By Bill Tibbs: The recent announcement that Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., 48-1-1 (32), had turned down what appears to be a very generous offer from his promoter, Top Rank Promotions, raised a few eyebrows and questions in the boxing community. While there is no question that Chavez has worked himself into a legitimate pay-per-view attraction, especially within the lucrative and insatiable Mexican fight market, it also would appear his promoter was offering appropriate, if not overly generous, legitimate PPV-scale money.
Chavez turned pro under gifted albeit difficult circumstances in the fall of 2003. With the name “Chavez” across the front of your trunks, there is a good chance your Dad can get anyone with any and all clout in the fight game on the telephone on the first ring. However, having the name “Chavez” on your trunks will also bring an intense glare from the spotlight and the pressures that come with it, under which other novice fighters don’t have to face. When discussing Mexican boxing, the name “Chavez” is just short of royalty. His surname got Junior a close look and would see him fast-tracked to appearing on strong, showcase cards on which to develop and gain a following. While entering the pro game with limited amateur experience, Chavez did show early signs of inheriting Dad’s outstanding beard as well as the famous left hook to the body, long the trademark of Mexican fighters. While Junior was somewhat limited in terms of experience, he was very tough, game, could punch and appeared unfazed when facing experienced opposition.
While this calm, collective approach to the game allowed Chavez to relax in the ring, it also allowed him at times to relax a bit too much out of the ring as well. And he was matched very well in the developing stages of his career. Chavez had the right opponents in front of him in order to gain the experience he may have lacked from a limited amateur career while at the same time, being tested and improving with each fight. Junior showed development and was starting to look like a fighter who had more going for him than a last name and some good pugilistic genes inherited from his Hall of Fame father. Supporters were thrilled to be watching the next generation of Chavez fighting while detractors lobbed criticism at the younger Julio as a limited brawler getting breaks because of his father’s ring accomplishments.
By early 2011, Chavez was an impressive 41-0-1, including wins over tough opposition like Matt Vanda, Billy Lyell and John Duddy. In his second fight of 2011, he defeated Sebastian Zbik to capture the vacant World Boxing Council (WBC) middleweight title. He defended the title three times over the following year and looked good doing so in perhaps his strongest run as a professional. Chavez defeated tough contenders Peter Manfredo Jr. (TKO 5), Marco Antonio Rubio (UD 12) and Andy Lee (TKO 7) in an impressive trio of defenses.
Next up was his first legitimate, showcase fight on the big stage and in front his biggest audience. Chavez would face true middleweight king Sergio Martinez, 51-2-2 (28), a champion who owned wins over Kelly Pavlik, Paul Williams, Matthew Macklin and many others. Prior to this bout, we all were made well aware that Chavez Jr. was a strong-willed individual who certainly walked to the beat of his own drum. Pre-fight footage of a frustrated Freddie Roach was a common staple on telecasts of HBO’s “24/7” series that documented the build-up to the big fight. Chavez often eschewed a regular training routine with headman Roach to prepare by himself in the living room of his rented home - if he decided to train at all that day. In the end, there were many concerns about his preparation as he headed into the bout. And it appeared to play out in the fight.
While Chavez stayed somewhat competitive in the fight, he lost most of the bout save for the final 30 seconds when he hurt and dropped Martinez. The frustrating part for his supporters is that he looked like a fighter who appeared to be strong enough to finish Martinez had he opened up earlier in the bout. But he fought like a fighter holding back, afraid his conditioning would belie him and he would gas out should he unload the clip too early.
Despite this, Top Rank and Arum remained devoted and supportive of the talented yet unpredictable - if not outright difficult - young Mexican star. Since the Martinez bout, Chavez Jr. has chalked up two wins against Texas tough guy Bryan Vera. While Vera is as honest and solid a fighter as there is, all things being equal and with both fighters at their best, Chavez wins handily. But again, weight issues dogged the pre-fight build-up with the final weight expectation changing time and again to accommodate Chavez, who appeared to have trouble making the light heavyweight limit let alone super middleweight or the (originally contracted) middleweight limit.
In a pre-fight interview, when asked what weight in which the bout would be fought, Vera’s trainer, Ronnie Shields quipped, “I’ll let you know after Chavez weighs in.” Chavez prevailed in a close fight in bout one and, more convincingly, won the rematch, fought at a higher weight (well above Vera’s natural fighting weight).
And now as Top Rank and Bob Arum looked to the future, they again looked to showcase Chavez in a breakout fight that would expand his brand at the game’s elite level. A bout with exciting, rugged World Boxing Association (WBA) world middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin seemed a great fit for a summer blockbuster. Chavez was approached and was made a very lucrative offer with reports of an estimated guarantee of $15 million over two fights and a cut of PPV sales. And, that was if he lost the first fight!
If he won, Junior was looking at $17 million and a cut of the PPV sales. While I admittedly don’t understand all the finite details of other revenue streams like foreign sales, merchandising, etc., I do know that in today’s economic climate and with the public’s limited entertainment budget, in a sports industry that can be accurately described as volatile and unpredictable at best, this was an elite-level financial proposition. It was a very rich offer with an upside for both promoter and fighter to do well (however, entering the bouts, the only guarantees would truthfully be for Chavez). It was also an outstanding offer considering it was to a fighter that has faced one elite, legitimate PPV fighter – Martinez - and came up short.
Bob Arum and Top Rank have shown a great commitment to Chavez and their belief in his potential and they appear willing to back this belief with a strong financial investment. Chavez doesn’t appear to hold the same commitment to the very promotional outfit that took him under its wing and did a great job in building the next generation of the “Chavez” brand. Despite protests of manager Billy Keane to the contrary, Top Rank has paid Chavez handsomely up to this point in his career and was clearly looking to build on that financial foundation for its fighter, one whom, in all honesty, appears to have been accommodated in every way possible.
In recent interviews, Keane, clearly the one guiding Chavez away from Top Rank’s offers, said, “Julio just wants to be treated fairly,” and that Top Rank had “mistreated Julio through this negotiation.” Chavez has delivered on some exciting performances and has a fan base that is very supportive. He has a promotional firm that appears to be willing to compensate him handsomely for his performances and help build him into a major PPV attraction. Boxing fans have forgotten the tag Chavez was labeled with early in his career in relation to his Dad and are ready and willing to support him for who he is, not just what his last name happens to be.
When fans are expected to lay down big dollars to pay for the kind of remuneration a fighter like Chavez is offered, boxing quickly becomes a “show me” sport. What Chavez is showing fans right now is not going to endear him to those trying to support a fighter in a volatile industry with the limited dollars available. Keane appears to have no trouble bringing a “strictly business” approach to the negations and, fair enough, that is what he should do. That’s his job.
However, Chavez seems surprised and frustrated when the promotional firm that takes all the financial risks on their client would work off a business format that would appear to be based on a more than fair and equitable market value compensation for its client.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is an exciting young fighter who I look forward to seeing in the ring as soon as possible. I just hope he isn’t getting advice that sees him sitting on the sidelines while watching his career tick away as he turns his back on an excellent proposition tied to victories that would only get better and better. Chavez is certainly going to test the patience of the fans who have backed him throughout his career when he chooses to pass on fights they crave, fights that would see him compensated in the millions.
Frankly, they just won’t understand it and it will start to fracture the foundation of support he and his promoter have worked so hard to build. Chavez should absolutely do what he feels is best for himself and his career. I just hope he isn’t being guided to make choices he will come to regret later.
Questions and comments can be sent to Bill Tibbs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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May 20, 2014