Chavez Jr.: Like father, like son?

Kevin Iole

You'd never find his name on any list of the best fighters in the world. Even his own promoter isn't sure how good he is.

But even without a defining victory or measurable skills, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is already one of boxing's best ticket sellers.

Promoter Bob Arum hopes he finds out if the son of the legendary Mexican champion is ready to take the next step on his development as a boxer when he meets Ray Sanchez in the main event of a Top Rank pay-per-view card Saturday in Albuquerque, N.M.

Because his father is not only one of the most-loved Mexican sports heroes but also arguably its greatest fighter, Chavez Jr. entered the professional game with a rabid fan following.

There probably aren't 10 fighters who are better ticket sellers at this stage than the 21-year-old Chavez. But even though he's 33-0-1, not even Arum is certain if he's any good. That's because Chavez had no amateur career and thus his pro career has essentially been Boxing 101.

"Unlike the other prospects we've handled and developed, he's a tougher case, because you can't get a background watching your father fight," Arum said. "He turned pro with no amateur experience. Contrast that to guys like (Miguel) Cotto or Floyd (Mayweather Jr.) or Oscar (De La Hoya), Kelly Pavlik, and they had long, impressive amateur records and they were already developed when they turned pro.

"Even kids like Vanes (Martirosyan) and Victor Ortiz, when they stepped into the ring for the first time, they had dozens and dozens of fights and were known commodities. This kid was not. He got out there and we've just tried to teach him and help him learn the business."

Chavez has a much different body type than his father, who at 5-foot-7 was at his best at super featherweight and was an inside pressure fighter with short arms.

Chavez Jr. is tall, at 6 feet, with long arms. He's fighting at super welterweight and may become a middleweight once he matures.

He's clearly at his best fighting at a distance, where he can use his reach and his developing jab. He repeatedly popped it in Louis Brown's face in his last outing, on Aug. 5 in Chicago, and that was the key to his fifth-round stoppage.

He's had to deal with a lot more scrutiny than most fighters of his experience level because of his name, but he says it's been a positive.

"I have had this name all my life and I'm used to the attention and the comparisons now," Chavez Jr. said. "I'm always going to be in my father's shadow, no matter what I do, because of how great he was, and I'm OK with that. I'm the son of the best fighter to come from Mexico, so people expect you to show a little more.

"But I don't let it bother me. If I did, I couldn't do anything. The comparisons are fine with me. We're different fighters and I'm never going to be him. The only thing the same is the name."

The name, though, is one of boxing's classics. And it's the reason that there was at least discussion last year about a bout between Chavez Jr. and Oscar De La Hoya, who twice defeated an aged Chavez Sr.

It wasn't hyperbole when Arum said such a match would be "absolutely huge," but Chavez Jr. doused the excitement, at least for the time being, with a sobering assessment of himself.

"I'm not ready for De La Hoya yet, but if you pay me $15 million, I'll fight him," he said, chuckling. "Honestly, I don't know when I'm going to be ready to fight him. I have a lot still to learn before I'm fighting people like that."

If he gets past Sanchez on Saturday, Arum hopes to match him early next year with Alfonso Gomez, a star from the first season of the reality series, The Contender, when it aired on NBC.

He's urged the young Chavez to pore over tapes of Hall of Famer Alexis Arguello, who had the same lean and lithe body type, and not so much his father. Arum wants the younger Chavez to not only forget trying to compare with his father in terms of record, but also in terms of style.

They're different people as well as different fighters.

"He reminds me of a young (Muhammad) Ali from the standpoint he really loves the sport and he loves to train and he loves to study it and learn about it," Arum said. "He's using all his computers and all the technology to help himself learn. He's totally into boxing, which is good, because he can get the most out of himself."

The elder Chavez was a notorious partier and loved to drink. His son didn't pick up that habit and lives a much simpler, and cleaner, lifestyle.

"He's not out running after women all the time, he doesn't have a big entourage following him, he's not always looking for a party, he doesn't drink at all and he's a quiet, focused and dedicated kid," Arum said. "If he has any ability, he's really going to turn into something.

"He's an extremely handsome young man with a great smile and he can have a terrific appeal. If he becomes a good fighter, he can be the biggest thing Mexico has produced since his father in terms of (being a ticket seller). He can even be bigger than his father, than (Marco Antonio) Barrera, Erik (Morales), (Jorge) Arce, all of them. He just has to show he can do it in there, and of all of the things we can do for him to help him along, that's one we can't."

But Chavez Jr. spends hours in the gym trying to prove he's not sponging off his father's name. He has made marked improvement since he turned pro in 2003 and hopes he can earn the adulation he's been receiving since he was 17.

Perhaps if he beats Sanchez and proves he's ready for the next level of opponent, the crowds will be chanting for him when they roar "Chavez! Chavez! Chavez!" instead of using his appearance as a means to show their love for his father.

"I'm proud of my father and what he's done, but I'm my own person, too," Chavez Jr. said. "I don't want things given to me. I want to show I deserve it."

The elder Chavez wasn't about to heap any more pressure on his son than already exists. But he deemed himself pleased with the progress Junior's made.

"He has handled it well," Chavez Sr. said. "As long as he keeps training and doing the right things he should be okay. All I ask is that he do the best he can every time he goes out in the ring."

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