Since he first stepped foot into the ring as a professional prizefighter, looking for all the world as though he were just 12 years old, his every step has inevitably been compared to his father's -- not only because they share name, but because that father was also one of the greatest boxers of all time, a first-ballot Hall of Famer and perhaps the most celebrated pugilist in Mexico's long fistic history.
On Saturday night, the linkages will be stronger than ever; but whereas Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. may at times have wished that comparisons of his career with his father's had to this point been more favorable, he will certainly be hoping to exit San Antonio's Alamodome with more positive reviews than did his father 18 years and change ago.
Chavez Jr. will face Marco Antonio Rubio on HBO in a defense of a middleweight belt that many believe rightfully belongs to Sergio Martinez, who was stripped of the title as a result of the kind of political chicanery and machinations that have granted boxing permanent residency in the Red Light District of sports. But it is also, perhaps more accurately, a measuring stick by which fans can judge the progress of a young contender who, much maligned in his earlier career, is showing signs of developing an all-round game that will meet potentially its toughest test yet in the form of veteran Marco Antonio Rubio.
On Sept. 10, 1993, Chavez Sr. walked into the ring in the very same arena, in front of 56,959 paying fans, placing his 87-0 record on the line against Pernell Whitaker, who had suffered a larcenous loss to Jose Luis Ramirez in his first tilt at a world title five years earlier but was otherwise undefeated in 33 contests. The two men were meeting for the welterweight championship of the world -- which Whitaker had snatched from Buddy McGirt in his previous fight -- but also for more than that: recognition as the best fighter in the world, pound for pound.
(A brief aside: The notion of two welterweights actually deciding who is the best fighter in the world by meeting in the ring might, to today's generation of boxing fans, seem an absurdity, a fiction so improbable as to be without any kind of credibility. Time was, however, when such things happened. But that's another story ...)
Chavez, the betting favorite, began aggressively, looking to bury his patented left hook to Whitaker's liver, as the champion wheeled away and popped his pursuer with a retreating right jab from a southpaw stance. Beginning in the third, Whitaker threw that jab with greater authority, combining it with the footwork and slippery defense for which he was renowned, befuddling Chavez and taking away seemingly every aspect of his game, beating him with punches from inside and outside. From Round 4 onward, it was, to ringside observers, largely a shutout -- a masters class culminating in what was surely a nine rounds-to-three or, at worst, eight rounds-to-four victory.
Except that it wasn't.
One judge scored the fight for Whitaker, 115-113. The other two saw it dead-even, 115-115 -- a result that even many in the pro-Chavez crowd, who had become progressively quieter as their man had been given a boxing lesson, booed.
The New York Times dubbed the result "an oddity of a decision even for this most confusing of sports."
"I went to talk to one of the judges afterward, but I tripped over his seeing-eye dog," Bert Sugar quipped.
"Whitaker put on one of the most dazzling ring performances in recent years," wrote Sports Illustrated, "yet, within minutes, two of the three judges reduced this magnificent show to a mockery."
SI's cover featured a picture of Whitaker landing a right hand on Chavez's jaw, accompanied by a one-word headline: 'Robbed!' (Hey, on the plus side, boxing was on the cover of Sports Illustrated! Yes, kids, sometimes that happened, too.)
Three fights later, Chavez suffered his first official loss, when he was dropped and outpointed by Frankie Randall, and things were never really the same after that. He beat up the likes of Ken Sigurani, Verdell Smith and Marty Jakubowski, but he lost comprehensively to Oscar De La Hoya (twice), Kostya Tszyu (in a fight that never should have been made) and even Willy Wise and Grover Wiley.
Junior avenged the last of those defeats, in a way, splattering the man -- in three one-sided rounds in 2007 -- who had ended Senior's career. And although a clean and clear win on Saturday won't exactly atone for the flimflam that spared his old man from defeat that long-ago September night, it will enable him to boast one accomplishment that eluded his more celebrated father: to walk out of the Alamadome, with his hands in the air and head held high, to the sound of his fans celebrating a Chavez victory.