -- were canceled. And every fight that doesn't get canceled takes place underneath overcast skies.
For those of us who tried hard for many years to convince ourselves that boxing didn't have a PEDs problem, this has all become, for lack of a harder-edged word, uncomfortable.
And that's without even dipping a toe in the waters of how this might affect Hall of Fame voting in the years to come. Can you imagine an International Boxing Hall of Fame without Holyfield?
Go ahead and imagine it. We live in a world where a boxer tests positive and still fights on Showtime but another boxer tests positive and can't commentate on Showtime. We live in a world where phrases like "testosterone pellets," "B sample" and "contaminated meat" are all part of the vernacular. We live in a world where some things we once believed to be true we now believe to be highly uncertain.
It was so much simpler to be a boxing fan when we could all just look the other way. But the events of 2012 have made that impossible. Especially when we all suspect that the only thing that makes 2012 different from every year that came before it is that more boxers are getting caught.
As a long-reigning champion (12 defenses of his current belt) who has had two previous title runs at 160 pounds, Sturm has held at least a portion of the title for almost 10 years and has lost only twice in his career -- one of which was debatable, against Oscar De La Hoya in 2004. But the underlying question remains: Is Sturm a zoo hunter, a guy who preys on weaker opposition inside a cage of local favoritism and excessively generous judges? Or is he a true champion who has trouble finding a real challenge at middleweight?
The 33-year-old champ, born Adnan Catic in Germany to Bosnian parents, became a fan favorite after drawing the short stick in his fight against De La Hoya, in which many viewed him as the true winner after outlanding and outboxing the Golden Boy in Las Vegas.
After that fight, the general consensus was that Sturm would be back in the States for another challenge in a talent-rich division that then included Bernard Hopkins, Felix Trinidad and other attractive potential foes. Instead, Sturm reacted with disgust at the De La Hoya decision and nurtured his own strong hometown edge by fighting the next eight years of his career exclusively in Germany, with an occasional trip to his parents' old Yugoslavia for a stay-busy fight.
The result for Sturm has been a very low profile outside the borders of his native country, virtually zero visibility in the U.S. -- a Catch-22 situation depriving demanding U.S. fans of seeing some of his great fights, but also shielding them from a string of weak performances -- and an unwillingness by other champions to travel to Germany to unify titles in an openly hostile environment.
That's about to change on Saturday, when Sturm will face Australia's Daniel Geale in -- of course -- Germany, for a unification bout that will kick-start a series of interesting middleweight matchups that could help clarify the division picture. Regardless of the result, doubts about Sturm's reputation (in certain circles) as one of the most underrated middleweight champs in recent history won't be resolved.
Part of those doubts stem from two particular fights in which Sturm not only failed to impress but also seemed to need generous help from the judges to escape with a win.
The first: a split-decision victory over Matthew Macklin in June of 2011, in an interesting fight that exposed many of Sturm's shortcomings. And then there was an excellent fight in which England's unbeaten Martin Murray was slapped with a split draw after delivering a 12-round boxing lesson to Sturm that starkly contrasted the fighting spirit of the two men.
And it's the quality that is most strikingly missing from Sturm's arsenal. His jab is there (one of the best in the business), his physical conditioning is superb, and his punch rate and accuracy are above average for the division. Even his inability to consistently deliver finishing blows (40 percent KO percentage) obscures other, more worrying failures.
In essence, the problem is this: Sturm amounts to less than the sum of his parts. His many virtues should add up to a dominant ring presence and attractive, entertaining performances. Instead, Sturm fails to excite fans with spectacular stoppages or put together interesting combinations, and he squanders his great sense of timing by not following up on his attacks.
But there may be light at the end of the tunnel. Sturm dominated former interim titlist Sebastian Zbik in his most recent title defense, in April, and now seems committed to jumping into the big market at 160 pounds. It won't be a surprise to see him beat Geale and then call out the winner of the Sept. 15 Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.-Sergio Martinez fight.
But for that scenario to come to fruition, Sturm would have to break hard from his recent path, travel to the U.S. and overcome his fear of being robbed again (or in his case, possibly take a dose of his own medicine) to try his luck against one of the division's top fighters.
Sturm has a limited amount of fights left to consolidate his legacy and show the world that he's capable of beating legitimate contenders beyond the borders of his homeland. A year ago, he would have been favored to beat Chavez, and to give Martinez a terrific challenge. But given Martinez's destruction of Macklin, Sturm's dubious victory against the same opponent and the fact that a non-puncher such as Murray was able to beat the wind out of Sturm, both Chavez (a devastating body puncher) and Martinez (a superb boxer with all the killer instinct Sturm seems to lack) would seem to have the edge over Sturm.
In any case, Sturm-Martinez or Sturm-Chavez each has the potential to be a great fight, the kind that could redefine Sturm's career and give the middleweight division a great three-way rivalry that could revitalize one of boxing's elite weight classes. Let's hope we don't have to go to Germany to watch them.
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.
When fellow 160-pound titlist Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. finished off respected contender Andy Lee with a brilliant seventh-round TKO, it was the best thing to happen to the 37-year-old Martinez's career since victories against Kelly Pavlik and Paul Williams in 2010 officially put him on the map.
Still wondering just how we got here? Only months earlier, Chavez, 26, wasn't even considered a fighter remotely close to the class of Martinez, nor would anyone believe the undefeated Mexican's handlers would allow him near a fight of this nature, one that he had so little chance of winning.
But all of that changed in Chavez's most recent title defenses, with the point fully hammered home upon his stoppage of Lee. Chavez's footwork and boxing skills have increased dramatically under Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach. Junior has also routinely benefited from an ability to sneak in under the 160-pound limit, only to bulk up to the size of a light heavyweight (at least) by fight night. That, along with the two traits he has taken his legendary father -- relentless body punching and a concrete chin -- have made him a legitimate opponent, almost overnight, for Martinez.
This is all music to Martinez's ears, simply for the fact that securing the Chavez fight represented what appeared to be his last hope of attaining the level of legit, crossover PPV stardom that the Argentine fighter has dreamed of.
It's no secret that Martinez has been the odd man out in boxing's upper table for almost two years. Shut out by opponents and rival promoters, who claimed he was too dangerous and lacked the ability to sell tickets, Martinez settled for title defenses against nondescript European challengers, with all three ending in late knockout wins.
In terms of maximizing the prime of his career under the daunting pressure of a fast-closing window, Martinez can view 2011 as no better than an abject failure. Despite having a presence as a featured HBO fighter, Martinez treaded water in a lonely division void of marketable names.
The trend, at the time, was to portray Martinez as a tragic figure while questioning what's wrong with a sport that denies one of its best an opportunity to compete at the highest level. But as that same trend continued into 2012, it became hard not to turn the double-edged sword of his predicament back on to the fighter himself, along with his handlers.
Martinez is promoted by Lou DiBella, which leads to two schools of thought: You either believe DiBella is the third-most powerful promoter in the sport or you believe the sport has only two promoters (Golden Boy and Top Rank) that really matter.
Given the way the power promoters have created a virtual American and National League, which rarely allows for interleague play, it's hard not to support the latter line of thinking. Especially when you consider how unsuccessful Martinez was in luring the marquee names, even after offering to come in as low as 150 pounds. In the case of Floyd Mayweather Jr., Martinez was openly willing to accept the bottom half of an 80/20 purse split.
Martinez has been slow to pick up the English language and just doesn't possess the trash-talking gene and combative personality that often leads to controversial and marketable opportunities (e.g., Dereck Chisora). You're more likely to see him using his platform in an honorable way to speak out against domestic violence or anti-bullying.
Martinez has clearly mastered everything within his power that goes on inside of the ring. But has he done enough outside of it to take advantage of his potential opportunities, both financially and in terms of his legacy? Was he too loyal in re-signing with DiBella in June 2011? What about his steadfast refusal to consider moving up to 168 pounds?
Was everything we respect about him as a person also the main reason his stock as an elite fighter in the sport has slowly fallen?
All of those questions are moot for now, as Martinez is in line for the kind of fight he has desired all along. A fight that all of us have desired right along with him and one that is great for the sport.
Those who feared Martinez's prime is being wasted can breathe a temporary sigh of relief. We still don't know whether he'll get an opportunity to face the very best and most marketable of his generation before his speed and reflexes begin to erode. At the very least, this is a step in the right direction toward one day finding out just how good Martinez can be.
SAN ANTONIO -- On Saturday, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. returned to the scene of his legendary father's first professional blemish -- an infamous draw to Pernell Whitaker at the Alamodome more than 18 years earlier. He was there perhaps to defend his family name, but also a middleweight title belt in seemingly his first strenuous test, against deserving contender Marco Antonio Rubio. Joining them on the card was Nonito Donaire, a former multidivision champion aiming for another belt in his first bout at junior featherweight, something of a grudge match against Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. Here's what we learned from one night in San Antonio:
1. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is a real fighter ...
Not for the first time in recent bouts, Chavez showed that when the chips are down and he has to suck it up, dig in and fight, he can do just that. Rubio was advertised as potentially his toughest foe yet, and so he proved, refusing to give any quarter even as Chavez walked him down and dug into his body with hard hooks. In fact, Rubio was landing what appeared to be the higher percentage of punches as Chavez loaded up for big combinations. But Chavez kept coming, and the final two rounds had the crowd on its feet as the two men exchanged hellacious blows, each looking to provide a definitive conclusion to the contest.
2. ... But he probably isn't a real good one
At the same time, Rubio isn't exactly a top-drawer talent. Yes, he stopped David Lemieux, but in hindsight, Lemieux was likely overrated. Rubio was flattened inside a round by Kofi Jantuah and was brutalized by Kelly Pavlik in the only fight in which Pavlik has looked half-decent in years. He showed little, if any, originality in his attack, yet Chavez was unable to nullify it. Similarly, two fights ago, Chavez went tooth-and-nail with an opponent (Sebastian Zbik) whom HBO once dubbed too poor to broadcast in a middleweight title fight.
Chavez has shown some genuine signs of improvement since connecting with trainer Freddie Roach. But there are also signs that the improvement may be plateauing. Of course, adding 20 pounds after the weigh-in couldn't have helped; if Chavez is to develop into anything more than an entertaining battler, he needs to dedicate himself a lot more to his gym work and road work, and stay away from bars during training camp. That may not be enough -- what you see may simply be what you get -- but it won't hurt.
3. Nonito Donaire has become dominant and disappointing
A year ago, Donaire blasted out Fernando Montiel in the knockout of the year, and there appeared to be no ceiling to his potential. But his two outings since then, although clear victories, have been underwhelming. In both cases there were extenuating circumstances: Omar Narvaez didn't try to fight, while Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. at times also seemed content to hide behind a tight defense, at least until Donaire apparently broke his left hand. But, notwithstanding the fact that Donaire was a clear, and mostly one-handed, winner over a good young opponent (even though one judge, maintaining the tradition of criminally bad Alamodome scorecards, somehow contrived to score the contest for Vazquez), the victory felt unsatisfying.
Part of the problem is that "The Filipino Flash" showed signs on Saturday of regressing into a home run hitter, looking to please the crowd with spectacular bombs thrown from all angles. That's all well and good, but when faced with a patient foe such as Vazquez, some basic jabbing and hooking might have served Donaire well, and perhaps helped to break his opponent down.
There's no need to panic: The train hasn't left Donaire's station. But it's warming up, and some disgruntled fans likely are starting to climb aboard. A trip back to basics would serve Donaire well if he is to reclaim and consolidate his place alongside Andre Ward as the best under-30 boxer in the world.
4. Vanes Martirosyan needs to step it up
Martirosyan is an engaging guy and a genuine talent, but in his 32nd professional contest, he needs to be facing opposition far more demanding than the utterly outmatched Troy Lowry, whom he beat up for three rounds on Saturday's undercard. Martirosyan is good at calling out opponents (after dispatching Lowry, he mentioned Mexico's Saul Alvarez), but whether because of him, his management or his promoter, he hasn't followed that up with much in the way of actual, credible tests in the ring. It's time for him to be matched in a meaningful contest against a real opponent, if only to see exactly what he can bring to the table.
5. HBO Boxing is off to a better start in 2012 than 2011
HBO's kickoff bout last year seemed, on paper, a solid one: a clash between undefeated junior welterweight titlists Timothy Bradley Jr. and Devon Alexander. But the fight was a stinker, and the venue -- the cavernous Pontiac Silverdome -- was even worse, and not even close to being filled. By contrast, although Saturday night's fights might not have had the same theoretical significance, they were far more entertaining. Meanwhile, the Alamodome was smartly configured for 15,000 people -- and close to that many showed up, providing an enthusiastic crowd that roared at seemingly every punch. All told, it was a far more positive start to the year.
On Saturday night, the linkages will be stronger than ever; but whereas Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. may at times have wished that comparisons of his career with his father's had to this point been more favorable, he will certainly be hoping to exit San Antonio's Alamodome with more positive reviews than did his father 18 years and change ago.
Chavez Jr. will face Marco Antonio Rubio on HBO in a defense of a middleweight belt that many believe rightfully belongs to Sergio Martinez, who was stripped of the title as a result of the kind of political chicanery and machinations that have granted boxing permanent residency in the Red Light District of sports. But it is also, perhaps more accurately, a measuring stick by which fans can judge the progress of a young contender who, much maligned in his earlier career, is showing signs of developing an all-round game that will meet potentially its toughest test yet in the form of veteran Marco Antonio Rubio.
On Sept. 10, 1993, Chavez Sr. walked into the ring in the very same arena, in front of 56,959 paying fans, placing his 87-0 record on the line against Pernell Whitaker, who had suffered a larcenous loss to Jose Luis Ramirez in his first tilt at a world title five years earlier but was otherwise undefeated in 33 contests. The two men were meeting for the welterweight championship of the world -- which Whitaker had snatched from Buddy McGirt in his previous fight -- but also for more than that: recognition as the best fighter in the world, pound for pound.
(A brief aside: The notion of two welterweights actually deciding who is the best fighter in the world by meeting in the ring might, to today's generation of boxing fans, seem an absurdity, a fiction so improbable as to be without any kind of credibility. Time was, however, when such things happened. But that's another story ...)
Chavez, the betting favorite, began aggressively, looking to bury his patented left hook to Whitaker's liver, as the champion wheeled away and popped his pursuer with a retreating right jab from a southpaw stance. Beginning in the third, Whitaker threw that jab with greater authority, combining it with the footwork and slippery defense for which he was renowned, befuddling Chavez and taking away seemingly every aspect of his game, beating him with punches from inside and outside. From Round 4 onward, it was, to ringside observers, largely a shutout -- a masters class culminating in what was surely a nine rounds-to-three or, at worst, eight rounds-to-four victory.
Except that it wasn't.
One judge scored the fight for Whitaker, 115-113. The other two saw it dead-even, 115-115 -- a result that even many in the pro-Chavez crowd, who had become progressively quieter as their man had been given a boxing lesson, booed.
The New York Times dubbed the result "an oddity of a decision even for this most confusing of sports."
"I went to talk to one of the judges afterward, but I tripped over his seeing-eye dog," Bert Sugar quipped.
"Whitaker put on one of the most dazzling ring performances in recent years," wrote Sports Illustrated, "yet, within minutes, two of the three judges reduced this magnificent show to a mockery."
SI's cover featured a picture of Whitaker landing a right hand on Chavez's jaw, accompanied by a one-word headline: 'Robbed!' (Hey, on the plus side, boxing was on the cover of Sports Illustrated! Yes, kids, sometimes that happened, too.)
Three fights later, Chavez suffered his first official loss, when he was dropped and outpointed by Frankie Randall, and things were never really the same after that. He beat up the likes of Ken Sigurani, Verdell Smith and Marty Jakubowski, but he lost comprehensively to Oscar De La Hoya (twice), Kostya Tszyu (in a fight that never should have been made) and even Willy Wise and Grover Wiley.
Junior avenged the last of those defeats, in a way, splattering the man -- in three one-sided rounds in 2007 -- who had ended Senior's career. And although a clean and clear win on Saturday won't exactly atone for the flimflam that spared his old man from defeat that long-ago September night, it will enable him to boast one accomplishment that eluded his more celebrated father: to walk out of the Alamadome, with his hands in the air and head held high, to the sound of his fans celebrating a Chavez victory.