The Richie Rich of fisticuffs, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., returns to the ring when he faces veteran Peter Manfredo, Jr. in a scheduled 12 tonight at the Reliant Arena in Houston, Texas.
After two years of chaos—marked by a lack of discipline, a suspension, several cancelled fights, and a spell of hypochondria—Chavez rebounded to squeak by Sebastian Zbik last summer for a BMX world title. This championship, one that has caused a fair amount of dry heaving from Sergio Martinez fans, is, in fact, no better or worse than any other of the world titles in circulation these days: it brings to mind the 50-billion dollar bank note printed in Zimbabwe a few years ago.
Still, the fact remains that Chavez is a draw, fights earnestly, and has not had his career stage-managed by the HBO sock puppet crew. After all is said and done, after all the bawling over sanctioning bodies, after all the handwringing about nepotism, after all the soap box preaching about phonies, Chavez Jr. has made a living without having ever appeared on Showtime, ESPN, or, until recently, HBO. What would happen to Andre Berto and Chad Dawson if they were cut off from the HBO charity ward? Or if they had never been invited to the Ross Greenberg-Kery Davis “Money For Nothing” revue? UPS applications for the both of them, perhaps. Consider the following. Berto earned his highest rating on HBO in his 11th fight for the network on a free preview weekend against another HBO stalwart, Victor Ortiz. For his part, Chavez earned roughly the same viewership in his debut HBO appearance against Sebastian Zbik, a fighter virtually unknown outside of Cologne or Hamburg.
He may or may not take more siestas in training camp than he spars, but Chavez, 25, works hard between the ropes once the bell sounds. In fact, other than his appalling decision win over Troy Rowland, Chavez has never been boring in the ring. (And Rowland was just a bad case of matchmaking, since he was well-known in Michigan as a 20’ x 20’ sprinter.) This action style probably has something to do with his popularity as well. After all, no one gave a damn about Roberto Duran Jr. or Hector Camacho Jr. or Jorge Paez Jr. or Aaron Pryor Jr. These days, when it takes little to attract the attention of unsophisticated fans—red hair (Saul Alvarez), funny names (Tyson Fury), idiotic prattle (David Haye)—Chavez is merely riding the zeitgeist, but he does so while swinging both hands furiously.
Although most consider Manfredo little more than a clubfighter, this is a fight that he can win. Now 30, Manfredo has taken his lumps over the years, but the truth is many of his losses deserve asterisks, since they stemmed from the preposterous Contender reality-television series, one where 5-rounders, 7-rounders, and mysterious circumstances were the norm. Manfredo has fallen well short against the best, but, rest assured, Chavez, Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico, is far from the best. The difference between Chavez and Joe Calzaghe, for example, is like the difference between a rickshaw and a Maserati. Calzaghe could have beaten three Peter Manfredos that night, 2007, in Cardiff, when he slapped Manfredo around the ring like a shuttlecock. More troubling is the fact that Manfredo is the last man to make Jeff Lacy look good—a relative term when applied to Lacy—in the ring four years ago. A shaky Manfredo was floored on the way to losing to a unanimous decision against a fighter who has appeared ambulatory only occasionally since 2007.
As for Sakia Bika—no one but the hardiest is going to have an easy time against him, a walking meat-grinder with a malfunctioning “Off” button. Bika was far too strong for Manfredo, and mangled him in three violent rounds. These beatings also took place at super middleweight and Manfredo has since moved down to 160 pounds to avoid being outmuscled.
Manfredo, 37-6 (20), is a competent professional prizefighter and Chavez has not faced many of those over the span of 45 fights. The question is: Just how resilient is Manfredo at this stage of his career? “There’s only so much your body can take,” Manfredo told Steve Kim a few months ago. “I’ve had three surgeries already, since I’ve turned professional. My body, I wake up and I feel like I’m 50, even though I’m 29.” In a slew of interviews recently, Manfredo does not sound like a fighter who is looking forward to a future in the ring. You have to wonder if he is psychologically prepared for what figures to be a tough fight.
Chavez, 43-0-1-1 (30), is a pressure fighter who works the body well and throws a variety of uppercuts in the trenches. Despite being 6’ tall, Chavez likes to mix in close, where his feet are sometimes parallel and his chin hangs out precariously. He will look to grind out a win and it is up to Manfredo to minimize exchanges in close and keep on the move at all times. When Chavez bends down like a thirsty man at a water fountain, Manfredo needs to let his hands go immediately and step to the left when he is done flurrying. Normally against an orthodox fighter, a pro should move to the right, but in this case Chavez has an offense limited to a fairly potent left hook.
Whether or not Manfredo, Providence, Rhode Island, can keep away from Chavez for 12 rounds is another matter altogether. Manfredo has always been able to handle the Joey Spina/Daniel Edouard types, and it remains to be seen if Chavez is really that much better than a fringe contender or journeyman. We might find out tonight how much of a wastrel Chavez Jr. really is in a fight that figures to be spirited for as long as it lasts.