The only certain thing about the split-site doubleheader on Sept. 28 is that with four aggressive, action fighters in the two main bouts, sparks are going to fly, pain is going to be inflicted, and bodies are likely to hit the canvas. But that's where the certainty ends. There are so many question marks surrounding the Chavez-Vera and Stevenson-Cloud bouts, so many multiple-choice answers as to who will win each fight and why, that this enigmatic twin-bill gives new meaning to one of Larry Merchant's favorite sayings: "That's why they make the fights."
Still, it's intriguing to ponder the countless intangibles in these fights, starting with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., who will be trying to come back from his only career loss, taking on Brian Vera, a seasoned brawler facing the biggest, most important fight of his life.
On paper Chavez, a former world champion, outclasses Vera, a perennial contender who never seems to be able to get over the top. But Vera isn't the only opponent the 27-year-old Chavez (46-1-1, 32 KOs) will be tangling with come fight night. Conditioning and weight have been the Mexican's on-going nemeses since he first put on gloves. You have only to look back at Chavez's last fight against Sergio Martinez to see how it can affect him in the ring.
When Chavez squared off in the ring with Martinez, he was dominated and humiliated for the first 11 rounds. It was only after trainer Freddie Roach warned that he was going to stop the fight if Chavez didn't start throwing punches that the Mexican finally let his hands go. The suddenly aggressive Chavez went into full attack mode, knocked down Martinez in the 12th round, and came within seconds of pulling off a stunning late knockout. That round left many wondering what might have been if Chavez had trained under Roach's watchful eye in the Wild Card gym, and been able to let his hands go 11 rounds earlier.
The loss left Chavez without his title, without his Hall of Fame trainer, and with his career at the kind of crossroads where another loss could topple him from the ranks of the elite. In his corner for the fight with Vera will be Vladimir Baldenebro, who worked with the fighter for several years in Mexico. Also in the corner will be Chavez's father, the great Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., plus strength and conditioning coach, Alex Ariza.
Vera, for his part, lives and breathes fighting and is always in superb condition, working with one of the top trainers in the game, Ronnie Shields. Like Chavez, Vera (23-6, 14 KOs), also faces obstacles besides his opponent. After spending most of his career at middleweight, he will be fighting for the first time at the agreed upon super middleweight limit of 168. The jump up in weight will be difficult for Vera, but a benefit to Chavez, who could balloon up to 180 or more after the weigh-in. When they enter the ring, it is likely that Vera will be looking across the way at a light heavyweight opponent.
Yet even if there is a serious discrepancy in weight between him and Chavez on fight night, it won't deter Vera. "I'll fight him anyway," the 31-year-old Vera says. "I'm going to test out that body of his. Nobody tests him down there."
A test and a slew of questions is what also faces the combatants in the excellent light heavyweight co-feature between reigning champion, Adonis Stevenson (21-1, 18 KOs), and former title holder Tavoris Cloud (24-1, 19 KOs). Although this is a fight between two knockout artists, the similarity between them ends there.
Cloud, who lost his title to the 48-year-old Bernard Hopkins in his last fight, is a far more complete fighter than his opponent. The 35-year-old Stevenson often looks crude in the ring, with minimal footwork, a bad tendency to hold his lead hand by his waist, average hand speed, and often throwing his punches one at a time.
But-and it is a big "but"-one punch is usually all Stevenson needs to put his opponents away. Few in boxing today, if anybody, have the one-punch knockout power of the native Haitian, who has been a Canadian resident since he was four. When Stevenson tags an opponent, they don't stagger around the ring before they fall; they drop right on the spot like a skyscraper imploding. "Adonis is the purest puncher right now in boxing," says his Canadian promoter, Yvon Michel. "He really, really can hit hard. The first time an opponent gets hit by Adonis, it changes their composure and tactics. Even if he hits you on the shoulder or arm, you can see in his opponents' faces that they have felt his power."
The first time Chad Dawson felt that power was also the last time. Just 76 seconds into the first round last June, Stevenson savaged Dawson with a left cross from hell that sent the defending champ falling flat on his back. Although Dawson managed to get to his feet, he was for all practical purposes still lying prone on the canvas. Referee Michael Griffin took one look at Dawson's eyes and waved off the fight.
Cloud is also a powerful puncher, although his fists are not quite as concussive as Stevenson's. The 31-year-old Cloud (24-1, 19KOs) also has a very good chin. How well that chin holds up to the power of Stevenson, who goes by the moniker "Superman," could very well decide who wins this fight. If Stevenson can't knock Cloud out, the odds are against the Canadian winning the fight on the scorecards. Cloud, a far more skilled and disciplined boxer who piles up points on his high work rate, will likely win the majority of rounds.
The Kryptonite needed to beat Superman lies in serious flaws in the Canadian's style of boxing, flaws that Cloud and his handler are undoubtedly aware of.
The playbook on how to defeat Stevenson was spelled out by Don George before they fought last October. George, a feared power-puncher himself, was knocked down five times in the fight, yet in a courageous effort he managed to last all the way to the closing minute of the 12th round before getting knocked out.
George said there were two keys in fighting the power-puncher Stevenson. One is to utilize a stick-and-run offense, keeping your head just out of the range of Stevenson's bombardier hands. The other key, one Cloud will be very adept at, is to get inside on the Canadian so he doesn't have enough room to fully extend his arms and use his power.
Cloud is a very good inside fighter, who works you upstairs and downstairs with fast combos. The trick for Cloud, however, will be to get up into Stevenson's personal space without first being tagged by Stevenson's brutal left hand, which he keeps cocked high by his head just waiting for the chance to pull the trigger.
One way for Cloud to maneuver through this mine field is to make sure that every time he steps inside, his head is moving. Then, when Cloud backs out of the "phone booth," he still must keep both his head and body moving to avoid getting hit.