You’d think fans would have a grasp of how good (or bad) Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is by now.
The 25-year-old son of the Mexican legend, who fights Sebastian Zbik at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, has been a pro for more than 7½ years. Chavez’s fight with Zbik, which will be televised on HBO in the U.S., will be his 45th pro bout.
And yet, despite the experience Chavez has gleaned from careful matchmaking over the years, fans aren’t sure if he has really earned the right to fight for the undefeated German boxer’s WBC middleweight title.
It’s not because they believe the young man is without talent or potential. Chavez (42-0-1, 30 knockouts, 1 no contest) looked good while pounding out a one-sided 12-round decision over fringe contender John Duddy last June.
However, he looked ordinary outpointing journeyman Billy Lyell over 10 rounds in his next fight in January. Between the Duddy and Lyell fights, Chavez withdrew from two scheduled fights with junior middleweight contender Pawel Wolak.
The second time he pulled out (after Wolak agreed to sub for Alfonso Gomez) left his promoter Bob Arum without a main event for a Dec. 4 pay-per-view card in Anaheim, Calif., that could have used the young fighter’s ability to sell tickets.
Chavez and his handlers said he had the flu and a high fever. However, the opinion of fans on various internet boxing forums was that he either wasn’t in shape or just didn’t feel like fighting a hard-nosed slugger like Wolak.
The notion that Chavez is privileged, protected and just plain lazy lingers. The question going into his fight on Saturday is whether a victory against Zbik (30-0, 10 KOs), THE RING‘s No. 6-rated middleweight, will change that negative perception.
Chavez thinks so.
“I think people will start believing in me after this fight,” he told RingTV.com through translator Ricardo Jimenez after the final press conference on Wednesday in Los Angeles. “I think a lot of things are going to turn for me with this fight. People are going to learn a lot about me, what I can and can’t do, and that’s why I’ve worked so hard.
“This is my opportunity to win a championship and have a great fight. I want to show people who didn’t believe in me before what I can do."
One person who knows what Chavez can do is his trainer Freddie Roach, who began working with the supposedly lazy fighter before the Duddy fight.
The respected veteran trainer says the strong form Chavez showed in the Duddy fight is just the tip of the iceberg.
“I only had four weeks with Chavez before the Duddy fight,” Roach told RingTV.com. “We had three weeks with him before the Lyell fight. For this fight with Zbik we had eight weeks, a full camp. I think we’ve accomplished so much more in this camp than we did in the first two that people will be surprised by what they see on Saturday.”
Roach said he was especially pleased with the sparring results of this camp. Chavez worked with two undefeated fighters, junior middleweight contender Vanes Martirosyan (29-0, 18 KOs) and hard-punching welterweight prospect Wale Omotoso (18-0, 16 KOs), to prepare for Zbik.
“I thought Vanes would be too much for him, but he took it to Vanes in their first session, he pushed him back,” Roach said. “Vanes came back and put it on him the next time they sparred. They were 50-50 throughout the camp. I was happy with Chavez. His pressure is so effective.”
Roach says Chavez, who is currently unranked by THE RING, has other tools that suggest that he can be a real contender.
“He sees openings very well and he takes advantage of them,” he said. “He’s got a good chin, he’s durable and he’s a great body puncher.”
Roach believes the left hook to the liver he learned by watching his legendary father fight might be one of the keys to victory on Saturday.
“Zbik is used to European-style boxing; he hasn’t fought the American and Mexican fighting styles,” he said. “I don’t think he’s used to being hit to the body and pushed back. We’re going to press him, but we’re also going to give him angles and head movement, two things we’ve been working on in the gym.”
Roach is confident of victory but he knows it won’t come easy. Zbik, who recently turned 29, is a mature athlete who possesses quick hands and very good technique.
Chavez will have to be in the best shape of his career to employ Roach’s strategy. His conditioning coach, Alex Ariza, says he will be.
“He should look stronger in this fight than he did in the Duddy fight because his body is finally used to the new conditioning methods and now he knows that it works,” Ariza said. “I don’t think he was 100-percent confident in the new system (during his first two camps) because he was used to doing things the old way, which was to starve himself to make weight. It was weird for him to be able to drink water the week of the fight. Now he knows he can do it and still make weight and the result is a stronger fighter with better stamina.
"He was in shape to fight harder down the stretch of the Duddy fight but he was used to holding back in the late rounds of his fights because of weight drain. He was actually scared to let his hands go in the late rounds because he thought he‘d get tired. That won’t happen this time.”
Chavez says the poor conditioning methods he used before hiring Roach and Ariza forced him to lose too much weight in camp, which resulted in sickness, fight cancelations and sluggish performances, which of course led to the “lazy” label he’s been stuck with.
“The perception was that I was lazy but actually nobody was teaching me anything (in the gym),” Chavez said. “We tried to prepare (for fights) as best we could but we didn’t know a lot of things.
“Now that I’m with Freddie I know there are a lot of ways to get ready for a fight, especially the conditioning. I think that’s the difference. It wasn’t that I wasn’t working, it was that I was doing the wrong things.”
If he does the right things against Zbik he’ll likely earn a degree of respect he never had. However, Roach doesn’t believe a victory over the solid German fighter will be enough to completely change perceptions.
“Zbik is undefeated and he’s a titleholder but he is not well known,” Roach said. “What this fight does is put Junior in position to fight a better-known fighter. The fight after this one is the fight that will earn him respect.
“I’ve heard that (Antonio) Margarito could be next. Miguel Cotto is talking about coming up in weight to try to win a fourth title in a fourth weight class. And there’s that ’Canelo’ kid (Saul Alvarez), that’s a big fight. I’d take any one of those fights in a second.”