Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. shows signs he is maturing while preparing to defend middleweight title

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

Anyone who says they watched Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. early in his professional boxing career and knew he would become a champion with the ability to defeat one of the world's greatest fighters is either lying or one of the finest judges of talent in history.

The gangly kid who looked so out of place in a boxing gym is now a big, confident and talented middleweight world champion.

He will defend his belt Saturday in El Paso, Texas, on an HBO-televised card at the Sun Bowl against Andy Lee in which a win will bring the winner a bout with Sergio Martinez.

Martinez is ranked No. 3 in the most recent Yahoo! Sports poll and has long been regarded as one of the best fighters in the world.

But when Chavez asked Bruce Trampler, Top Rank's Hall of Fame matchmaker, whether Trampler saw any middleweight who could beat him, Trampler could come up with only one name: Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

"The only person who can beat you is yourself," Trampler told Chavez. "You have to keep training as hard as you can."

And therein lies the issue with Chavez. He's good enough to beat anyone in his weight class when he feels like it. Often, though, he doesn't feel like it.

He grew up amid privilege as the son of Mexico's greatest hero and one of the top fighters in the sport's history. He didn't have to work for anything.

Boxing, though, doesn't care how much money or influence one has or how important that person may be. Without putting in the time and effort in the gym, there is no succeeding in the sport.

Chavez's trainer, Hall of Famer Freddie Roach, said Chavez is the kind who pours himself into training, at least when he shows up.

"The thing is, he is a great worker when we get him in the gym," Roach said. "He is dedicated, he works his [butt] off and he never says no to what I ask him to do. But I don't always get him in the gym.

"Making weight, plain and simple, is a fight for him. When he's in a bad mood, he'll go eat a pizza or something and then we have to work it off of him. He's his own worst enemy a lot of times, but we haven't had that this time. He was just six pounds over [the 160-pound middleweight limit earlier this week]."

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Chavez is on the verge of becoming, along with Canelo Alvarez, one of the two biggest stars in the sport. Martinez is the more successful boxer who has been on HBO far more often, but he's not nearly the draw that Chavez has become.

Chavez has only had three fights on HBO. In his HBO debut against Sebastian Zbik, he drew 1.497 total viewers, according to a Nielsen report. He attracted a total of 1.514 for his win over Peter Manfredo and had an audience of 1.88 million in February when he defeated Marco Antonio Rubio.

That's an average of 1.63 million viewers for each of his three HBO fights, a figure which dwarfs the 1.09 million average Martinez got for his last three fights. He attracted 1.119 million for his fight with Sergei Dzinziruk, 1.098 million for Darren Barker and 1.052 million for Matthew Macklin.

It's no wonder that Martinez has been calling out Chavez for a fight.

In addition, Martinez struggles to put more than 5,000 fans in most venues. Chavez is expected to attract a crowd of around 20,000 to the Sun Bowl.

Top Rank president Todd duBoef conceded that Chavez's name opens many doors for him, but he said it swings both ways.

"The lineage, being the son of one of the best boxers ever, is a benefit but it's also a problem," duBoef said. "He's instantly recognized, and that's a good thing, but he has had to live up to the legend of his father and that's a hard thing to do a lot of the time. He's struggled with that dynamic a lot through the years.

"From what I've been able to tell, he's come into his own more recently. He's developed his own identity and his own personality. He's got a very telegenic style and I think he's understanding better than he ever has that this is a serious business."

He's good at saying what he thinks people want to hear, and his words before his fight with Lee are no different. He's praised Lee and promised to be fit and ready.

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He's done that plenty of times before and hasn't been ready. But his success against an increasingly higher level of competition seems to be convincing him of the need to take his job seriously year-round.

"I believe that at this stage of my career, I am putting all together," he said. "I now have the experience to deal with everything that might happen in the ring, and I think my last few fights have helped me to become a better fighter. What I need now is to follow Freddie's plan and make this fight one of my best."

He's not a natural athlete like Manny Pacquiao, Roach said, and it takes him a while to learn a move. But Roach said he's seen a different Chavez over recent weeks and believes he's motivated to get past Lee to land the coveted spot with Martinez.

Roach has little doubt that Chavez is good enough to do it, if he puts his mind to the task.

"I don't think he's looking past this fight, I truly don't, because I think he understands that the Martinez fight only happens if he has a good performance here," Roach said. "We know that, and we look forward to Martinez. That will be a challenge because, even though I've been trash talking him, it's just been trying to make the fight. We know he's one of the best in the world and what it would mean to beat him."

To beat Martinez, he first must beat Lee.

History would suggest that though Chavez is good enough to beat Lee, whether he does will be determined by, in large part, how he feels when he wakes up on Fight Day.

It's a challenge to those who have grown close to him and want to see him do well. But with Chavez, it's pretty much a day-to-day, even hour-to-hour, type of thing.

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