By Steve Kim
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. will now be making his long-awaited return to the ring on Sept. 28 at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. But make sure you put that down in pencil and not pen on your boxing calendar because his first outing after his defeat last September to middleweight champion, Sergio Martinez, was originally scheduled for June, then July, then August, then Sept. 7.
First it was his positive test for marijuana in the wake of his defeat to Martinez that led to him sitting on the sidelines through the winter and spring. Then Chavez, a Mexican native, had problems obtaining his visa in large part because of past indiscretions -- like his DUI -- that threatened to force his comeback bout outside the United States.
But in a twist, on the day that he finally secured it, word leaked out last Monday evening that Chavez Jr. had sustained a cut during training that would once again delay his fight against poor Brian Vera, a blue-collar boxer with a thick Texas drawl, who simply had no choice but to wait, again, for Chavez Jr. to step inside the ropes. Vera and his team don't believe for one second that there was/is a cut severe enough to have postponed this date. And quite frankly, there are a lot of people in the boxing industry that are inclined to agree with them.
It's no secret that Chavez Jr. isn't the most dedicated athlete in the sport. There was a reason why Chavez Jr. -- a career middleweight -- was facing Vera (another career middleweight) at the super middleweight limit of 168: to ensure that he would make weight. Even then, those within the corridors of the Top Rank (which handles his career, alongside Zanfer Promotions) and HBO offices knew that Chavez Jr. actually showing up to fight on Sept. 7 was a 50-50 proposition. They had simply been down this road before too many times.
With this kid, there are always issues.
There was a time when Chavez Jr., who began his career in 2003, was thought of as a cute novelty act, a relatively harmless sideshow meant to spark interest in cards featuring more respected and established combatants as the main attractions. The son of an all-time great boxer -- who just happened to share the same name -- he was brought into the family business and was given kid gloves treatment not afforded most prizefighters. Boxing is a hard sport, but if there was ever a boxing aristocracy (especially among the Mexican faithful) it was the Chavez clan. There are very few children of privilege in this sport; he was the rare exception.
What the Kennedys are to American politics, this family is to Mexican boxing. By sheer virtue of being the son of "JC Superstar," he was bequeathed a certain status that is given only to the game's elite. As Chavez Jr. actually honed his skills and built a career (which naturally came with a burgeoning fan-base) he began to move up the boxing ladder and attain a certain stature. It turned out that he could actually fight just a lbit, and he became a legitimate attraction. But as his profile grew, so did the headaches.
First there was his positive test in November 2009 for a banned diuretic following his outing against journeyman Troy Rowland on the Manny Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto undercard, resulting in a seven-month suspension. Then there was the aborted fight a year later against Pawel Wolak, when he cited a late illness and was pulled from a show where he was the headliner.
Eventually, he was able to win the WBC middleweight title (more by virtue of lineage and politics than actual validity as a fighter), and by the time he was defending that crown against the likes of Marco Antonio Rubio and Andy Lee, Chavez -- who was by then a full-blown cash cow for Bob Arum -- was reportedly allowed to skip the drug testing procedures for both fights in the state of Texas, which has always known where the money flows. Rubio's team alleged that no pre- or post-fight tests were performed, and until the day he died, the late Emanuel Steward, who trained and managed Lee, doubted if testing protocols were ever administered for that contest.
Before last September's showdown against Martinez, his trainer Freddie Roach was basically the Maytag Repairman as he waited in solitude as Chavez decided it was more convenient for him to train in the kitchen of his rented mansion than actually go to a boxing gym to prepare for the biggest fight of his life.
Martinez dominated that bout for 11-plus rounds at the soldout Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas before nearly getting knocked out miraculously in the final round by Chavez Jr., who conjured up memories of his father's come-from-behind stoppage of Meldrick Taylor in 1990. It's amazing that 60 seconds of success salvaged the Chavez brand, but that's precisely what happened. There was talk of a rematch at the expansive Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and the strong pay-per-view numbers only fueled that discussion.
Those plans were scuttled as he eventually failed his post-fight urinalysis.
Regardless, Chavez Jr. will always be given perpetual last chances. Not because of any particular merit or skill as a pugilist, but because he's a bona fide draw, one that puts people in the seats and makes money for everyone involved. There's a reason why HBO continually finds slots for him on its programming schedule -- he brings ratings. For years he has been enabled and coddled. Now, he is their problem child, one that they created and is now simply too valuable to ever really discipline. He does all this and gets away with it because, well, he can.
It's interesting to note that before Arum made the official announcement of the latest re-scheduling of his next bout, Chavez took it upon himself to tweet that he had already secured another date. It's certainly an act of hubris, given that at that juncture, Top Rank and HBO still hadn't officially agreed to all this. But perhaps here, the tail wags the dog.
He can do this, because, well, he can.
Steve Kim began covering boxing in 1996 and has been writing for Maxboxing.com since 2001. He is also a regular contributor for Boxing News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he tweets (a lot.)