By Tyson Bruce
Boxers, like everyone else, are largely products of their environments. Where a fighter comes from and what he has to fight for can be as big of an indicator of success as just about anything else. Last Saturday we saw this put into stark contrast when two very different men squared off in two separate bouts on HBO’s split site double-header. One was a Haitian born immigrant from such dire circumstances it’s hard for most of us to even comprehend, and the other was Julio Caesar Chavez Jr. In the fight game, unlike most other areas of life, the poor man reins supreme because the sport demands so much sacrifice, discipline, and pain in order to succeed. In other words, in boxing you have to have something to fight for—some reason for choosing the hardest racket on earth in which to ply your trade. Just try and think of the last great championship fighter that didn’t come from some varying level of abject circumstances? And if you are a pretender, it is only a matter of time before your will be found out, because in the ring you can’t hide from who you really are. It juxtaposed a real fighter who earned his stripes, Adonis Stevenson, and a pretend fighter who earned his in a boardroom, Julio Caesar Chavez Jr.
The route Adonis Stevenson has to taken in order to get where he is today was definitely the road less travelled. He was born and raised in the war torn nation of Haiti, the kind of place where self-preservation and survival belong only too the strongest and possibly the luckiest. This place is the worst barrios of Mexico on anabolic steroids. After immigrating to the French-speaking province of Québec, Canada, he, like most immigrants, struggled to find an identity (and an income stream) in a world so endlessly different than the one he came from. Seeing prosperity all around you can be almost as bad as abject poverty if you possess none of it yourself. Stevenson, a naturally fearsome physical specimen, turned to a life in the streets of the Montreal ghettos. He was eventually arrested because of gang affiliation and pimping. After serving his time, Stevenson, like so many other fighters before him, reformed his life and turned to boxing as means of achieving financial and social ascendance. What makes his story unique even to boxing is that he didn’t come to a gym as a disaffected youth, but rather as a man in his early twenties. In this respect he has much in common with middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, who also picked up the sport in his twenties, but was also a natural born athlete yearning to get out of poverty by means of sport.
I had the pleasure of watching Adonis Stevenson box when he had less than 30 amateur fights. It didn’t exactly seem like the recipe for future greatness. I was boxing in the junior Canadian national championships and Stevenson was boxing in 2004 Senior National Olympic box-off against the vastly experienced Jean Pascal who was probably regarded as Canada’s best pound for pound boxer at the time. It was the rematch of an earlier tournament where it had been rumored that Adonis had given the 170 plus bout national champ everything he could handle. Pascal won the match, but it was clear that Stevenson was a physical specimen with a real knack for the sport. After that it didn’t take long for Stevenson to gain a reputation as a ferocious puncher with a marked mean streak. In just a matter of years with very raw skills and astonishing knockout power he managed to be awarded Canada’s best amateur fighter trophy (2005 & 2006) and narrowly missed out on gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2006. All in all he had only around 40 amateur fights, but his natural talent and desire was always present.
Despite his relatively minimal amateur experience he turned professional in 2006 with big expectations and excitement, probably because even as an amateur he was knocking guys out—out cold, literally. He got off to a pretty decent start beating Anthony Bonsante (in a very bizarre contest) and Jermaine Mackey before signing with Dibella Promotions. What happened next was a major shock. After dropping Darnell Boone twice in round one (a journeyman who once put Andre Ward on queer street), he went for the kill in round two with his trademark hell on wheels aggression and got caught dead in his tracks. Almost over night he was considered a faulty one-dimensional chinless failure in the eyes of the ever-cruel boxing public. He got dumped by his American promoter and had to start over from scratch at the ripe old age of 32. It is impossible for most of us to comprehend true desire because most of us are not capable of going beyond what is expected, and remain content with what is simply laid before us. Not Adonis Stevenson, who rededicated his focus and eventually got the attention of the legendary trainer Emmanuel Stewart, who brought him to the Kronk gym to refine the rough edges of his game. Stevenson proved to be an apt student and began a reign of terror in the 168-pound weight class that included some of the most brutal highlight reel knockouts in recent memory (do yourself a favor and YouTube his KO of Jesus Gonzales if you haven’t already seen it). It didn’t take long for him to become a marked man in the deep division as it was rumored that Carl Froch, Andre Dirrell, and Sakio Bika all turned down fights with him.
Then, virtually out of the blue, he was selected as the comeback opponent for lineal light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson. We all saw what happened there, as Stevenson’s power again came to forefront as it took simply one booming left cross to officially put “Bad” Chad on the back pages of the boxing world. However, after the initial shock wore off people began to question the validity of the victory sighting the brevity of the bout and labeling Dawson as damaged goods. While that may be true, just go back and watch the tape. The thing that struck me was not really the suddenness of the knockout, but how quickly Stevenson was able to figure out the timing of Dawson’s southpaw jab and counter over the top with his own left cross—it was almost instantaneous, a sign of well schooled and well trained fighter. His fight against long time titleholder and contender Tavoris Cloud, who had never been off his feet or really hurt as a pro, was designed to show us what Stevenson was really capable off. Most experts picked Stevenson to win, but there was a general feeling that anything could really happen in this fight because most felt that Stevenson was simply a one-dimensional puncher. I suspect Stevenson and his head trainer Javan “Sugar” Hill, both very proud men, were well aware of the skepticism and therefore prepared accordingly. The result was a stunning display of boxing skills and ring generalship, as Stevenson beat the living daylights of Tavoris Cloud, who had no answer for the speed or power of Stevenson. It was beautiful thing to watch: a man who had overcome so much, personally and professionally, to put it all together and self-actualize a dream that just a few years ago most people would have dismissed as pure fiction.
The story of Julio Caesar Chavez Jr. is much more familiar to us, and perhaps requires less summarization. When Top Rank singed him as scrawny almost androgynous looking eighteen year old boy with literally zero amateur experience it was greeted with enormous skepticism and viewed by most experts as the next generations equivalent to Butter Bean –a gimmick fighter used to fill up PPV undercard spots. This is of course is because Chavez Jr. is the son of Julio Caesar Chavez, the most celebrated and decorated fighter and athlete in perhaps all of Mexican history. The name alone would be enough to pack arenas and headline TV cards. Not surprisingly Chavez Jr. was matched against a multitude of Tijuana cab drivers, bar stool drunks, and laid off construction workers. The strategy, which could only have been thought up in boardroom, was turning Chavez Jr. in a carefully packaged product with a famous name that would be milked for all it was worth before he was eventually exposed. In the early part of his career this certainly appeared to be true as he beat the bums he fought but didn’t look all that impressive and there were always rumors about his diva attitude and wavering focus. Chavez Jr. is the boxing world’s equivalent of Nicole Richie or Paris Hilton, in that they capitalized on the hard work, success, and fame of their parent(s) in order to generate a financial reward and fame with little-to-no effort. The only problem is that this not show business, this is boxing, and in the ring even against modest opposition you can be exposed, and Julio got the benefit of a lot of decisions that could have gone the other way—refer yourself to his fights against Carlos Molina, Matt Vanda, and Luciano Cuello. Yes, it helps to be the house fighter. Not to mention the failed drug test after the Billy Lyell fight. And all the while, despite his Billy Madison reputation, Mexican fans gave him their full support as the result of good promotion and the eternal respect for his father. However, just when it appeared that Chavez Jr.’s career would remain a novel curiosity, he hired Freddie Roach and appeared to want to give his full and undivided attention to boxing in order to silence the many critics who labeled him a fraud and poser. As result a couple of things came to light: he had more natural talent than most gave him credit for, he had inherited his fathers great chin, and he could maximize all of this by being able to loose freakish amounts of weight to make middleweight. The results were evident as he put together a decent winning streak against Sebastian Zbik, Marco Antonio Rubio, Peter Manfredo, and Andy Lee—by far the best opponents and performances of his career. All of sudden he had made fans and believers of us all, including myself. However, a man can only wear a mask for so long, or in this case a championship belt, for during the buildup to his super fight against Sergio Martinez his spoiled lazy childish behavior began to rear its ugly head once again. We saw a video of him eating his cereal in his hot pink underwear and flopping around in the swimming pool in his rented mansion instead of attending training sessions with his trainer Freddie Roach. The indignation of it all was exasperating, watching this glorified trust fund baby waste arguably the most talented trainer on earths time and patience. The result, fortunately, provided some sense of justice as Martinez gave Chavez Jr. a complete boxing lesson for 11/12 rounds—although barely making it out of a dramatic final 12th round. After the fight he tested positive for marijuana, and whether you believe it was simply for pleasure or to mask a banned substance, it showed just how little Chavez Jr. really put into what could have been the greatest triumph of his life. The reason why is simple: he just doesn’t need this shit and he knows it. He is the son of a famous millionaire and has been hand fed everything he has ever received—including his largely fraudulent boxing career.
The week during the lead up to the Brian Vera fight and, most importantly, the actual bout itself proved that the Martinez experience did not serve as a wake up call, but was instead just the tip of the iceberg, as Chavez Jr. went full circle is his return to full on cry baby/diva mode. The contract weight had to be moved from 168 (already a career high for Chavez Jr.) to 173, which when initially announced caused many to speculate whether the bout we even go forward. However, this is boxing and Chavez Jr. is the A-side guy with the big promoter and they were well aware that Vera and his team knew they were lucky to get an HBO date, which is akin to winning the sweepstakes for a professional boxing career. So, in a disgusting charade that has become all to common, the name fighter was allowed to blow off the weight and the opponent was silenced with a big, fat wad of hush money. Fortunately, the fight was extremely entertaining because Vera didn’t simply show up for a paycheck. He pressed Chavez Jr. and never stopped trying for a victory, even after taking some brutal counter shots from the much larger Mexican. Chavez Jr. fought a lazy fight, where he spent large periods being outworked while trying to land the cleaner more defining shots. It was something of a surprise that he didn’t try to use his massive size to bully Vera, but perhaps that was because he didn’t believe in his conditioning and was attempting the bare minimum to get the win. The decision was undeniably disgusting. As soon as I heard 98-92 I knew that the decision was going to be in favor of Chavez Jr. In total I scored the fight 6-4 for Brian Vera, who simply outpunched Chavez Jr.–especially down the stretch—but it was not the decision that bothered and really aggravated me it was Chavez Jr.’s behavior afterwards. During his interview with Jim Lampley, Chavez Jr. acted as though he had put on a virtuoso performance, refused to apologize for his childish behavior leading up to the fight, and disrespected Vera by failing to acknowledge the closeness of the bout and completely ruling out a rematch. The only potential silver lining of the bad decision and Chavez Jr.’s nauseating arrogance, was that the public showed its contempt of his behavior by not showing up—as the recorded attendance was just over 5, 000; a very poor showing compared to his previous draws. So maybe the public has finally wised up and realized that no matter how much we want Chavez Jr. to be the second coming of his father, he simply isn’t.
This weekend’s card on HBO was a tale of two fighters: one who puts in the time and effort because he knows that opportunity in life is fleeting and that in boxing sometimes you are only as good as your last performance, and the other who is a product of everyone else’s ideas and, in truth, resembles the kid who got a Ferrari for his sixteenth birthday more than he will ever resemble a championship fighter. In boxing only the hungry prevail—the one who will sacrifice everything to be the best. Chavez Jr., despite becoming a pretty decent boxer, has never had to be any of those things before and a person can only pretend for so long before he reveals his true colors. The Chavez Jr. who beat Andy Lee and Marco Antonio Rubio may have been the best we will see because I just don’t see a guy who has made 7 figure purses for fighting stiffs ever fully committing to the extreme riggers of boxing. Adonis Stevenson on the other hand has a very promising future in the sport, and even if he loses it will likely never be because of a lack of initiative, which is all, as fans, we can really ask for.