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Column: Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. wants fight against Canelo Alvarez to be epic, but his reputation precedes him

Boxer Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. poses as he arrives at the MGM Grand hotel-casino on May 2. Chavez is scheduled to fight Canelo Alvarez on May 6 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Boxer Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. poses as he arrives at the MGM Grand hotel-casino on May 2. Chavez is scheduled to fight Canelo Alvarez on May 6 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
(Erik Verduzco / Associated Press)

The week leading up to the most anticipated boxing match of the year started with a triumphant declaration from Mexico’s greatest-ever champion.

“We’re ready for the fight,” Julio Cesar Chavez said in Spanish.

Chavez caught himself.

“My son Julio is ready, not me,” he added with a chuckle.

It’s an important distinction, one evidently lost on the majority of fans who packed the lobby of the MGM Grand on Tuesday to welcome Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and the highly skilled opponent expected to disfigure his face, Canelo Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 knockouts).

Chavez Jr. (50-2-1, 32 KOs) hasn’t won a significant fight in almost five years. He once tested positive for marijuana. His career was sidetracked by a degree of laziness that borders on comical.

The public’s adoration for his father and the reverence for their shared name have more than pardoned Chavez Jr. for his professional shortcomings. What looks like a mismatch is being promoted as if it’s a Mexican Super Bowl, with the Culiacan native’s 164½-pound showdown Saturday against the Guadalajara-born Alvarez at T-Mobile Arena sold out for more than a month.

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Ironically, Chavez’s lack of discipline has helped to sell the fight, the pitch reading something like this: With the hearts of his country at stake, the talented slacker trained himself into the best shape of his life.

“I think this is the biggest fight of my career,” Chavez Jr. said in Spanish.

I’m skeptical. Maybe it’s from listening to Yasiel Puig promise year after year that this will be the season he gets his act together. Or maybe it’s from personal experience. I was an apathetic student in high school, but always imagined myself studying in college to become the doctor my mother wanted me to be. Obviously, that didn’t happen, which is why I’m in the middle of the desert writing about a sanctioned assault about to take place. Behavior is hard to change.

The last major event Chavez Jr. was a part of was a middleweight championship fight against Sergio Martinez in 2012.

Before the Martinez fight, Chavez Jr. was trailed by an HBO camera crew, which shot a short documentary to promote the pay-per-view event. One scene in particular stood out. As his father and trainers broke down video of Martinez, Chavez Jr. emerged from a back room wearing only pink briefs and shower sandals. His father showed him what he could do to counter the traps that would be set by the counterpunching Martinez, but Chavez Jr. barely paid attention. He was more interested in the cereal bowl in his right hand.

Chavez Jr. knocked down Martinez in the 12th round, but dropped a lopsided decision.

“I trained hard, but I wasn’t focused,” Chavez Jr. acknowledged. “That’s why I lost a lot of rounds. That cost me the fight.”

I think this is the biggest fight of my career

— Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

In the post-fight drug screening, Chavez Jr. tested positive for marijuana. For subsequent fights, he had trouble controlling his weight. That forced him to move up to the 175-pound light-heavyweight division, where he was beaten into submission by Andrzej Fonfara.

“I was young,” the 31-year-old Chavez said. “I didn’t do things right because of my inexperience. I have more experience now. I’ve learned from the mistakes that I’ve made.”

Chavez’s lack of professionalism was noted by Alvarez, who has always remained in top condition and has steadily developed himself into one of the top 10 fighters in the world.

Pointing to Alvarez’s reluctance to take on middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin, Chavez said he could represent Mexico better than his opponent. Alvarez was flabbergasted when the comment was relayed to him.

“I think you shouldn’t even ask that question because …” Alvarez said in Spanish, his voice trailing off.

Alvarez continued, “Let me tell you why. You can’t put a fighter like him, who has embarrassed the sport, who doesn’t have discipline, what’s happened with his drug tests, with all the things he’s done to hurt boxing. He can’t say he can represent a country better than me. Why? Just his image. His image shouldn’t represent a country. Do you think he’s an example for a child?”

Alvarez asked his audience to imagine a young boxer who wasn’t the son of Julio Cesar Chavez and therefore wouldn’t start his career with the backing of major promoters and television networks.

“If he follows the example of Chavez, he will never make it,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez conceded a major size advantage to Chavez Jr. to make the fight happen. Chavez stands 6 feet 1. Alvarez is 5 feet 9 and spent the majority of his career at 154 pounds.

Chavez Jr. prepared for this fight under Hall of Fame trainer Nacho Beristain and also worked with controversial strength and conditioning coach Memo Heredia, best known for his involvement in the BALCO doping scandal.

“For me, it was a surprise to find a young man with so much ability,” Beristain said in Spanish. “I’ve known him since he was a boy. He might have boxed better as a child, but the ability is there.”

Beristain envisioned a promising future for Chavez Jr.

“He can be a completely different Julio,” Beristain said.

Is he a completely different Julio now?

“No, no, of course not,” Beristain said. “It’s been only two months.”

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Twitter@dylanohernandez


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