Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., AKA “The Thing That Should Not Be,” returns to San Antonio tonight, perhaps in a stretch limo, to face veteran powerpuncher Marco Antonio Rubio in a scheduled 12 at the Alamodome for the UNICEF middleweight championship of the world.
Since his disastrous no-contest against Troy Rowland in 2009—as boring as an Andre Ward bout, perhaps—Chavez has delivered nothing but the goods in his last four starts, including shootouts against John Duddy and Sebastian Zbik. Despite his honest efforts in the ring, however, Chavez continues to suffer the barbs of fantasists all over the world who would rather see a P-4-P juggernaut trample 15-1 underdogs.
This atmosphere of knowing boxing snobbery overshadows the fact that Chavez is not nearly as bad as advertised. Ditto his competition. Sebastian Zbik, whom Chavez squeaked by last summer to earn his dubious title, is, in fact, on par with the latest string of Sergio Martinez opponents: Sergei Dzinziruk, Darren Barker, and, scheduled for a public flogging in March, Matthew Macklin.
Certainly Chavez, Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico, elicits some strange emotions. Sergio Martinez, for example, has been pining over Chavez like an obsessed lover from a Victorian novel, Wuthering Heights, say, and this brand of Chavez hysteria is only slightly less ghastly than the Fantasy League crew who have yet to figure out that most “world championships” are fugazi, most fights are predetermined through cynical matchmaking, and most of what happens in boxing happens because of economic considerations.
As for this bout, if Chavez, whose training camp seemed a bit more disordered than usual, underestimates Rubio, he could be in for a surprise. Because Marco Antonio Rubio, 53-5-1 (46), is an honest-to-goodness professional prizefighter, one who has never been allowed to sashay along the crooked corridors of power. Does this mean that he is the fastest, strongest, or most talented boxer in North America? No. But Rubio, 31, has sharpened his craft over the years to the point where he can make the most out of his attributes. Over the course of his career, Rubio has swapped punches with clubfighters, no-hopers, journeymen, trialhorses, fringe contenders, titleholders, circuit fighters, perennials, prospects, and world-class operators. If a man can somehow forestall or avoid one of the strangest paradoxes in boxing—the fact that a fighter diminishes steadily over time while simultaneously honing his technique—then he can wake up one day after dozens of bouts with a certain command in the ring.
Take, for example, how composed Rubio was during his KO victory over former “Prospect Watch” mainstay David Lemieux last April. Poor Lemieux looked like he ought to be baling hay in Saskatchewan after four or five rounds. When Rubio finally lowered the boom in the seventh—after riding out a few rough spots—it underlined the importance of experience in the ring. Rubio never panicked, conserved his energy, and picked his spots. But Rubio, who lost two previous title shots–against Kassim Ouma and Kelly Pavlik—is nowhere near elite. Among his most exploitable flaws are iffy defense, a tendency to drop his left after jabbing, and a dangerous habit of retreating in a straight line. Against Kelly Pavlik in 2009, this last shortcoming almost saw him get decapitated early. Rubio, Torreon, Coahuila de Zaragoza, Mexico, seemed unable to judge distance properly against Pavlik, a hardpunching workhorse in the ring, and was caught repeatedly by long power shots while backing into the ropes.
Chavez is faster, younger, and more athletic. His defense, however, is sloppy, and his balance still needs some work. Slinking along the perimeter of the ring against Manfredo last November, Chavez, 25, showed he can be more than just a clumsy pressure fighter with a neat left hook to the body. How much more than that who can say? But he will likely benefit from using the same tactics against Rubio, who prefers to wait for openings against an aggressive opponent. In addition, Rubio is also the first puncher Chavez has ever faced, and if the two decide to meet in ring center, heads-up, to mill in the trenches, Chavez might come out second best.
Beyond the ring, Chavez, 44-0-1-1 (31), may be a dilettante or a bourgeois slumming it out in the beak-busting business, but between the ropes, he works as hard as anybody, and, in fact, harder than many who have mastered the strange knack of generating fanfare without fans. If Chavez brings his silver spoon to the Alamodome, Rubio will try his best to knock it out of his mouth and into the third row. He will get his chance–perhaps more than one– tonight.