Chavez Jr. follows in father’s footsteps

From the minute Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. pulled on a pair of boxing gloves for the first time, he was revered by Mexican and Mexican-American boxing fans. The old familiar chants of “Chavez! Chavez! Chavez!” serenaded him as he walked to the ring. The crowds were always a little bigger when he fought, more enthusiastic, a bit more hopeful.

But they loved him, largely, for one simple fact: He was the oldest son of the greatest Mexican boxer of them all, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.

Julio Jr.’s amateur career consisted of exactly two fights, both exhibitions against Jorge Paez Jr.

Soon-to-be Hall of Famer Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. sits under his likeness of his son, Julio Jr.
(Getty Images)

When Chavez Jr. stepped into the ring as a professional for the first time as a 17-year-old on Sept. 26, 2003, he was an icon even though most in attendance weren’t sure if he’d flash one-tenth of his father’s talent.

But on Saturday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, nearly eight years after he began his improbable journey, a veteran, strong and confident Chavez Jr. believes he’ll bring the fans to their feet again as he goes for the World Boxing Council middleweight title against Sebastian Zbik in the main event of a Top Rank-promoted card on HBO.

And as one journey begins, a week later another will end. As Chavez Jr. attempts to make history and become, along with his father, just the sixth father-son combination to each win professional world titles, his father will prepare for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame eight days later.

It’s a momentous occasion, but Chavez Jr. insists he won’t be consumed by it.

“I’m proud of what my father did, and I can’t even tell you how proud I am he is going into the Hall of Fame, but I have put that out of my mind at this point,” Chavez Jr. said. “My focus is really just on [Zbik] and winning this fight and getting the title. People have talked about me a long time and paid extra attention to me because of my father’s name, but you know what? I went out and fought my way to this point. I have earned this chance, and I don’t want let anything distract me from accomplishing my goal, not even thinking about my father’s induction into the Hall of Fame. There will be plenty of time for that later.”

Top Rank promoter Bob Arum promoted many of Chavez Sr.’s biggest fights and believed the son had the ability to become a star as well. Chavez Jr. was a young boy who became well known to boxing fans after his father’s fights, when Julio Sr. would hoist him into the air and carry him around the ring on his shoulders.

Arum, an avid horse-racing fan, knew the younger Chavez had no experience when he signed him to a co-promotional agreement in 2003 but felt the genes would make the difference.

“I looked at Julio Jr. much the same way I would have looked at buying a thoroughbred with good bloodlines,” Arum said. “If you buy a horse with a Derby winner in its pedigree, you have certain expectations. Well, this kid had the bloodlines and he was around the sport his entire life. Even though he didn’t fight as a young kid, he was around it and knew instinctively what it was about and what was required.

“He seemed to me to be a real student of the sport, and he was obviously athletic. You never know if anyone is going to do something until they do it, but he was a kid I kind of figured had a better chance than most of them.”

Measuring up to any world champion would have been tough, but Julio Jr. fought most of his career with the unenviable comparisons to a father who is one of the 20 or 25 best fighters of all time and an icon of the highest order in Mexico.

Chavez Sr. was 87-0 before he suffered his first blemish, a draw in 1993 with the great Pernell Whitaker. The elder Chavez by that point had already won world titles at 130, 135 and 140 pounds and was considered by most the greatest Mexican fighter in history.

His son essentially learned the game in the bright spotlight of international television. Every one of his fights was an event, particularly in Mexico, and his development unfolded for all the world to see.

Normally, most young fighters make their mistakes in small gyms in front of friends and family only, but Chavez Jr.’s were all on a big stage. He was doubted by many, but his father felt he’d be able to make it to the top.

“I always believed in his talent and his hard work,” Chavez Sr. said of his son. “He needed someone to take it and help him develop it. The best decision he made was to go to [train with] Freddie Roach. I thought he could become a champion, but he needed someone like Freddie to teach him and bring the talent out of him.”

Unlike his father, Junior is a rangy fighter who is at his best working on the outside. But until he partnered with Roach last year, he didn’t work angles well, his jab wasn’t really a weapon and he wasn’t in the elite condition he needed to be to fight at the highest level.

But he’s developed that quickly, said Roach, who said he believes Junior’s boxing ability will be the difference against Zbik.

“[Zbik] has a European straight-up style and pretty much fights in a straight line,” Roach said. “I think our boxing ability is going to give him a lot of trouble. We have looked at the video, and we are going to use a lot of angles on him. We are going to keep him turning into combinations because he will follow you wherever you go.”

Junior followed Senior for years and got to see some of the greatest matches in modern boxing history. He was just a young boy when his father was at his peak – Junior was only 7 when his father fought Whitaker – but he only has vague memories of his Dad’s halcyon days.

He knows a win over Zbik would be historic, not only because he would become the first Mexican-born fighter to hold the middleweight title but because of the significance of winning it a week before his father is immortalized.

But Chavez Sr. said the pride he has for making the Hall of Fame won’t compare to the pride he feels if and when his son wins his first world title belt.

“For me, it is more important to watch my son not only fighting for but winning a world championship than it is for me to go into the Hall of Fame,” Chavez Sr. said. “It’s about the past for me. For him, it’s the future. I know how hard he has worked for this opportunity and to see my son reach a dream will be a great thrill for me.”

Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Jun 1, 2011