- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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SAN ANTONIO -- Former middleweight titlist Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. was walking through the fight hotel late Thursday morning holding his 3-month-old daughter, Julia, who was dressed in pink and asleep in her father's arms.
A couple of hours later, Chavez appeared at the final news conference for Saturday's rematch with Bryan Vera at the Alamodome (HBO, 9:45 p.m. ET/PT). When it was Chavez's turn to speak, he first went into the audience to scoop up the little girl from the arms of her mother, Chavez's fiancee, Frida Munoz, before returning to the stage to deliver his remarks while holding the baby.
Chavez, who showed off the baby -- including to a playful George Foreman, who was seated next to him -- sure looked like he was enjoying fatherhood and said that the new angel of his eye has him more focused on his career than ever before.
"She motivates me to work hard, be more responsible and train hard," Chavez said through a translator. "I'm thinking of her and what I need to do. [Fatherhood] has changed my life. It is very special."
If the baby has helped Chavez to be more mature, work harder and to be better focused it can only be a benefit to him, especially when you consider all of the issues that have threatened to derail his career -- problems making weight, lackadaisical training, a DUI arrest and two positive drug tests that resulted in suspensions and fines.
"I think now that he has become a father we will see a new, more dedicated Julio and it all starts Saturday night in his performance against Bryan Vera," said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum, Chavez's promoter. "I think that happens to a lot of guys when they become a father. They say, 'Hey, I'm not just fighting and living for myself. I have a family, I have responsibilities.' Sometimes it turns out to be a very good thing. I believe, I hope."
An out-of-shape Chavez was obviously ill-prepared when he and Vera met for the first time in Carson, Calif., on Sept. 28 and slugged it out for 10 exciting rounds. To most observers, Vera appeared to be the clear winner, but Chavez, the son of Mexican icon Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., was given a heavily disputed unanimous decision, one roundly booed by his own fans.
Vera had turned in the finest performance of his up-and-down career, yet got little credit, coming out on the losing end of scorecards that read 98-92, 97-93 and 96-94. The two wide scores, from judges Gwen Adair and Marty Denkin, respectively, were widely criticized by fans and media. One poll of 60 media scores had 54 awarding the fight to Vera with four draws. According to CompuBox statistics, Vera outlanded Chavez 176-125.
In addition to the scoring controversy, Chavez, who was fighting for the first time in a year since losing his belt to lineal champion Sergio Martinez and then getting suspended for a positive marijuana test, lost a lot of credibility by failing to make weight.
Chavez notoriously balloons between fights and began training camp at 205 pounds. He told his handlers the week of the bout that he would not make the contract weight of 168 pounds. That led to a deal between the camps to raise the limit to 173 pounds and Chavez forfeited six figures of his $2.5 million purse to Vera.
With so much controversy, and Chavez's stock never lower, he and Vera will meet in a scheduled 12-round super middleweight rematch on Saturday night.
Chavez (47-1-1, 32 KOs), who turned 28 on Feb. 16, claimed that he took training very seriously.
"This is a real training camp. I'm training, I'm watching my weight, I'm watching my diet. I'm taking care of everything," Chavez said. "I owe the fans a great performance and that is what they will get. I will make the 168-pound limit with no problem and I will be able to do the things I could not do in first fight. I will have better movement, I will be more consistent and I will fight 12 hard rounds if that is what it takes to win this second fight. Vera is a tough guy with a good chin, but I will do my best to send him home early."
He said that there were no corners cut and that he will make 168 pounds without issue at Friday's weigh-in.
"Vera has not seen the best Julio," Chavez said. "I had my best training camp since I fought Andy Lee [in June 2012]. I am ready to fight. Having my little daughter Julia with me gives me extra motivation. Vera earned his second opportunity because of the way he fought in our first fight. Vera is a true warrior. I have had much success in Texas, especially in San Antonio, and am looking forward to giving the fans something they can remember, hopefully the fight of the year."
Chavez even said he might come in a bit under 168 and that a return to the 160-pound middleweight division isn't out of the question for the right bout.
"It wouldn't surprise me if I am a couple of pounds under on Friday and 160 is still on my mind," he said. "There are fights that might be worth my while to get down."
As for making 168, Chavez has another motivation besides his baby. If he doesn't make weight, he will forfeit $250,000 to Vera, according to Arum and Artie Pelullo of Banner Promotions, Vera's promoter.
"He's not going to get any more money out of me than what he's getting paid," Chavez said.
In the highly significant co-feature, two-time Olympic gold medalist Vasyl Lomachenko (1-0, 1 KO), 26, of the Ukraine, the 2013 ESPN.com prospect of the year, aims to set a boxing record by winning a world title in his second professional fight when he challenges featherweight titleholder Orlando Salido (40-12-2, 28 KOs), 33, of Mexico, who will be making the first defense of his third title reign.
Looking back on the first fight, Chavez said he believes he beat Vera (23-7, 14 KOs), 32, of Austin, Texas, but knows that he did not have his best performance.
"I wasn't happy the way I fought that night," he said. "I was not at my best, but I think it was an entertaining fight. Bryan and I went in there and gave the fans their money's worth, regardless of how good we are or how we feel we entertain. I can't do anything about the decision. That's not my job. The judges' decision is out of my hands, but I felt like I won the fight.
"It was a close fight, but I never thought I lost the fight. I had him hurt a few times in the fight. Maybe he threw more punches but I thought my punches were the best punches of the night and doing more damage, so it never crossed my mind that I lost. Maybe he deserved a draw."
Vera, who stuck to trainer Ronnie Shields' game plan to perfection, said he plans to pick up where he left off the first time around.
"I did all of my training times two. This has been the longest camp of my career," he said. "I sparred against heavyweights to get ready for Chavez Jr. I am going to beat him for the second time. Everyone knows I won the first fight. This is a serious fight with only one ending. I will get my hand raised."
Chavez said not only does he need to win to restore some his credibility, but that it must be an impressive performance, one where there are no doubts.
"I think I need to win clearly this time," he said. "I'm not going to put pressure on myself to get the knockout, but I am looking to win and win clearly."
For him and for his baby girl.
"It's an experience, an indescribable feeling when you have a child," he said. "Your life changes. I became more focused on what I have, my daughter, my family and boxing.
"In truth, it was something you can't describe with words. But it really motivated me, and the guy who's going to pay for it is Bryan Vera."