Friday, February 3, 2012

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. showing grit, ditching the silver spoon

source: Kevin Iole | Yahoo! Sports

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. comes from boxing royalty. His father is widely regarded as one of the 20 greatest fighters in the sport’s history and the best ever to emerge from talent-laden Mexico.

When Chavez Jr. turned professional in 2003, he wasn’t what Bruce Trampler, the Hall of Fame matchmaker from Top Rank, would call a real fighter.

He had talent, though, at first, it was only Trampler who saw it. Because of his father’s success, the young Chavez grew up a rich and pampered kid who didn’t have to work for anything he got. That usually isn’t the way a world-class fighter is developed.

And when the young Chavez became a pro, he trained when he felt like. More often than not, when he didn’t feel like it, he’d go through the motions or he’d skip working out entirely.

Trampler said that one time he drove nearly four hours from Top Rank’s Las Vegas offices up the windy treacherous mountain road to get to Big Bear Lake, Calif., where the young Chavez was preparing for a fight. Trampler, one of the wisest boxing minds in the sport’s history, wanted to get a feel for where Chavez was.

When he arrived, he found that the training session was canceled, with Chavez tucked into his bed watching cartoons.

“What I saw was what had been going on for a while with him and what it was really the product of him being a spoiled rich kid,” Trampler said.

Trampler isn’t the type to put up with spoiled rich kids, even one whose father is one of the greatest fighters who ever lived.

He became determined to take Chavez to the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, Calif., to see trainer Freddie Roach put Manny Pacquiao through the paces. Pacquiao, regarded by many as the best fighter alive, has a notoriously great work ethic.

Chavez resisted though, until one day when Trampler caught him at the Wilshire Grand Hotel in Los Angeles. Chavez and his girlfriend exited a bank of elevators at one end. At the same time, Trampler exited one on the opposite end.

Chavez saw Trampler, but made like he didn’t, turned to his right and attempted to scoot away. But being so close to Roach, Pacquiao and the Wild Card, Trampler wasn’t going to give up. He turned and went around the back of the elevator and grabbed Chavez.

“I saw him and I said, ‘You little [expletive],’ and I grabbed him, and he said, ‘Oh, Bruce! Hello! I didn’t see you,’ ” Trampler recalled. “I told him I was taking him to the Wild Card. He didn’t want to go, but I said, ‘You’re going,’ and I dragged him into the car and took him.”

And that chance meeting by the elevators may have changed the young man’s life.

He’s now the World Boxing Council middleweight champion, is trained by Roach and will defend his belt against Marco Antonio Rubio on Saturday in San Antonio, Texas, at the Alamodome, the same building where his father fought Pernell Whitaker in 1993 in one of the epic bouts of the last quarter century.

And though there are still plenty of doubters about whether Chavez is the real thing, Roach is no longer among them. Roach, who will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in June, not only has become convinced that Chavez is a world-class fighter, but he believes he’s good enough to take on the recognized top middleweight, Sergio Martinez, in his next fight.

Martinez is ranked third in the Yahoo! Sports boxing poll and is regarded by most as several classes above Chavez.

“Martinez is very athletic, and he has a lot of that going for him, but he’s just an average boxer, not a great boxer,” Roach said. “[Antonio] Margarito knocked him out and Margarito is just a tough guy, but he’s hardly a great boxer. Sergio is better now than he was then, but Julio is so much better, too.

“Sergio’s got that athleticism, but Julio is a better boxer. He understands boxing. He’s been around it his whole life and he has that grittiness and toughness you see. I have no problem putting Julio in with Sergio in his next fight.”

[Also: Legendary corner man Angelo Dundee dies ]

The commonly held perception of Chavez was that he is among boxing’s most protected fighters. He had only a handful of amateur fights, and Trampler pointed out that most of his early professional fights were, in essence, on-the-job training.

Chavez, who turns 26 on Feb. 16, is 44-0-1 with 31 knockouts. But, like Greg Haugen once said before fighting Chavez Sr. in a match in Mexico City that drew over 130,000 fans, many of those were the equivalent of “Tijuana taxi drivers.”

But Chavez showed surprising skill, and mettle, in handling Sebastian Zbik on June 4 to win the WBC belt that had been stripped from Martinez. Zbik isn’t a dangerous puncher, but he was a quality boxer with a lot of experience who was the favorite.

“That was a big turning point for me, that fight,” Chavez said. “He is a very good fighter and when I beat him, I knew I could compete with anyone.”

He handled Peter Manfredo easily in his first title defense and is looking much more like he belongs than just a protected kid treading off his father’s big name.

Rubio is a powerful puncher, but as long as Chavez uses his height and reach, he shouldn’t find himself in too many dangerous situations.

Then, if he succeeds, all concerned believe he’d be ready for someone of the caliber of Martinez, a concept that not that long ago would have been laughable.

When Chavez picked up the sport, many wrote him off, saying he looked very amateurish and clumsy. Trampler, a baseball player agent who is used to projecting skills, saw something that no one else did.

“You have to take a kid like that and project him like you would do with a high school baseball player,” Trampler said. “You see this kid in high school who is hitting all these home runs and no one can get him out and you have to think, ‘OK, does he have the tools that he can do this when he’s facing better and better competition?’ It’s a guess, but when I looked at Julio, even a very young Julio, I saw a lot that told me there might be something there.

“He had the body you like to see and he had the chin and the toughness and there were enough things I saw that I thought, ‘If we get him some experience and give him time, he could work out.’ Give him credit: He’s gotten with Freddie and he’s taken advantage of it and done a good job.”

And these days, nobody has to yank him out of bed while watching cartoons or chase him around a bank of elevators to get him to do his job.

Julio Cesar Chavez is, finally, an elite professional boxer, just like his old man.