We were told that graduation was near. Told that we were about to see a fighter, one who was born to be a star, taking his first steps into championship territory. That the second coming of the great J.C. Superstar was merely a matter of time.
But in the end, what we got was little more than a watered-down version of the A.L. Webber musical, without the spectacular dresses, the punch lines -- or even the punches themselves. A high school play that paled in comparison to the flamboyant Broadway productions of its predecessor, whose spectacles of brilliance we'd grown so accustomed to in the previous century. This new thing was a well-rehearsed, but still sloppy, rendition of a classic -- one with seemingly endless room for improvement and only a faint promise of future grandeur.
Although Mexico has hungered for a new boxing star to fill the void left by the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez, few truly bought into the initial hype surrounding his son, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. In fact, many fight fans grew more skeptical after watching young Chavez grab a spotlight he hadn't earned as rightfully and unequivocally as his father had while overwhelming dozens of opponents to become a three-division champion in the 1980s and '90s on his way toward becoming the most beloved and respected fighter in his country.
Sure, the 25-year-old Chavez Jr. (44-0-1, 30 KOs) began this year with raised expectations after his promising victory against once-beaten John Duddy in June 2010, and he got off to a good start in 2011 with a January victory over Billy Lyell. But in a division with no shortage of tough opponents, young Chavez took the path of least resistance to a championship, in one of the most undeserved title shots in recent memory.
"I love Julio Cesar Jr. as my grandson," said Jose Sulaiman, the lifelong head of the WBC, perhaps trying to justify the unjustifiable in granting Chavez a championship fight.
It's one thing to build a career step by step and gradually foster confidence in a fighter against stronger opposition; it's a very different one to cash in your family chips in exchange for an early Christmas present -- such as the one Chavez Jr. received when he was matched in June with unbeaten yet largely untested interim champion Sebastian Zbik (30-1, 10 KOs) for what figured to be his moment of glory at L.A.'s Staples Center.
Zbik, the 29-year-old German titleholder, had already racked up four defenses of an interim belt that was as spurious as they come -- legit champ Sergio Martinez was alive and well, defending his linear title in the form of a "diamond belt" handed out by the WBC as a consolation prize after he was deprived of his rightfully earned regular title -- against stronger opposition. But when grandpa plays Santa Claus and feels like stuffing your stocking with one of the most overpriced souvenirs in boxing, all it takes is a phone call for you to become champ just in time for dad's induction ceremony at the International Boxing Hall of Fame, which took place in the same week that Junior grabbed the WBC middleweight belt, losing its interim tag thanks to Sulaiman's paternal dealings.
To further dress up the fairy tale, Chavez Jr. landed his first world title in the same town in which his father became a champion almost 26 years earlier, when he defeated Mario Martinez at the old Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, laying the groundwork for his fabled career.
Although a victory against a non-puncher in front of a partisan home crowd may be nothing to get excited about, it's true Junior showed flashes of the talent that helped his father climb and remain atop the boxing world for more than a decade. With all his shortcomings, Chavez Jr. is a durable, hard-punching young fighter with a lot of pro experience, and everything indicates he could improve even further by dedicating himself to the sport a bit more.
The basics are there, including the all-important DNA. And whatever Junior lacks (technique, speed, mobility, athleticism) can be improved upon or mitigated through discipline, which is something a fighter will eventually achieve if he's trained by Freddie Roach. If Chavez Jr. can find a way to focus and keep his weight issues at bay (he was rumored to have put on more than 20 pounds between the weigh-in and fight time against Zbik), he would still be a mile behind his old man in most areas -- but the chase wouldn't appear as unattainable as it does for now.
After all, we've seen far more talented fighters than Chavez Jr. fall from grace much quicker and more non-descriptively (greetings, James Kirkland) against opponents who weren't worthy of Zbik. So maybe it wouldn't be such a surprise to see Junior 2.0 become a force to be reckoned with in the middleweight division.
That said, 2012 probably won't be remembered as the year Chavez Jr. took the boxing world by storm. It won't fulfill the world-ending prophecies of the Mayans either. Junior won't make the earth shake, but he isn't likely to be swallowed by a tsunami of failure. His box-office appeal should turn him into a factor in a strong division for which he could become a pillar in the years to come, at least from a financial standpoint. It's a known fact that divisions tend to rearrange and regroup themselves whenever a lucrative star emerges somewhere at the top, and if Chavez keeps winning, he'll have every 160-pounder lining up for a ticket in the Junior Sweepstakes. He has already managed to prompt pound-for-pound stalwart Sergio Martinez to toe that line, so there's little question whether other contenders, such as Kirkland, Andy Lee and even Miguel Cotto, will come calling in the near future.
In its recent annual convention, the WBC decided to mandate a match between Chavez and Martinez in order to clear up the cluttered mess of titles and decide who gets the legitimate version of the organization's green championship belt. But politics is one thing and the economy is another -- and this is about the economy, stupid. With millions to be made and only a few fights in which to make them before Chavez is likely to lose his undefeated status, you can count on promoter Bob Arum keeping Chavez in the freezer a little longer, at least until Grandpa Jose finds (or whips up) another clause in the WBC manual to keep Junior's waist wrapped in green a little longer. Whether or not Junior takes on Martinez in 2012, it should be the year when we find out what Chavez Jr. is really made of.
And we're not talking about his DNA.
Diego Morilla is a contributor to ESPNdeportes.com.