If you can believe him, he is training harder than ever. He tells you that the goal is to make the judges superfluous, since he has less faith in their powers of perception than in his own ability to shape reality. And while it is obvious to him that he was deserving of the nod in his last fight, he relishes the opportunity to repeat his victory on Saturday night at the Alamadome in San Antonio, Texas.
Would you believe those words if they were about Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr.? Or would you believe those words if they were about Bryan Vera? Both Chavez and Vera have expressed sentiments that fit that narrative, and both are looking for greater satisfaction than they reaped in their first fight, a ten-round dust-up last September. Chavez, 47-1-1 (32), was awarded the victory that night (a verdict less ridiculous than the scores that secured it); outrage ensued, and a rematch was negotiated.
For Chavez, it is a second crack at a fighter first selected to make him look good. Vera is the type of brawler Chavez was supposed to rototill, tearing him up in a fight to salvage—if not cultivate—the goodwill Chavez earned harrowing Sergio Martinez the previous year. Instead Chavez, who ballooned up to heavyweight during a nine-month suspension for a positive marijuana test, threw the fight into doubt by proposing a number of shifting catchweights the week of the fight.
Never mind that, unless he was strapped down like Bob Mack, it was Chavez’ fault he packed it on, never mind that Chavez-Vera had been postponed once already for a cut, giving Chavez even more time to lose the flab; or that Vera, who had compromised his own health by stripping off the requisite meat, was in no position to walk out on a payday regardless of its new and disadvantageous terms, Chavez did not want to leave his health on the scales.
Instead, he chose to literally pay for his unprofessionalism, compensated Vera with an undisclosed sum, then flexed and menaced on the scale as if he had accomplished anything more intimidating than use his financial leverage to hold another man over a barrel. The weight shenanigans, the general disgust with the scores, the need to save face, not to mention the chance to build a grudge match out of what was intended to be little more than a glorified comeback fight, made a rematch an easy choice for the Clown Prince of Culiacan.
Vera, Austin, Texas, took the rematch for far less complicated reasons: money, pride, and opportunity. He has stepped through the ropes as a fall guy before, and has indeed fallen in a few of those moments, but no matter how typecast, Vera refuses to play the opponent. Or at least, refuses to play it well. Vera hammered out both Andy Lee, and the hullabaloo that had surrounded the lanky Irishman, in 2008; and twice found a way to outfight Sergio Mora, whose stylistic idiosyncrasies are frustrating for opponents and viewers alike. He lacks finesse, takes too many punches, is predictable in his attack, yet Vera, 23-7 (14), tries to compensate for those weaknesses by taking a licking and being earnest about his business. Deserve is a concept that means very little in boxing, yet Vera fights like a man ignorant of that truth; and while his motivation is ultimately irrelevant to the power brokers, the results Vera produces are not. He has managed to hang around because he delivers a predictable type of challenge—he has hung around because he is a professional.
In September, that professionalism nearly upset the applecart against a fighter who, through the grace of his last name, enjoyed every advantage. Vera, 32, outworked Chavez over ten rounds, reducing the bigger, stronger, Chavez—a fighter with a bully’s reputation—to a laboring counterpuncher. While Chavez was never seriously hurt by Vera, and scored with a number of eye-catching blows, he lacked the fire to capitalize on his successes. Even when stunned, Vera never had to worry about a follow-up barrage, and when the cobwebs quickly cleared, he re-established a tempo the poorly-conditioned Chavez could not match.
This brings us back to the first paragraph, and the question of whom you believe. A well-conditioned Chavez should sustain his aggression, commit to his body attack, and generally bring the pain. If the disparity in activity is nullified by Chavez’ improved conditioning, he should win the majority of the rounds: he is the harder puncher and takes a better shot. Moreover, of the two, it is Chavez who has the most room for improvement. Finally, Chavez must know that while his surname earned him a mulligan or two, a second consecutive poor showing, especially one resulting from lax preparation, could severely damage his standing in the eyes of Mexican fans. Hard people do not appreciate or support entitlement for long.
Yet, while it is difficult to envision a properly trained Chavez losing to Vera, how much harder is it to simply picture a properly trained Chavez? There is also Vera’s strategic commitment to the knockout to consider. Such a strategy expresses an implicit indictment of the judges, but perhaps also reflects a fighter’s resolve to play to his strengths. If trainer Ronnie Shields has sharpened Vera’s technique, and there is a little more evil on Vera’s punches, maybe he can improve on his last performance just enough to swing the outcome in his favor. A win would almost surely earn him another HBO payday, and he will be, as always, fighting for his livelihood. So, again, whom do you believe?