Few fighters have taken so much criticism so early in their careers, or responded so well to it, as has Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
When he was regularly accused of being coddled by his handlers or coasting on the coattails of his Hall of Fame father not so long ago, Chavez simply continued winning and improving until the narrative changed. The newest knock on Junior: that he didn't rightfully earn the middleweight strap currently in his possession -- the title that had been stripped from lineal champ Sergio Martinez.
But Chavez (46-0-1, 32 KOs) will be afforded a rare opportunity to answer the catcalls directly and legitimize his championship when he takes on Martinez (49-2-2, 28 KOs) in Las Vegas on Sept. 15, in a matchup that would have been unthinkable little more than a year ago. Chavez's work with trainer Freddie Roach has transformed him into something more than a paper champion, and some believe that his new polish combined with his size and chin give Junior an outside shot, if not the upper hand, against Martinez.
ESPN.com enlisted the help of HBO to get Chavez's take on his career, his future and Martinez. As part of an ongoing feature ahead of the fight, we will provide periodic updates with Chavez's thoughts.
On turning pro at a late age and with no amateur experience, and how his father has helped his development:
I wasn't sure I wanted to be a boxer at first, but I started working out during late 2002 and early 2003. I lived in the United States, in Riverside, Calif., and when I went back home to Culiacan [Mexico], I went to my father's gym and told my uncles I wanted to be a boxer. We didn't have an amateur program, so I just jumped into the professional ranks. If I had to do it all over again, I would have started in the amateurs to learn more; it was hard being a professional without any experience, and it really was difficult to learn to fight in the professional ranks. It was a lot tougher than I expected.
My father didn't want me to fight, and my mother didn't want me to fight. My father made a deal with my grandmother: She said she would let me have 10 professional fights, and if I lost one, that would be the end of it. I made the same deal with my father, so when I went undefeated after those 10 fights, he had no choice but to let me continue fighting, and from then on he has supported my boxing career.
Having my father with me in training is like having a master at your side. He will correct me and will give me advice, but he lets my trainers do their work. He just wants me to do the things right and is always talking about the importance of good preparation. He's always saying that fights are won in training and, that if are your well prepared, the fights will be easy.
We have become more like friends. I know that he is my father and I do respect him, but when we talk boxing now, it's as equals and that has made our relationship much better. He has also cleaned up his act, and that makes him more enjoyable to be around and keeps me more focused on my career. He deserves a lot of credit for the victory I will claim over Martinez on Sept. 15.
Thursday, Aug. 23
On his best and worst memory as a fighter, and which wins have been the most satisfying:
My best memory as a fighter is winning the world middleweight championship. It was my dream to become a world champion. That's why I decided to become a professional fighter. Beating Sebastian Zbik in Los Angeles to become the middleweight champion is something that I will never forget -- and for so many reasons. Not many people believed that I could do it, and that inspired me. The select few who did believe in me encouraged me and sacrificed for me. And to win the title only a few blocks from the old Olympic [Auditorium] where my father won his first world title, well, that made it even more special for me. My father and I will always be linked together because we won our first world championship belts in the same city.
My worst memory was in July 2008 in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico. I had a very difficult time in the ring. It was very hot all week and I started getting sick the day before the weigh-in and never fully recuperated after the weigh-in. I had a fever the night before the fight, but I went through with the fight and the last two rounds were the most difficult time I've had in the ring. I could barely walk and was just standing up because of my pride and my heart. I threw up in the ring after the fight and had a fever.
My most memorable victory was against Zbik and winning the middleweight championship of the world. It was a very difficult fight early, but I was able to come back in the second half of the fight and win it. It's a feeling that will stay with me forever. To hear the ring announcer say, "The winner and new " that is something I will never forget. That is something I never want to forget. Of course, I now like hearing the ring announcer say, "The winner, and still " And that's exactly what he will say in the ring on Sept. 15 after my fight with Sergio Martinez ends.