Name of the game

JULIO CESAR CHAVEZ JR. WASN'T supposed to be a champion. His father, Mexico's most celebrated boxer ever, didn't even want his namesake in the ring in the first place. "Imagine suffering for 25 years, then seeing your son
do the same," Chavez Sr. says.

In 2003, the father caved and allowed the then-17-year-old to try out the fight game -- 10 pro bouts, that
was the deal. Senior figured that's all it would take for his son to throw in the towel.

Forty-seven bouts and almost a decade later, Chavez Jr. (46-0-1, 32 KOs) is the WBC middleweight champ and preparing for his toughest test yet -- a Sept. 15 matchup in Las Vegas with Sergio Martinez, ranked third on ESPN.com's pound-for-pound list through Aug. 15. After winning those first 10 fights, Chavez Jr. had convinced his dad he belonged in the sport. This is his chance to prove it to the rest of the boxing world, which until recently had dismissed him as a coddled fighter who padded his record against weak competition. "Being Julio Cesar Chavez's son has been a double-edged sword," says the 26-year-old. "It's helped to have a master on my side, but living up to his expectation has not always been easy."

There can be no doubting that. Chavez Sr., who had six title reigns across three divisions, is only slightly less revered by his countrymen than Our Lady of Guadalupe. Still, Junior has welcomed the counsel of his father as an adviser throughout his career, and it shows in their similarly relentless fighting styles. Although the six-foot Chavez Jr. has far more range than the 5'7.5" Chavez Sr. did, he too likes to fight on the inside, using a fierce body attack to wither his opponents. His form has been on impressive display in his past two fights -- a unanimous decision over Marco Antonio Rubio in February and a seventh-round stoppage over the formidable Andy Lee in June. That's gone a long way toward establishing his credibility. "He's shown championship mettle," says HBO analyst Max Kellerman.

Still, make no mistake: Chavez Jr. is the underdog against the 37-year-old Martinez (49-2-2, 28 KOs). A southpaw with power in both hands and superb footwork, the 5'10" Argentine will look to pick apart his bigger but far less mobile foe.

The question for Chavez Jr. is, can he keep his opponent in his crosshairs long enough to unleash his devastating arsenal? If so, Kellerman, for one, thinks he has a fighter's chance. "Chavez seems to be peaking," he says. "His youth, size, solid chin and aggressive style should make for a very competitive fight."

One that's putting something far more valuable than his title on the line: his name.

Follow The Mag on Twitter (@ESPNmag) and like us on Facebook.