<
>

Manfredo takes next last shot vs. Chavez

Peter Manfredo Jr., right, will get his second (and final?) title opportunity Saturday in Houston. Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Peter Manfredo Jr. is a realist. He knows he will be going into the lion's den when he challenges middleweight titlist Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., who will be the huge crowd favorite in a heavily Mexican crowd at the Reliant Center in Houston.

"I don't think I will get a fair shot, so I can't make it a close fight," Manfredo said. "I gotta dominate the fight. I know I'm not going to win a close decision. But I'm not thinking of that. I have to go in and do what I trained to do and let everything happen. If fate is on my side, it will happen. I believe everything happens for a reason. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be."

Chavez and Manfredo meet in the main event on "Boxing After Dark" on Saturday night (HBO, 10:30 ET/PT). Opening the broadcast will be a replay of last Saturday night's razor-close third battle between welterweight titlist Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. Just before the broadcast, at 10 p.m. ET/PT, HBO will air the first episode of the two-part "24/7 Cotto/Margarito" series, which will preview the Dec. 3 rematch (HBO PPV) between junior middleweight titlist Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito.

Manfredo, a star on the first season of "The Contender" reality series, is getting his second shot at a world title. In 2007, he traveled to Wales to challenge super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe and was stopped in the third round as he was overpowered by a bigger man in a fight that ended with a somewhat quick stoppage.

Later in 2007, Manfredo (37-6, 20 KOs) dropped a decision to former super middleweight titlist Jeff Lacy in a fight that was within Manfredo's grasp in the late rounds. The following year, Manfredo, fighting in front of his hometown crowd at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, R.I., was blown out by rugged Sakio Bika in three rounds in a humbling experience.

After the loss, Manfredo considered himself retired and was resigned to working as a laborer, sweeping floors at the same arena where he had starred.

"In the dressing room after the fight, I said, 'This is it,'" Manfredo said. "As the weeks went by, I was working at the Dunkin Donuts Center sweeping floors and I didn't accept that I was done. I wasn't satisfied. I went a couple of weeks and it was bothering me bad. Boxing, it's like a drug and the only way I know how to make money. What was I doing sweeping floors? I'm a fighter.

"After the Bika fight, I couldn't accept the fact that I was retired and cleaning up the arena. I was doing third-shift sweeps. At break time, I'd think about it and couldn't accept the fact that I wasn't going to box and make the kind of money I was making. I knew I had to come back, but I couldn't compete at 168. I couldn't compete there."

After Manfredo, who turns 31 next week, dropped back-to-back fights to first-season "Contender" winner Sergio Mora in 2005 middleweight bouts, including a controversial decision in the rematch, he moved up to super middleweight.

"After the robbery against Mora in the second fight, I wouldn't have gotten a big fight, so I moved up to 168 and got opportunities," Manfredo said. "I can't complain about the opportunities, but I wasn't able to win those fights. I was overmatched and those guys were too big and strong for me. As a middleweight, I'm not overmatched. I have a little more experience and I'm better than Chavez. That's the difference. I feel confident.

"I think Chavez is a good fighter and he takes a good shot. He doesn't know how to lose yet. But I think if I hit him with one of my left hooks, I think I can put him out. I've seen him get rocked a couple of times. I feel he's perfect for me and I can beat this kid."

And then Manfredo, who has won six fights in a row since the loss to Bika, went there:

"This is it," he said. "If I don't win this fight, I will retire and I will be done."

He said he means it this time.

"Now I accept it. I'm going to be 31 and I got a family. I can't be selfish anymore," he said.

Manfredo is married to high school sweetheart Yamilka, and they have three children: Alexis, 9, Mercedes, 6 and Peter Michael, 4.

The shot at Mexico's Chavez (43-0-1, 30 KOs), the 25-year-old son of Hall of Famer Julio Cesar Chavez, came a little unexpectedly, but promoter Lou DiBella, with whom Manfredo signed last year, worked tirelessly to persuade Top Rank's Bob Arum, Chavez's promoter, to give him the fight.

"I was surprised but happy at the same time because it took me three years to get back to this point after the Bika fight," Manfredo said. "That's why I signed with DiBella. He said he would give it to me and he was a man of his word."

Manfredo said it's too difficult to box and also be a full-time worker, which is why he said he must beat Chavez, who will be making his first defense of the belt he won against Sebastian Zbik in June, to make it worth his while to continue boxing.

"At the championship level, you can't do both," he said. "If I lose this fight I go back to making $10,000 or $15,000 a fight, if I'm lucky. After paying out everyone, what do I make? I make more working. I'm a laborer. I knock down walls, sweep floors. I'm a laborer. I have a family to support and I'd be making more working than boxing if I lose. And I can be home with them every night for dinner."

Manfredo knows his time in boxing is nearing an end, even though he is still a young man. But he has had elbow problems and has been boxing since he was 7.

"I fought a lot of wars, a lot of big fights," he said. "I didn't have the easy road coming up like Chavez, who was making money to fight lesser opposition. I came up the hard way. It takes a toll on your body. You go to work all day, go to the gym at night. If I can't win this fight and make the high six figures for fights, it's not worth it to me. I'd rather spend time with family."

Manfredo may be the underdog, but Arum said a Chavez loss wouldn't be a shock.

"Every fight is risky for Junior because he hasn't been a major overachiever," Arum said. "He's in good shape and he is mentally there, but every fight we do with Chavez is life or death because he's not an overachiever. I think he has tremendous talent, and so does [Top Rank matchmaker] Bruce [Trampler], but he tends to be a little lazy. Hopefully, that's in the past. We'll see. If he goes in the ring with the attitude like he has in the past, Manfredo will eat him alive. Is Manfredo in there with a chance? Sure."

Said Chavez: "This is the toughest fight of my career because Manfredo has fought so many quality opponents. I think my style and his style will make for a great fight."

As much as beating Chavez would fulfill Manfredo's dream of winning a title, he said the money that would come with it is more important to him.

"Knowing that I can help secure my family financially is the most important thing," he said. "But it would be nice to hang up that belt at my house. This is a big fight for me, a winnable fight for me. I trained very hard and I am ready to take that belt home with me."

Manfredo made good money during his run on "The Contender," as well as for his title fight against Calzaghe and other bouts. But a series of bad investments on rental properties crippled him financially, forcing him to find other work.

"I was invested in the wrong thing at the wrong time," he said. "I owned properties and it was the wrong thing to do. I never grew up with money. I tried to invest in properties. I had $12,000 in mortgages every month. I tried to do the right thing, make some money, have my brains. I invested and I guess it wasn't meant to be."

Now, against Chavez, Manfredo has the chance to make a payday in the low six figures, claim that elusive belt and line himself up for even bigger checks with a win.

"I'm not the best in the world, but I'm a good fighter," Manfredo said. "I think it's going to be a great fight. He's not going to stop, and neither am I. You can tell I'm a fighter. Just look at my nose. I'm hoping -- and you can call me crazy -- but I hope it's like a Micky Ward-Arturo Gatti-type fight.

"And me winning would be the perfect story. It would be everything. It would be like the 'Rocky' story, but a little better."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.