Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., El Hijo de la Leyenda, has been fighting to “shut the mouths of the critics” almost from the moment he made his pro debut.
Now, as an eleven-year professional, it looks as though he may finally be catching on to the game of boxing stardom. He doesn’t have to shut anyone’s mouth. As a matter of fact, let them keep talking.
“Maybe people don’t like me,” Chavez recently told Nacion ESPN. “I don’t know, but…they still watch my fights, which is the most important thing.”
Protected by the money his name generates, Junior has taken plenty of short cuts in his career and has not been held accountable for any of his actions. When he’s been suspended, he gets welcomed back with open arms. If he bails on training and gets beaten by a lesser opponent, he gets the decision anyway, plus a second crack at setting the record straight– ask Carlos Molina, Matt Vanda, and most recently, Bryan Vera about this.
But beneath all of the diva drama is a world class fighter with the instincts of a world class fighter. Junior puts on entertaining shows at the highest levels of the game and has shown himself to be more than the spoiled rich kid with a sense of entitlement and an army of enablers.
Yes, he is also a spoiled rich kid with a sense of entitlement and an army of enablers, but that’s not all he is anymore. He’s a real fighter and a diva, wrapped in one, with both parts in constant conflict.
And the Mexican fans, torn between an unconditional love for his father and a built-in blue collar distaste for nepotism and short cuts, have been divided on how to receive him.
Up close, there have been flare-ups, like after the 2008 Matt Vanda fight in Hermosillo, Sonora, when angry fans pelted the ring with garbage and cups of beer in protest of his controversial split decision victory.
That night, Chavez Jr. had to be protected from the fans who gave Minnesota’s Vanda a standing ovation on his way back to the dressing room. The second generation star just sat in his corner, exhausted and dejected, towels held over him by his team, protecting him from the flying debris while his father, the Legend, fought with fans at ringside.
However, in the cold world of TV ratings and in well-secured major venues in American cities with large, nostalgic Mexican communities, Chavez Jr. is a hit and always has been.
Perhaps one of the top five draws in boxing, definitely one of the top ten, Chavez Jr. is a major star, like it or not.
The Bryan Vera fight last September seems to have changed a lot about the way Chavez sees himself and his place in the sport. After the loss to Sergio Martinez and the subsequent suspension for setting off the weed-o-meter on NSAC doping tests, Chavez arrogantly walked into a Vera bout where he couldn’t make several incrementally higher weight limits and proceeded to get slapped around by a fighter who is, at the very least, one full level below him.
It’s too much to say that the experience was humbling, but it did seem to awaken some sort of self-awareness in the young fighter. Some would call this maturity– after all, he did become a father for the first time not long after the Vera fight. It would be more correct, though, to call it becoming media savvy.
He doesn’t have to “shut up the critics” anymore. Chavez is long past having to go in the trenches and drum up popular support at the grass roots level. He is now a being of the worldwide media, where everything is seen from a distance and filtered through teams of publicists and media members serving as publicists. For fighters on his level, all they have to do is be seen. Those who would throw cups of beer at him in disgust are now just anonymous marks on TV ratings reports.
At this level, all Chavez has to really do is smile warmly at the cameras and say what the fans want to hear while letting the massive Top Rank machine scheme and maneuver behind the scenes to keep him perpetually with the upper hand in every bout he takes.
“…I won’t make any excuses,” Chavez said in a personal blog post published on ESPN.com. “I know that I owe the fans a great performance and that is what they will get — a great performance on March 1st.”
In the particular case of Chavez, who is looking to appeal to a hardcore Mexican fan base, he also has to give the appearance that he’s following the rules and being held to the same standard as everyone else. It doesn’t have to actually be true, it just has to be publicized.
In the upcoming rematch with Vera, it’s been repeated ad nauseam that there’s a $250,000 fine in play should Chavez come in over weight. This would not be in play if Chavez’s team thought he might not make the contracted 168 lb. limit for the bout.
Reports say that Chavez was just twelve pounds over 168 at the end of January and will make the 168 limit easily. Fans and media will be appeased, but Vera, a natural middleweight, is still being asked to fight one division heavier than normal against someone who will rehydrate to the cruiserweight limit. It’s essentially the same deal as their first fight, except wrapped in a prettier bow to make the star look classy and “refocused.”
Just a week after his twenty-eighth birthday, Chavez looks to finally be getting a grasp on where he needs to be– not necessarily a better man, just better at not flaunting his privilege.
Shortly after his Vera bout, Chavez begins filming for the Mexican reality show, La Isla. The all-star celebrity version of the Survivor knock-off will place Chavez on an island with an assortment of telenovela stars, singers, and TV personalities to compete for survival via a series of physical challenges. The widely-watched show will do wonders for the Mexican public’s perception of him and, some say, it contributed a great deal to his willingness to get into stellar shape for his upcoming bout.
Whatever the case, Julio Junior will march on, enjoying the privilege that comes with being the son of boxing royalty. If everything plays out true to form, he’ll likely rip right through the tough, but significantly less talented Vera on March 1 and find his way to a world title at super middleweight.
But it doesn’t matter, anymore, whether you love him or hate him or whether you can respect the talent underneath who you perceive him to be. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is a star. The chip on his shoulder and legitimate pathos of being the poor rich kid look to be gone. The rest of the ride will be pure public relations.
It was disappointing that Michael Woods, editor-in-chief of The Sweet Science, chose never to respond to my questions regarding his site’s promotion of a Canelo Alvarez-Alfredo Angulo prize giveaway.
Instead, Woods, also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America, posted an indirect response via Twitter, dismissing me and blowing off the questions:
Someone sent me a column written by a self congratulatory crusader. Surprised the story was written as it would seem hard to type while…patting yourself on the back with both hands! This guy actually makes some good points, but seems like one of these toxic types, with boulder sized chips on his shoulder, that you……simply can’t bring yourself to engage with him. You all know these sorts. Too bad, as I said, I think the heart is in the right place
Sure, Woods doesn’t owe me a damn thing, but what about the fans? As someone so eager to be a member of crusading fraternal orders of boxing scribes, shouldn’t there be an effort made to explain whether what we see on his site is part of the commercial for Canelo-Angulo? Or is he among the vast boxing majority who think nobody cares about such conflicts and that the fans are too stupid to realize they’re being marketed to, not informed?
I don’t know. We don’t know. Woods is above it all.
You can email Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org, tell him how much you hate him, and then buy his book, Notes from the Boxing Underground! Paul is a full member of the Burger King Kids’ Club, a born iconoclast, and an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church.