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Breakdown: Chavez-Rubio

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Chavez Jr Rubio weighin 120203 001a Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and   #1 ranked Marco Antonio Rubio weigh in (Chavez 159.5 lbs., Rubio 159 lbs.) at the Alamodome in San Antonio,Texas, Friday for their upcoming world title fight, Saturday, Feb. 4. (Chris Farina)

I do not envy Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr.

For a kid who was supposed to have it easy, things have gotten a bit complicated.  When he started his professional career back in 2003, the blueprint appeared to be simply to cash in on his legendary namesake’s reputation and make a few bucks before the public realized they were being scammed.  Even Junior seemed to be fine with the arrangement.  Judging by the marked lack of craft and notoriously lazy work ethic that defined his early career, it didn’t look like Chavez the Younger had any intent of being a serious fighter.

Then things took an unexpected turn.  That Junior defeated the scores of no-hopers put in front of him was no surprise, but the fact that many fans believed those wins were indicative of something meaningful was somewhat unforeseen.  He was gaining throngs of fans who loved the idea of a running legacy of greatness in the Chavez clan.  At the same time, he was also gaining a band of skeptics who resented the idea of a kid who was getting, what they perceived to be, unfair and unearned opportunities that more deserving fighters did not.

As I mentioned earlier, I wouldn’t want to trade places with Chavez.  On one hand, he’s got an overwhelming fan base with expectations that he probably can’t live up to, at least not at this point of his career.  On the other, he’s drawn a band of skeptics who have been waiting for the fraudulent fairy tale to come to an end, for the kid to be exposed as a con artist, and for boxing logic (or karma) to play itself out.  

To his credit, Chavez has made a much more concerted effort to be a serious prizefighter.  He’s brought in Freddy Roach as a hired gun.  His work ethic and training routines are much improved.  It seems to Chavez that if boxing is something worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

Going into Saturday night’s fight with former title-challenger Marco Antonio Rubio, the big question remains as to how seriously we should take Junior.  The rugged, but limited Rubio figures to be a decent test for the 25-year old Chavez, who, for the time being, is respectfully declining  to engage with the upper echelon of the middleweight division.

So how will the first major boxing subplot of 2012 play out?  Will the Chavez Jr. express train roll on to the next stop?  Or will Rubio cause it to derail, as so many have predicted it would?  Several important factors will all come together to determine the outcome of Saturday night’s main event.

The Manfredo Effect
Chavez’ last performance was probably his most impressive to date:  a fifth round stoppage of former Contender participant and world title challenger Peter Manfredo.  What was so impressive was that Chavez demonstrated an impressive arsenal that showed he has more chops than he’s been given credit for.  He jabbed with conviction, maintained solid balance, set up openings for combinations, and minimized risk more than he had in the past.  Afterward, more than a few doubters had to grudgingly admit that the kid looked pretty sharp, and his supporters would have us believe that Junior was starting to put the pieces together under the tutelage of Roach.

It was an impressive performance, yes, but let’s not get carried away.  Remember that Chavez was in with maybe the most compliant opponent possible in that type of situation.  This is the same Peter Manfredo who froze against Joe Calzaghe and Sakio Bika.  He was chosen because he was a safe bet to revert to those habits against Chavez, which is pretty much what he did.  This is no fault to Chavez, who did his job and did it exceptionally well.  Still, with all due respect to the good-guy Manfredo, he was there for a reason, and he fulfilled it.

So what’s the real verdict on Chavez’ progress, taking into consideration the Manfredo Effect?  Realistically, he is improving, but probably not as much as some might want you to believe.

Rubio: The (Sometimes) Willing Accomplice
When someone looks at the glossy record of Marco Antonio Rubio, boasting 53 wins and 46 knockouts, he looks like an experienced, world-class threat.  But when you look at that record long enough, like a Magic Eye picture, a whole different image appears.

Of his fifty three wins, Rubio’s career-defining win came against the untested prospect David Lemieux.  That is, unless you consider wins over Grady Brewer or the ancient likes of Frankie Randall and Jorge Vaca to be especially scintillating.  The fact of the matter is that Rubio owns not a single win over an elite-level opponent, which makes his intimidating KO ratio seem a bit less formidable upon closer examination.

Rubio, though, is a toughguy, a man’s man.  He’ll do his best with what he’s got, which consists mainly of fairly slow, awkward, thudding punches.  He can do damage when allowed to, but has problems when his opponents don’t have losing on their mind.

The idea that Rubio is a real, A-level fighter is challenged by the role he’s been asked to play more than once in his career:  the durable, but relatively safe opponent.

In February 2009, Rubio was given an opportunity to face Kelly Pavlik for the middleweight title.  Keep in mind, this was a post-Hopkins version of Kelly Pavlik who was in desperate need of a confidence builder in front of the Youngstown faithful.  Rubio was, conveniently enough, a mandatory challenger for Pavlik, but common sense would make us believe that the folks at Top Rank were not going to put Pavlik in too tough after the demoralizing loss to Hopkins.  They wanted a guy who would give the champ a good workout, rebuild his confidence, but not be too serious of a threat.  In Rubio, they got exactly what they wanted, as Pavlik methodically broke him down for a ninth round stoppage win.

For David Lemieux, the plan was similar.  Rubio was brought to Montreal for the same reason he went to Youngstown: to help make the hometown boy look good.  For the first five rounds, things went according to the script for Team Lemieux.  Their man was putting a beating on Rubio, who produced little other than meager offensive bursts.  As Lemieux teed off on Rubio, the ending seemed inevitable.

That is, until Lemieux folded like a sunchair.  All credit to Rubio’s heart for withstanding a ton of punishment, but his win was dramatically aided by Lemieux’s inexperience in deep waters.  Rubio got the win, but the unlikelihood of the circumstances makes it difficult to interpret its significance in any really meaningful way for Rubio.

On Saturday night, Rubio will be called into San Antonio for the same purpose as he was for Pavlik and Lemieux.  San Antonio might not be Chavez’ hometown, but you won’t know that based on the support  he’ll get from the droves of fans that will pack Alamodome.  Will he be a willing accomplice for Chavez, or does he have another storyline in mind?  

We’ll find out at the opening bell.

The Likely Plotline
It’s hard to see this fight playing out any other way than the predicable route.

Chavez is quicker than Rubio, not to mention more skilled and versatile.  It doesn’t take Copernicus to understand that Rubio’s only means of winning is by landing something big and land it often.  Freddie Roach will have Chavez executing a gameplan that will minimize, if not eliminate, Rubio’s chances to smash the homerun ball.  

Plan to see Chavez’ improved, intentional jab on display along with simple, effective footwork to keep the plodding Rubio off balance.  Sure, there will be exchanges, because this is a Chavez fight after all.  But Junior will make sure that he doesn’t gamble too recklessly against Rubio, and eventually the shots will add up.  Rubio’s main means of defense is simply to cover up.  He’s not a proponent of head movement, but he does have a fondness for moving straight back to avoid punches, all of which is good news for Chavez.

It will be fun, and Rubio will try to hang in there, but Junior’s punches could add up to a late round stoppage.  If not, expect a wide unanimous decision.

What It Will All Mean
Honestly, not much.  It will go down as a title defense for Chavez.  His fans will relish the victory, his detractors will still claim he’s overprotected, and the dual hyperbole will likely continue.

With such a broad spectrum of opinions about Junior’s place in boxing’s pecking order, where does the reality of the situation lie?

As is often the case, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.  Chavez is probably not a legend in the making, and he’s definitely not a bum.  He’s a young man who’s learning on the job what it means to be a fighter, and he looks to be on his way to being a pretty good one.

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Fast Results From London: Joshua Takes Out Povetkin in the 7th

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UK sporting

It was a very wet night at Wembley Stadium, but the dampness didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd which welcomed UK sporting hero Anthony Joshua into the ring with a thunderous ovation. And Joshua didn’t disappoint. After six relatively even rounds, he found his range in the seventh and became the first man to stop Alexander Povetkin. A three punch combo that began with an overhand right sent Povetkin sprawling into the ropes. The Russian beat the count, but Joshua smelled blood and as soon as the ref allowed the proceedings to continue he moved in for the kill. The official time was 1:59.

Povetkin started fast and in the eyes of many observers won the first three rounds. A sharp right hand in the waning seconds of round one reddened Joshua’s nose which leaked blood in the next round. The tide began to turn in round four when Povetkin suffered a cut above his left eye.

Povetkin (now 34-2), was the lighter man by 23 pounds. Joshua had a four inch height advantage and a seven inch reach advantage. And it mattered greatly that AJ was the younger man by 10-plus years. Povetkin wasn’t intimidated by Joshua and had several good moments but, at age 39, his reflexes betrayed him once the fight had crossed the midpoint.

Joshua, who owns three of the four meaningful heavyweight title belts, improved to 22-0 with his 21st stoppage. His next fight is penciled in for April 13 of next year against an opponent to be determined. His promoter Eddie Hearn has reserved that date at Wembley Stadium.

Other Bouts

In a 12-round lightweight bout, Joshua’s Olympic Games teammate and fellow gold medalist Luke Campbell (19-2) avenged the first loss of his career with a unanimous decision (119-109, 118-111,116-112) over France’s Yvan Mendy (40-5-1). This was Campbell’s second start since coming up short in a bid for Jorge Linares’s lightweight title and his first fight under his new trainer Shane McGuigan.

In their first meeting in December of 2015 at London’s O2 Arena, Mendy won a split decision that should have been unanimous. Campbell insisted that he had improved greatly in the interim and tonight’s fight bore witness. However, he needs to develop a harder punch to rank among the top lightweights in the world, a list headed by Mikey Garcia. As this fight was framed as a WBC title eliminator, Campbell is next in line to meet Garcia, but Mikey has indicated that he will pursue bigger game.

Lawrence Okolie, a 2016 Olympian who trains with Anthony Joshua, won a Lonsdale belt in only his 10th pro start with a 12-round decision over defending BBBofC cruiserweight champion Matty Askin in a messy fight. The undefeated Okolie had a point deducted in round five for leading with his head and had two more points deducted for holding, but banked enough rounds to get the nod on all three cards: 116-110, 114-112, and 114-113. Askin, who declined to 23-4-1, had won five straight heading in.

A 10-round heavyweight match between Sergey Kuzmin (13-0, 1 NC) and David Price (22-6) ended suddenly when Price retired on his stool after four relatively even rounds. The six-foot-eight, china-chinned Price claimed to have aggravated a biceps tear.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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