Becoming Julio
By Gabriel Montoya, MaxBoxing (Feb 4, 2012) Doghouse Boxing (Photo © Chris Farina/ Top Rank)
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Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr
It’s easy to label Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. He rarely goes in depth with the media. It’s not something that interests him. He’s not looking to be in the spotlight. So in a sense he is a blank slate we paint our fears, hopes and impressions across. He just accepts that he was born into the family business of beating people up for large sums of money. Likely it helps that business is fantastic and he is the son of arguably the greatest Mexican fighter of all time.

Promoted by Top Rank, the WBC middleweight champion of the world Chavez, Jr sits atop a growing legacy, poised to make a second defense of his title live on HBO from San Antonio’s Alamodome. His opponent is mandatory challenger Marco Antonio Rubio, a 31 year old boxer-puncher out of Durango, Mexico with a record of 53-5-1 with 46 wins coming by way of knockout. Rubio surprised everyone but himself last April when he stopped top Canadian prospect David Lemieux in seven rounds to claim this title shot. But despite his solid KO ratio, experience and current run of 10 wins in two years, Rubio is expected to lose. Chavez is simply too young a prince to end the story now.

That reign is growing yet Chavez the man is still elusive. Two media days, one in Hollywood scheduled for the Thursday before the fight and an open media workout, were cancelled. In fact, I was told this time out Chavez was not doing anymore interviews. I was offered to come and see if he’d give me five minutes but sadly an illness intervened and I had to pass out of courtesy. Was this media blackout by design?

“Pretty much that,” said Alex Ariza, Julio’s strength and conditioning coach. “It’s not like you guys give him any good press anyway. So every time it’s someone going he’s this or that or the other. We’re just focused on getting ready for this fight. I don’t know about the media days or what he missed or didn’t miss. I just know that we had a schedule and we didn’t want to break it. And we stuck with what worked.”

Ariza is a veteran of media scrutiny through his work with Freddie Roach, Manny Pacquiao, and Amir Khan. It’s clear from Ariza’s tone he is sick of the criticism leveled Chavez’ way. The lazy rumors, Ariza says, are news to him.

“Here is the thing is that when people said he was lazy or he doesn’t like to do this, I don’t know that Julio,” explained Ariza from the fight hotel in San Antonio. “I only know what the papers have said or what the reporters have said or the critics have said. That Julio I don’t know. The Julio I know always got up, always trained, had no problems putting in 100%. So I don’t really know that Julio.”

This is Chavez’ fifth camp at the Wild Card and what Ariza sees in Chavez, Jr is a growing kid who now understands the right way to do things in camp in terms of exercise and nutrition. Because of this knowledge, Chavez has begun to grow further as a fighter in Ariza’s opinion.

“What I see more is something he explained to me,” said Ariza. “He said ‘You know, back in the old days, all I used to think about, I was traumatized by the whole weigh in, the weight the weight the weight. The whole camp was about my weight. It was never about strategy. It was always about my weight. Everyone used to ask me about my weight. Now that I have found a new love and a new interest for the sport, I am not worrying about the conditioning anymore. I am not worried about all the things I used to worry about and I can work on strategy with my father and Freddie more. Now I can work how I want to work.’”

At the Wild Card Freddie Roach is working strategy and tactics. Ariza has been taking Chavez up to the Main Events MMA gym in Glendale to condition him. “There’s more room,” he says of the facility. And working on the outer edges and sometimes one on one in tape sessions, the old master, Chavez, Sr. passes on knowledge to his son.

“I still play the same role,” said Ariza. “My role is the strength, conditioning and nutrition and Freddie is the trainer. And of course now Chavez, Sr. His father is just a little more involved now. He is not like other fathers. He’ll watch and once in a while he will put in his two cents. They like to watch tape on the opponent. But nothing that I have seen has been him imposing his opinion or anything out there.”

These are the Chavez’. A proud father and son team, getting it done together in the one of the most dangerous trades a father can pass on to his son. Like all great champions, Chavez, Sr. understands that in order for his son to succeed, he has to let the formidable team built around his son do their jobs. In turn, the team respects what Senior brings to the ring.

“There are times when he will move and show Julio something and it’s almost surreal watching the greatest Mexican fighter ever. But you’ve got to remember, to him it’s his father,” observed Ariza. “As much as he respects his father, his father also respects that he has a trainer and that we have a game plan and an approach to how we do things. And he respects us for that.”

I asked Ariza if Julio had developed a chip on his shoulder because of the lack of respect he gets in the media. After all, while he is 44-0-1 with 31 knockouts, Chavez, Jr is still young as a fighter and as a man. At 25 and with no amateur career, the tests have come slowly while the criticism has grown steadily for this second generation star. All the while, Julio has remained unbowed.

“To be honest with you Gabe and this is from how well I know Julio, he doesn’t care what one person thinks or says,” said Ariza. I think he is almost like Manny [Pacquiao]. He doesn’t read about boxing. He doesn’t look at the words people are writing. He doesn’t really focus on any of that. Obviously he loves what he does in the sport and stuff like that. But when I see him he is either reading a book or watching one of his comedy shows. But as far as reading anything that has to do with boxing or his fighting, he doesn’t pay any attention. The only other one I know like that is Manny. He doesn’t read what people say.”

On Friday, Chavez was running late to the weigh-in. There had been whispers he was grossly overweight and might lose his title on the scale. Instead, he weighed 159.6 buck naked behind a black sheet. While he looked sallow, Julio had made weight if run a little late. Ariza explained both instances.

“He weighed in at 159.5 (actually 159.6) there was no reason to put the towel on,” declared Ariza. “Like I don’t know. Maybe it was statement thing. He went in there and just dropped his pants and got on. But the fact of the matter was he didn’t have any underwear on under his shorts. Otherwise he still would have weighed in at 159 and 3/4 but to come in at 159 by accident he didn’t have nothing on underneath. Which is very common. These guys just put on their shorts and start move around. It wasn’t like he got on the scale, ‘Oh shit, let me get down to my underwear.’ He didn’t have any on underneath. I know the media will hype it up but it was all by accident.”

As for showing up late, it appears Chavez, Jr has developed a ritual of swimming before weigh-ins in order to get through the mental and physical anguish of the process. Only the team hit a snag when the pool at the hotel was being drained. Ariza and company found their way to the next available pool forty-five minutes away.

“That was the problem. The health club we normally go to was five minutes away. When we got there we found out the pool wasn’t available. We found out the next closest one was 45 minutes away. So you’re talking about 10 o’clock we have plenty of time with four hours to go. Next thing you know, its 11:30-12 by the time he gets in the water. He likes to swim around a little bit for 45 minutes. Next thing we are getting back here at five minutes after 2,” Ariza explained. “It’s kind of almost like a ritual. He fought Manfredo and we were just bored so we went outside. He went in the pool and moved around in the pool a little bit. Laid out in the sun. He said he felt amazing. And he said ‘you know, I want to do that before every weigh-in because I feel so much better and energized. But unfortunately we didn’t have a pool. It was an outside pool and it’s raining here. We didn’t want to break with his tradition or routine was so we found him another pool.”

Weight made, all that is left is the fight. After tonight, the next opponent election will begin and the cycle will continue for the young boxing prince. Media scrutiny is down to just arguing over who will win. Last April, no one gave Rubio a chance to beat Lemieux. No one except Russ Anber, Lemieux’s former trainer who felt the bout, Lemieux’s 26th was too much too soon. Top Rank on the other hand, mandatory defense or not, have brought Julio to this point at 45 fights. He may not have seen a puncher like Rubio in a live fight before but he has been prepared for this moment. By all rights, he should win.

“I just don’t think that Rubio is as good as the sparring partners that he has had to be honest with you,” said Ariza. “To say ‘Oh he hasn’t been up against guys like that’ well he has been in with one of the biggest punchers in the division in Kid Chocolate, one of the fastest junior middleweights in Vanes Maritrosyan and one of the biggest punchers in Saul Roman. He has such amazing and tough sparring; all young, competitive, strong, guys. Am I going to say Rubio is not as good as Roman? Roman knocked out Rubio in two rounds. (Writer’s note: This win was in 2001. Roman was 8-0, Rubio 6-0. Roman would get knocked out by Jesus Soto Karass in one round in his very next fight. Rubio and Roman re-matched in 2003. By then, Rubio had worked his way to 15-1-1 while Roman was 11-1. Rubio avenged his first and only loss at the time by stopping Roman in the fourth.) That’s some of the best sparring I have seen by the way between Roman and Julio.”

Roach has always believed in the theory that you don’t necessarily have to get a sparring partner who mirrors yours opponent. Rather he believes in a weird gauntlet of different styles that all work to sharpen his charges’ overall game.

“A weird gauntlet of different styles, you’re exactly right,” agreed Ariza. “Peter Quillin: strong, fast, quick hands. Vanes Maritrosyan: very calm, very quick, good strong right hand. Saul Roman: Big puncher, straight ahead and lots of pressure.”

Ariza asked the question before I could.

“So is Rubio going to do something that is going to surprise Julio? Maybe but I don’t see it happening.”


More of Gabriel's recent work (Contact info for Montoya below):
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You can email Gabriel at maxgmontoya@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him on each Monday’s episode of “The Next Round” with Steve Kim. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 PM PST. Gabriel is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

* Special Thanks To MaxBoxing.

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