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Little Julio Tries To Make It Big

Every young Mexican fighter's dream is one day to become Julio Cesar Chavez. Even if you already are Julio Cesar Chavez.

"I want to be greater than my father," the 20-year-old eldest son of Mexico's greatest prize fighter says. It is a powerful statement but a complicated dream.

Sharing his name with a father who is also a boxing legend compounds the difficulty of ever surpassing the three-time world champion because while the genes may be helpful in his personal quest, the expensive jeans the father bought his children with his sweat and blood means the younger Julio cannot possibly feel the obsessive weight of poverty from which nearly every great boxer has sprung, including his father.

In fact, the undefeated (32-0-1, 25 KO) junior middleweight prospect was never inclined to enter the ring until someone suggested to the then 16-year-old that he give it a try one day while he was working out at a gym in his hometown of Culiacan. It was, to that point, a thought that had barely crossed his mind.

"I can't say I dreamed about it or thought about it much," Chavez, Jr. admitted. "I used to go to the gym with my father and mess around but I never thought about boxing. One day I'm working out and somebody asked me, 'When do you want to make your pro debut?' That's when we first talked about it. My Dad was against it but I promised I would train hard."

Young Chavez's grandmother had opposed his father becoming a fighter as well, only relenting after he promised to try it only for 10 fights and see where it led. When it led to 10 victories he asked for 10 more fights. He got them and things worked out pretty well after that. Not surprisingly, the Father applied the same formula to the Son.

Although the elder Chavez never told him, the son understood from the start the situation he was in.

"He never actually gave me the ultimatum," Chavez, Jr. said. "I read it. I saw him say it on TV. He always said, 'Ten fights. If he doesn't have it, I'll stop it.' After the 10th fight he didn't tell me, 'Stop!' So I figured I was okay. I figured that was the go-ahead."

Chavez understands he's gone ahead of many young prospects on the strength of his name and his father's resume as much as by virtue of his own talent. In combination those things have led him to an opportunity to avenge a blotch on the family name when he stopped Grover Wiley, who upset his father in the final fight of his career at a time when he was not even a shadow of the legend he once had been.

Yet none of young Chavez's connections not the entrèe provided by his father's reputation can bruise another man or knock him Down. They cannot slow another man's advances, nor blocks his punches nor stem the flow of one's own blood. Most of all, they don't help him walk up the loneliest three steps in sports, steps that lead to a place where your background and your family name can do little for you. There, trapped inside the ropes, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. is on his own, left only with his fists, his mind and his courage to defend himself from another man's fully legalized assaults.

There are advantages, of course, to being the son of the greatest fighter in Mexico's long boxing history but they all slip away once the first bell sounds. Then the son stands alone. Which is what he likes about boxing.

"I know a lot of people are watching my fights because of my name," Chavez, Jr. said. "There are a lot of expectations. I feel the pressure of them sometimes but my name has also opened a lot of doors for me. It's a two-way street.

2007 08 04 profile little julio cesar chavez

"I know there are people jealous about the opportunities I've had but my father fought to give us a better life. He has given me great opportunities, but the important thing is for me to do something with them.

"I have friends who ask me 'What are you doing getting hit?' but I love it. Boxing is a family tradition. It's important to us and it's something I think I'm good at. I hope to make a name for myself."

To make a name for yourself when the one you carry is so heavy is no simple task but young Chavez will continue that potentially painful process at the All State Arena in Chicago when he faces Brown (15-2, 10 KO) in what was supposed to be a tune-up before taking on the aging but still dangerous and determined Gatti at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City in November. However, since Gatti, who was favored to win his fight against an even more determined Alfonso Gomez on July 14th, lost by TKO, Chavez's performance on August 4th may be even more important now in determining his next fight.

Brown's two loses have come in two of his last four fights, both ones in which he tried to step up in caliber of opponent only to be knocked back. He was stopped first by Cesar Bazan and two fights later by Dmitryi Salita, a young prospect like Chavez who has not yet been fully tested. Now this will be Chavez's first full exposure on HBO, having been limited to highlights in the past, a fact has made clear to him that things are changing.

Chavez understands he is closing in on his own moment just as he understands he has chosen a hard road to glory in some respects because, like his father, he never boxed as an amateur. He did engage in two exhibitions when he was 12 and 13 but they were more horseplay than a training ground. Instead he played baseball and chose not to become a part of Mexico's amateur network.

Instead he was often in the gym, watching his father not only in the big arenas on fight night but also in the hard places, the grimy gymnasiums where a boxer's real work is done. So long before he began to fight himself, young Chavez at least had some understanding of what this life he has chosen was even though, like most sons, he didn't really understand who his father was.

"When we were young we saw all the attention our father got but we never really understood how big it really was until we got older," Chavez, Jr. recalled. "Now I feel the weight of the Chavez name on my shoulders."

Those shoulders are not broad like his Dad's. At 5-11, he is taller and lankier than his father, who at 5-7 was stout and prone to walk in and apply constant pressure. His son advocates the same pressure tactics but he can use the twin advantages of his height and long arms to launch much of it from further away, thus doing damage in a different fashion from the reletless inside fighting that made his father a feared body puncher.

That was a style that worked for the first Julio Cesar Chavez. For the original. But for this Chavez the approach has to be different because he is different. He is the son, not the father.

"I grew up watching him," Chavez, Jr. said. "I learned a lot from him. There are some similarities in our styles but there are a lot of differences too. Sizewise I'm taller and I try to use that. He didn't have that advantage. He was better on the inside than I am.

"Neither one of us boxed as an amateur. At the time I started I felt I really didn't need to do it. The amateur programs in Mexico really aren't so good and I didn't want to do it, but looking back now I think it was a mistake. It would have been a help to have that experience."

That lack of amateur breeding never hurt his father, of course, and it hasn't seemed to slow down his oldest son yet either. Promoted by Bob Arum, the long-time rival of Chavez's long-time promoter, Don King, the son has already headlined a show in El Paso, when he stepped in against previously undefeated Jermaine White (14-1) and stopped him in four rounds a year ago, as well as having fought on the undercard of major televised fights in Las Vegas and New York.

His name has been on fight cards headlined by Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito and Zab Judah and he's already avenged the only blemish on his record - a draw a year ago against Carlos Molina (8-1-1) in which he heard the crowd's boos for the first time. Fighting on the Cotto-Manuel Gomez card last year, Chavez won a close, majority decision (58-56, 58-56, 57-57) over Molina in the rematch after feeling for the first time the pressure of facing someone he knew was on the same level.

When his father was building his resume and learning his trade, no larger forces were pushing him along faster than his experience could handle. There was not the long shadow of another Chavez to cope with. To date the son has been in the same situation but with each victory pressure mounts for him to do more - for him to rush too fast to try and surpass his father.

"When we were young we saw all the attention our father got but we never really understood how big it really was until we got older," Chavez, Jr. recalled. "Now I feel the weight of the Chavez name on my shoulders."

It is an extra minefield young Chavez must navigate carefully for there is a time to be tested but until you are proven in a way he has not yet been allowed to do, no one can be sure you are ready for the kind of examination of both your heart and your head that someone like Gatti would have provided.

"I get asked all the time when I'm going to fight for a world title," the 21-year-old Chavez, Jr. said. "If you really look at my Dad's career, he didn't get his first title fight until his 44th fight. He was 22 when he won the WBC super featherweight title (in 1984). So in a couple more years I should be ready to fight for a title like that, too. I still have a lot to learn.

"When I started there was always doubt in my mind whether I could do it or not. I was insecure because I didn't have any amateur background. I didn't tell anybody but I wasn't sure of myself at first."

Now 32 fights into his own career, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. is sure of one thing. He's sure of what he wants and how difficult it will be to attain.

"Nobody wants just to be a world champion," Chavez, Jr. said.

"You want to be great. I want to be greater than my father. I know that will be very difficult but I'd like very much to do it."

His father would very much like to see him do it as well but he knows better than his son that there is much pain between now and that day. Pain and sweat and dark nights of doubt when nothing comes easy. It was that way for the first Chavez. It will be for the second, as well.

"Even though I'm proud it hurts me to see him in the ring," the original Julio Cesar Chavez admitted recently. "It's a difficult sport. A very difficult profession."

That's true no matter what your name is.

"Even though I'm proud it hurts me to see him in the ring," the original Julio Cesar Chavez admitted recently. "It's a difficult sport. A very difficult profession."

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