One would think that Freddie Roach’s recent decision to add Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. to his vast stable of world-class fighters and hot prospects was made because he sees something promising in the young fighter, something the many critics of the coddled “son of the legend” don’t.
But the truth is that the respected trainer has never seen Chavez in a complete fight, live or on TV.
Roach saw the son of the Mexican icon in action for the first time at a recent press conference for Chavez’s pay-per-view showdown with John Duddy, which takes place on June 26 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
A loop of Chavez (41-0-1, 30 knockouts) pummeling the daylights out of one of the 30 odd Midwestern journeymen he’s feasted on since turning pro seven years ago played on a large video screen at the press conference, which was held Tuesday at the Millennium Biltmore in downtown L.A.
Roach sat down at one of the tables in the ballroom to study his new pupil.
“He looks good,” Roach said. “He throws nice combinations but he doesn’t have much in front of him.”
Duddy (29-1, 18 KOs) is no world-beater but the gutsy Irishman is a hard-punching fringe contender who has defeated former beltholders and title challengers. The 30-year-old New Yorker is a threat to Chavez, who has been labeled “spoiled” and “lazy” by many insiders, and Roach knows it.
So why is he taking a chance on the 24-year-old prospect?
For starters the future hall of famer is confident in his abilities as a trainer and he believes the fiercely competitive culture of his gym, the Wild Card Boxing Club, can help mold a raw, developing talent like Chavez.
But the main reason Roach is rolling the dice with the young man is that he believes Chavez wants to make a change in the way he prepares for fights.
Chavez accompanied Top Rank matchmaker Bruce Trampler to one of Manny Pacquiao’s peak mitt sessions with Roach during the Filipino icon’s camp for Joshua Clottey and saw first hand how an elite fighter and trainer work together.
Chavez admits being shocked by the frenetic pace at which Roach and Pacquiao worked for 15 rounds.
“I have to be honest,” Chavez told RingTV.com on Tuesday, “what I saw scared me, but I knew it was what I needed. You have to take risks sometimes. You can’t go anywhere without doing that.”
“Julio told us we were crazy after watching that session,” Roach said. “But he said he still wanted to train with me, so that tells me something. I think he’s growing up in the way he approaches his training. It began by him choosing me to be his new trainer. He’s always been his own boss in the gym but this is going to be something different.
“He knows I’m going to give him 100 percent, that I’m going to work just as hard as I ask him to, and he’s going to have to do the same.”
Chavez has been trained by two of his uncles, who have been criticized for not putting their foot down with the young fighter in terms of discipline. Chavez, whose celebrity is akin to that of a rock star in Mexico, has been accused of poor training habits, which has resulted in a few lackluster performances, such as his controversial split-decision with Matt Vanda in July of 2008.
“I never felt that I was lazy,” Chavez said. “I always trained for my fights. I felt like I was always prepared. I just needed someone to be a leader in my camp, someone to show me how to do things the correct way.”
He’ll get that with Roach, a four-time winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Trainer of the Year award.
He’ll get the hardest workouts of his life, and he’ll box with the best sparring partners of his career. Roach says he plans to put Chavez in with junior middleweight contender Vanes Martirosyan (27-0, 17 KOs) and undefeated middleweight prospect Peter Quillin (21-0, 15 KOs).
Only time will tell whether Chavez is up to the task and Roach’s gamble pays off.
THE AFFABLE IRISHMAN
Duddy is a bright, friendly and articulate young man from Derry, Ireland. With his affable personality, handsome mug, hard left hook, reliable chin and tendency to bleed in tough fights, he could have been a popular network fighter in the U.S. had he come around 30 years ago.
Duddy, who sells tickets in his adopted hometown of Manhattan, knows this, which is why he’s grateful to finally headline a major card against a famous name.
“This fight means everything to me,” he said. “My name has been thrown about with some big names in the past but those fights didn’t happen. This one is signed and actually happening and it’s an opportunity for me to open the eyes of boxing fans in America.”
Unlike Roach, Duddy is very familiar with Chavez. He likes what he sees in his next opponent but he believes that he’s the best fighter the younger man has faced.
“Chavez is good at using his height and range and he’s got a good jab,” Duddy said. “He’s got a tremendous left hook. He throws it effortlessly and there’s so much power on it. He’s a young pro but he’s had a very busy career, so he’s got experience, but hopefully I’m going to bring something to the table that he’s never experienced before. In my career I’ve experienced some tough fights. I’ve been asked a lot of questions and I think I’ve answered some of them.
“Let’s see if Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. can answer the questions I put forth on June 26.”
MIDDLEWEIGHT AND UP
Bob Arum, promoter of Chavez and Duddy, said the winner of the June 26 clash will be in line to fight Germany’s Sebastian Zbik for an interim 160-pound title. He said if Chavez wins, the young man, who he admits to developing slowly because of his lack of an amateur career, will be more than willing to take on world-class middleweights or junior middleweights.
That remains to be seen, but it’s a good bet that Chavez, who is the No. 1-ranked 154-pound contender in one of the sanctioning organizations, will never fight under the middleweight limit again. In fact, his time may be limited at 160 pounds.
Chavez is at least 6-foot-1 (185cm) and he appeared to weigh in the neighborhood of 180 to 185 pounds without looking flabby at Tuesday’s press conference.
LATIN FURY 15
Chavez-Duddy, which headlines Top Rank’s 15th “Latin Fury” pay-per-view show, will be the third time Arum has hosted one of his shows at the Alamodome in the past 15 years.
He drew more than 14,000 to the cavernous San Antonio dome stadium for the Manny Pacquiao-Jorge Solis headlined Latin Fury in 2007, and around 10,000 for Oscar De La Hoya’s welterweight title defense against David Kamau in 1997.
Chavez's father drew a record 63,000 to the Alamodome when he challenged then-welterweight champ Pernell Whitaker in 1993.
The veteran promoter believes he can do around 15,000 to 20,000, which is what the stadium will be configured to for Latin Fury 15.
Arum is banking on the name recognition of Chavez, Marco Antonio Barrera and Jorge Arce, along with reasonable ticket prices (starting at $25), to get it done.
Arce is in the co-featured bout against 118-pound beltholder Eric Morel. Come-backing Barrera, whose last fight was a bloody technical decision loss to Amir Khan, will face Brazil’s Adilton De Jesus in a 10-round lightweight bout.
Tickets go on sale Friday. The suggested retail price for the Top Rank-produced and distributed pay-per-view broadcast is $39.95.