For a long time, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. has been a carefully stage-managed commodity, a fighter with a big name but only modest talent. Until this weekend’s title clash with Sebastian Zbik, Chavez’s biggest wins were over undefeated fringe contender Luello Leonel Cuello and the exciting-but-limited Irishman John Duddy. He also beat the guy who had previously beat Duddy, journeyman Billy Lyell. In fighting Zbik for the WBC Title on Saturday, little Chavez was supposedly finally stepping out from behind the shadow of his famous father, the legendary Mexican puncher Julio Cesar Chavez, and becoming his own man. At least that is what the hype said, but in reality Chavez, Jr.’s first world title is just as stage-managed as everything else in his career.
HBO’s commentator Max Kellerman hit the nail on the head with his post-fight comments:
“Belts are promotional tools nowadays. The belt that Chavez Jr. just won was stripped from the real middleweight champion of the world. Chavez Jr. isn’t the champion of anything except that sanctioning belt. He’s not really a world champion and not so far in the class of the world champion Sergio Martinez. That said, he does have a belt cause he has connections with the fans, partly because he’s Julio Cesar Chavez senior’s son. Clearly, he’s [Chavez Sr.] is the great champion of Mexico. Certainly the most popular ever. And so that certainly has opened doors for Junior. But he [Chavez Jr.] has a real connection to the fans and they to him.”
Kellerman refers to the typical-yet-infamous conduct of the WBC in stripping divisional top dog Sergio Martinez of his title, giving the P4P ranker from Argentina its ridiculous “Diamond Belt” instead. Martinez had become the WBC champ by beating Kelly Pavlik, and then made his first title defense against Paul Williams. Zbik was the long-suffering #1 contender, but that was no fault of Martinez’s. Most of Zbik’s waiting had taken place under the tenure of Pavlik, who was given pass after pass by the WBC. Although Martinez was obliged to defend against Zbik, he was given a list of fighters he could face in an HBO-televised bout and Zbik wasn’t on it. So, Martinez fought Serhiy Dzinziruk instead, and rather than display even a fraction of the patience the organization had given to Pavlik, the WBC stipped him. Many allege the motive was to give the well-connected Chavez, Jr. a clear, easy path to a world title.
I must differ with Kellerman on one key point, namely is Chavez, Jr. the champion of Mexico? His father certainly was, but Chavez, Jr. has had none of the gutsy, heroic clashes with world class opponents that makes for becoming even a prince of Mexican boxing, let alone its reigning king. That throne is currently occupied by Juan Manuel Marquez, and even if he were to vacate it, it is unclear if Chavez, Jr. would be the man to succeed him.