This is a statement guaranteed to earn eye rolls from the hardcore boxing community. It runs so counter to the conventional wisdom that it likely will sound a bit heretical if you let it roll off your tongue. But here goes nothing.
It isn't always easy being boxing prodigy Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., who beat Bryan Vera by unanimous decision Saturday night by scores of 117-110, 117-110 and 114-113.
Done laughing? Because I was serious.
Yes, the son of boxing legend Julio Cesar Chavez has had plenty of advantages in his professional career. His name carries weight in this sport, especially in the Mexican community where his father was the most beloved sports icon of my generation.
A star from day one, he's had the kind of training, matchmaking and money most boxers would give the world for. His only two amateur fights were broadcast on Mexican television when he was just a teenager. By the time he was 17 he was on a rocket ship to fame and fortune. The moment he proved he wasn't a complete pretender, his future success, on some level, was all but guaranteed.
But all of those advantages have a serious price tag attached. The pressure on his shoulders, to earn a place at his father's right hand, to live up to his name, to be worthy of the admiration that came so easily, is the kind that can slowly crush a man under its heavy weight.
Can you imagine what that must be like? In the ring it's just you and another man. Your name can only help you so much. Before the fight with the promoter, after the fight with the judges, your name matters. In the ring it's only your heart, mind and courage standing between you and an opponent with bad intentions.
In the ring Chavez Jr. has become a very good fighter. He's an action fighter, a man with a granite chin and willingness to eat a punch to deliver one. At times he looks like Rocky Balboa, leading with his head, oblivious of everything except cornering the other man in the ring and mauling him.
And yet, despite his success, 48 wins and counting, his place in the sport is credited to his famous father. Here's Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix with a representative take from 2013, right before his first fight with Bryan Vera:
Welcome to the wild world of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., where boxing is a hobby, one he doesn't seem particularly interested in. Think the embarrassment of testing positive for a banned substance would wake him up? Nah. Think the promise of headlining high-profile, big-money super middleweight fights against Andre Ward, Carl Froch or Sergey Kovalev would light a fire under him? Guess not.
...until he takes his career seriously, he will continue to be little more than attraction. Until he makes a commitment, he will be just a kid cashing in on his father's name.
Fair? Perhaps. He's certainly made some mistakes along the way. But, as much as fans embrace him for his last name, it's also an albatross. If his name wasn't Cesar Chavez, in fact, he might get more love from boxing cognoscenti who seem so intent on finding reasons to criticize.
What a bitter pill to swallow. Winning early and often, drawing huge crowds and working your way to the top of the sport isn't enough. No matter what he does in a boxing ring, it will never be enough for Chavez Jr to supplant his father in the hearts and minds of Mexican boxing fans.
They loved him nonetheless—when it was easy to do so. It's a romance that is suddenly in serious trouble. Fans could only give Chavez Jr. so many chances before the drugs, poor training habits and, the biggest sin of all, lackluster fights, cost him dearly in his community.
A drunk driving arrest, the first loss of his career and a subsequent drug suspension, all in succession, hurt Chavez Jr. with his fans. When he returned, overweight and out-of-shape against Vera last year, it seemed the final straw. He was gifted a decision but everyone who saw the fight knew he hadn't been the better man.
Long one of the most consistent draws in the sport, there were plenty of good seats at the Alamodome on Saturday as fans abandoned the young star in droves. In the rematch with Vera, Chavez Jr. had a lot to prove, both to fans and himself.
For the most part, he delivered. Fully engaged this time around, Chavez Jr. got out front quickly, walking through Vera's punches in order to deliver crashing shots to the body and head. It was an impressive performance.
But, just as he appeared to be winning back the love of the crowd, Chavez Jr. made a critical misstep. Vera, a journeyman in his tenth year as a pro, has only been stopped twice in his career. Junior seemed on his way to being the third to do so. Rather than pursue the knockout in the twelfth and final round, however, Chavez Jr. decided to dance and run, preserving his huge lead on the score cards instead of looking for the spectacular finish.
As he shuffled and did a terrible Muhammad Ali impression, the previously partisan crowd let him hear it, boos raining down from the top of the building to the bottom. Chavez Jr.'s gameplan may have made tactical sense, but it lacked the romanticism Mexican fans demand of their heroes.
Chavez Jr. was expected to pursue his foe until the final bell rang. Backward steps are for lesser men. He wasn't just a true warrior—he was the son of the great Chavez. This kind of gamesmanship, to the fans in the arena at least, was beneath him.
What had been a beautiful redemption song hit a final, sour note. Chavez. Jr may be back, but it's not clear yet if his fans are. Perhaps a fight with Gennady Golovkin, heavily teased in the post-fight, will answer both questions once and for all.
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