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Friday, September 27, 2013
Chavez weighed down by sideshow

By Dan Rafael
ESPN.com

In a perfect world, it would be all about boxing for former middleweight titleholder Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. It would be about regaining the title he lost one year ago in a lopsided decision to lineal champion Sergio Martinez, Chavez's.

It would be about putting on exciting fights against top opponents, winning more titles, making big events and continuing to carve out his own legacy, one that could help him escape the massive shadow of his father (and now trainer), Hall of Famer Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., the former three-division champion and the most revered fighter in the great history of Mexican boxing.

But that is not the case. Chavez, in many ways, has become a disappointing sideshow, one in which the actual bout is only a small part of the story. He has talent, obviously. He wouldn't have been able to go from having no amateur background to winning a world title and making three defenses if he couldn't fight.

However, the circus surrounding Chavez's latest fight has become par for the course -- just another soap opera-like episode in Chavez Land.

Chavez (46-1-1, 32 KOs) is scheduled to face Bryan Vera (23-6, 14 KOs), winner of four consecutive fights, on Saturday night (HBO, 10:15 ET/PT) in a scheduled 10-round bout at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., in the second fight of a split-site doubleheader. But it's not that simple.

Outside-the-ring issues continue to swirl around Chavez, who has shown himself to be less than dedicated to his craft. Even his own people complain about his lack of focus, including Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, who has called him a "f--- up."

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. continues to have difficulties making weight, and has negotiated an extra 13 pounds into Saturday's fight from the original limit.

In the opening bout, light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson (21-1, 18 KOs), coming off a spectacular 76-second, one-punch title-winning knockout of Chad Dawson on June 8, will return to make his first defense against former titleholder Tavoris Cloud (24-1, 19 KOs) of Tallahassee, Fla., at the Bell Centre in Montreal, where the crowd will be squarely behind Quebec's Stevenson.

The latest Chavez issue is the weight for Saturday's bout. When Arum and Artie Pelullo, Vera's promoter, began negotiating the fight, it was going to be contested at 162 pounds. But because Chavez doesn't stay anywhere near fighting shape between bouts, the weight slowly climbed higher until the contract was signed for the super middleweight limit of 168 pounds.

Then this week, when it became apparent that Chavez was having major problems making the new weight, the sides agreed to a 173-pound maximum, with Vera getting a six-figure payment on top of his six-figure purse for his trouble.

But that isn't the only problem Chavez has had.

He is on probation stemming from a January 2012 DUI arrest. He parted with Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach (replacing him with his dad) and, early in the camp for this fight, also split with strength coach Alex Ariza, who had been so significant in helping him make weight in the past. Additionally, Chavez suffered a cut over his eye last month, forcing the fight to be postponed from Sept. 7 to Saturday night. And he also has a good distraction: He is awaiting the birth of a baby girl with his girlfriend.

Then there is the reason he will have been idle for a little over a year since the loss to Martinez. After that fight in Las Vegas, Chavez tested positive for marijuana, drawing a nine-month suspension and a $900,000 fine from the Nevada State Athletic Commission, although the fine was later reduced to $100,000. But it was Chavez's second failed Nevada drug test in three years. He had previously tested positive for a diuretic after a 2009 fight in Las Vegas.

Chavez barely trained to fight Martinez, according to Roach. He refused to go to the gym, instead clearing out living room furniture in his rented house to train.

Chavez also was smoking pot leading up to the fight. After first denying it, Chavez, 27, eventually came clean, saying that he had a bad foot, was having trouble in sparring and needed to relax.

Chavez addressed the topic again this week.

"You know, you make mistakes," he said through translator and Top Rank publicist Ricardo Jimenez. "Everyone makes mistakes. It happens, I am human. I thought it was excessive what I got [in terms of the punishment], but it comes with the territory. I need to show everyone what I am capable of doing. On Saturday night, I want to give a great performance. I am really looking forward to erasing all of those bad memories that I had."

That could be hard, given all the negativity surrounding his ignoring the contract weight by buying himself a few more pounds.

Bryan Vera
Bryan Vera says Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is "probably taking me lightly" and doesn't expect his foe to make weight.

Vera, who has wins against former junior middleweight titleholders Sergey Dzinziruk and Sergio Mora in two of his past three fights, thinks that Chavez's issues may haunt him Saturday.

"He is only human, like everyone else," said Vera, who sparred a bit with Chavez in late 2010. "Of course, the suspension, the fines and some of the other stuff that has been said about him will play on his mind."

Vera is also resigned to the fact that Chavez won't make weight.

"Obviously, he struggled in camp," Vera, 31, of Austin, Texas, said. "I would like him to try and make 168. It's not too respectful, actually.

"He is probably taking me lightly, but it doesn't matter. I will be 110 percent on fight night. A win will turn my whole career around and it will change my life."

Although Arum has had some harsh words for Chavez, he also defended him.

"It is very difficult when a young man starts at the age [17] that he did," Arum said. "He had a completely different body than the body that he has now. Now he has matured and he is a big, big kid. There are light heavyweights that look smaller than he does. We have to question ourselves whether he stayed at 160 too long even though he was able to make the weight, because I really believe that if you struggle to make weight that you deplete yourself and you can't give as good a performance than if you fight at a more natural weight.

"Julio is a big man, and for him to get down to 160, he might still do it, but it would be a tremendous sacrifice for his health and his ability to perform in the ring."

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Sergio Martinez
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. nearly knocked out Sergio Martinez in the final round of last year's fight, but Chavez was otherwise dominated.

Despite all the weight issues, Chavez amazingly still claims that he would make 160 for a rematch with Martinez, who schooled him -- although Chavez had a big moment in the dramatic 12th round when he nearly knocked out Martinez.

"The only way I will go to 160 is to fight Martinez again," Chavez said. "That fight is so big that it would be worth the sacrifice to make.

"I am just so happy getting back into the ring after such a long layoff. I think about the Sergio Martinez fight every day. A little of me died inside when I lost that fight. Could I have done better? Of course I should have, but it did not happen. Now we have Vera, who is aggressive and punches hard."

As much as Chavez claims to want a Martinez rematch, he said it was time to move up to 168, even though he likely won't make that weight for Saturday's fight.

"I just felt that at 160, my health was not going to be good," he said. "Health-wise, I think that 168 is good for me and I would like to continue my career at 168. This is not a championship fight, but I will be close to 168 for this fight."

Chavez also insisted that he trained hard for Saturday's fight -- despite the fact that he has no intention of making the contract weight -- as well as for the Martinez fight.

"People have to realize how hard I trained for this fight," he said. "It wasn't easy making 160, but yet I became a champion at 160. I had three title defenses at 160, came within a couple seconds of knocking out the best 160-pounder in the world. So you can't say I wasn't ready to fight in those fights. I made the weight and I showed everyone what I am capable of doing. I don't think people realized how hard it was to make 160 and how much I had to sacrifice to make 160."

Besides a Martinez rematch, Chavez said his goal is to win a super middleweight title, something no Mexican has done.

"But all I'm thinking about now is how I look on Saturday, and then I will think about what's next," he said. "I know I am going to repeat myself, but I would sacrifice everything to make 160 because I do want that [Martinez] fight."

Sacrifice everything? Perhaps Chavez could have started by doing just that to honor the contract he signed to fight Vera.