SAN ANTONIO – Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. entered the ring at a shockingly empty Alamodome on Saturday at something of a career crossroads at just 28-years old.
His commitment to the sport was being questioned, even by those close to him, and his fans appeared to be abandoning him.
The son of one of the greatest fighters in boxing history, Chavez did his part to regain some of his lost luster before 7,323 at the Alamodome by routing Bryan Vera in a fight he won by repeatedly clubbing Vera with a crunching right hand.
Judges scored it 117-110 twice and 114-113 for Chavez. Yahoo Sports scored it 118-109 for Chavez.
It was the second fight in a row where the attendance at one of Chavez's fights was less than expected, and in the early stages of Saturday's bout, the crowd couldn't seem to make up its mind whether it was for Chavez or Vera.
He drew roughly half the crowd to the Alamodome that he did in his last appearance in San Antonio, when he attracted 14,120 to watch him fight Marco Antonio Rubio on Feb. 4, 2012.
But he was clearly in shape and fought hard and well throughout. Whether it was enough to bring back his star is another question.
His father, Hall of Famer Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., told Top Rank promoter Bob Arum after the fight that his son still has work to do.
"He certainly was in shape," Arum said. "But as his father told me, unless he gets a real trainer and goes in with a real game plan and has somebody experienced in his corner, we're all fooling ourselves. That's not me saying that. That's somebody who knows boxing better than me. He thought Julio's performance was very good, but it was obvious there was no game plan."
Chavez injured his right hand in the 10th round and said he had difficulty throwing it in the final two rounds. If he had been able to land several in a row, he may have been able to stop Vera.
Vera, meanwhile, said he injured his left hand in the fourth and said it altered his game plan. He wanted to jab to take away Chavez's right, but wasn't able to throw it.
"You can see it's swollen and every time I touch it, it [hurts]," Vera said. "Every time I touched him with it, I could feel it. I abandoned the hard jab we worked on so much. We worked on throwing a hard, hard jab, and I got away from it."
But it was a different Chavez that was in front of him, too. When they fought at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., in September, Chavez struggled greatly to make weight and didn't appear to be in the fight mentally.
Most ringside observers scored it for Vera, though the judges had Chavez. In any event, it wasn't his shining hour and he paid the price on Saturday.
Fans stayed away in large numbers, questioning his commitment. He did his best to bring them back with an entertaining performance against a guy not as skilled but who was bubbling over with determination.
"I've got a tough chin," Vera said. "We grew up rough. My mom and dad raised us to be tough kids."
But he fought a guy equally as tough, particularly when the feeling strikes him.
Chavez is a free spirit who hasn't been able to fulfill his potential because he seems not to want to be great as much as those in his camp do.
He understood, however, that the burden was on him this time to not only come in shape, but to put on a show.
"I think the people are happy because I threw a lot more punches," Chavez said, a wide grin creasing his face. "Vera made a good fight, too."
The plans changed a bit for Chavez's next fight. He was tentatively set to meet WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin in a July 12 pay-per-view, but Golovkin on Saturday pulled out of an April 26 bout on HBO because he's mourning his father's recent death.
It's uncertain when Golovkin will return, so Arum said he'd like to have Chavez fight on HBO on July 12 and then take on either Golovkin, Jean Pascal or Carl Froch if Froch beats George Groves on May 31.
Chavez liked the thought of a Golovkin match.
"I'm open to fighting anybody at 168 and maybe I'd come to 160," Chavez said. "I'm sorry to hear about Gennady's father. But I'm very excited to fight Gennady Golovkin. He's a great fighter. He's a strong guy and one of the best in the world. I'm ready to fight anybody."
Asked if he could make 160, Chavez beamed again.
"I think yes, but we'll have to see," he said.
In the co-feature, Vasyl Lomachenko dropped a split decision to Orlando Salido, coming up short in his bid to win the WBO featherweight title in his second pro fight.
Judges had it 116-112 and 115-113 for Salido and 115-113 for Lomachenko. Yahoo Sports had it 115-113 for Lomachenko.
Arum was disappointed that the two-time Olympic gold medalist didn't win the belt, but was angry at referee Laurence Cole, who according to HBO Sports replays missed at least five low blows thrown by Salido.
"That was horrible," Arum said of Cole's work. "It was a total joke."