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Chavez Jr. carving his own legacy

Story by Felipe Leon
Photo by Chris Cozzone

The city of Tijuana and its boxing fans has been good for the reigning royal family of Mexican boxing—the three-divisional world champion Julio Cesar Chavez and his two sons, Julio Cesar Jr. and Omar. From the more than ten wins that Chavez Sr. registered in the border city to Chavez Jr.'s three, it has always been with the full support of the city's people.

But the city has also called it as it has seen it.

Such was the case the night of June 21st, 2008 when the Gran Campeon's youngest fighting son Omar put on a less-than-stellar performance against unheralded Miguel Hernandez, and was awarded a four-round draw which many of the 3,000 in attendance at the Municipal Auditorium were prompted to voice their opinion by systematically showering the ring with cups of beer, water bottles and other liquids.

On Saturday night, Chavez Jr. (38-0-1 2 9KsO) appears in Tijuana as the main event of "Latin Fury 8-Tijuana Thunder" to put the Chavez name once again on the highest rung as he faces the also undefeated Luciano Leonel Cuello (23-0, 10 KOs) of La Plata, Argentina, for the vacant WBC Latino light middleweight title over 12 scheduled rounds.

“First of all, it was good that I wasn't there because I wouldn't have liked to gotten wet," Julio laughs before turning serious.

"I think that Omar has made mistakes in his career like the one that he demonstrated that night in Tijuana, which was to come fight without training. He gave a bad performance where he looked real bad for the last two rounds. The fans reproach that about him. Why? Because he is not just any fighter but he is a son of a legend, my father. So for respect to the boxing public, he always has to be well prepared and give his all.

“That night he didn't do that, so, in one way justifiably so, but at the same time, without justification, because you should never throw something at someone. Justifiably, they tried to express their displeasure."

As every older brother would do when noticing that a younger sibling is not doing the correct thing, Chavez Jr. has offered advice to Omar—whether the undefeated lightweight accepts it is another story.

"I have told him many times that he shouldn't let that happen. In fact, what happened to him in Tijuana affected me in Hermosillo some weeks later. I have told him many times that if he is going to go into a ring, to go in well prepared.

"He does get angry when I mention these things to him but I know that deep inside, he listens. He has told me that he is not going to fight again unless he feels he as prepared himself to the fullest."

The burden now is on Chavez Jr.'s shoulders this Saturday night as he faces an undefeated fighter who has nothing to lose but his "0"—and everything to gain by defeating the son of a legend.

"The truth, I don't know much about him since he really hasn't fought out of Argentina,” says Chavez. “I have seen some film and he is a good fighter. He is strong, he comes forward and he throws quite a number of punches. But I think that if I want to get where I think I should be right now, I have to beat him clearly this Saturday.

"Every time you face a fighter that has not lost, you take that into consideration. But more important than that, is to make sure that I am well prepared. With that said, I should be able to defeat Luciano Cuello distinctly."

Chavez is coming off the two most interesting bouts of his 39 professional fight career. In July of last year, he defeated the always tough Matt Vanda with a split decision over ten rounds in Hermosillo, Mexico. The fight was controversial due to the scores that were given that night. While one judge gave Vanda a close decision of 96-95, the other two judges saw it for Chavez Jr with cards of 97-93 and the highly contentious 100-90. Many ringside pundits and fans felt the score was overly generous towards Chavez Jr. since it was clear that he gassed out in the late rounds as Vanda only picking up steam.

Chavez Jr. was able to redeem himself months later as he defeated Vanda with a unanimous decision in Las Vegas.

"Unfortunately, we haven't had the best luck in the world,” says Chavez. “I always prepare myself well for my fights. In Hermosillo I had a fever as I climbed into the ring and I couldn't give the best of me. I always try to give my all. In Las Vegas I was able to beat Matt Vanda more clearly but I think I could of done more, I think I could of knocked him out. For one or another reason we haven't been able to fight at 100% but this Saturday on a stage of this size we are going to do everything we can and show what we really can do so that I can win and shine like never before."

Chavez who seems to have matured in the last couple of years well beyond his 23 years, hascome to terms with his place in boxing in relation to his famous father.

“Since I started in boxing, I knew that I was going to be compared with my father,” he says. “It is impossible to escape his shadow. I am the one that I am going to fight. I am the one that has to train so I want to make my own story, I want to be a world champion. That's all I can do to be able to stand on my own two feet, to be a world champion.

“I can never exceed the expectations of the public because every time I climb into a ring, the fans expect to see my father, Julio Cesar Chavez. It is very difficult but I don't complain because my last name has also helped me and it has opened doors for me but at the end of the day, I have to prove myself."

The way that Chavez intends to prove himself is by strapping a title belt around his waist. If it was up to him, the sooner the better.

"I have stated that I would like to fight for the WBC light middleweight title against Vernon Forrest. That is my priority. If it is not him, it can be with any other champion for whatever other organization. I am ready to fight against anyone as long as my promoters agree.

“Vernon Forrest is a great fighter, a great champion. He comes forward so I think that he fits well against my style. The truth, the Vernon Forrest I saw in the first fight against Sergio Mora was not a fighter in his prime. I think that it would be great opportunity and a great fight for me."

Although Chavez Jr. was born into the sport, he did not have his hands wrapped and strap on gloves until age of 16. With that late of a start, no time was left for any amateur career of consequence. Therefore, Chavez Jr. had to learn to ply his trade in the professional ranks against over matched opponents which led to cries of coddling. A fact that Chavez Jr. does not deny.

"It is true that I have been taken care of in the beginning of my career for the fact that I didn't have much of an amateur career. I have told my team a thousand times that I want important fights. But I think the time is here that I have to show what I am made of and to show wether I am a good fighter or not. The better the fight is, the more I am going to be able to show.”

Like any other fighter that makes that long walk to the squared circle, Chavez Jr. is aware of defeat and is not afraid if the tougher fights bring him his first loss.

"No, I am not worried about that. As a fighter, you have to be willing to lose. I think that if I was given the opportunity to face a more well known fighter, possibly a world champion, my training and my motivation would be different, I would be a different fighter. I am not worried, inside the ring you can either win or lose but you always go in thinking of winning."

But what if, in two months time, Top Rank and Zanfer Promotions offer their young prodigy a fight that he doesn't deem tough enough?

"Honestly, I would not accept that.

“In fact, I asked Bob Arum yesterday, I said 'Bob, what is next for me if everything goes well on Saturday?' He said that we will see and that there was talks with De La Hoya's people. I even told him that if he didn't want to give me a title fight, for him to take me to New York. I will fight John Duddy in New York. I think that is a great option for me after this fight."

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