Former middleweight titlist Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. was suspended for nine months and fined a whopping $900,000 by the Nevada State Athletic Commission on Thursday for failing a drug test following his loss to champion Sergio Martinez last fall in Las Vegas.
Chavez tested positive for marijuana following his unanimous decision defeat to Martinez on Sept. 15 in one of the biggest fights of 2012, his second offense in Nevada since 2009. Chavez had his hearing on Thursday at the regular monthly meeting of the Nevada commission after his case had been repeatedly put off.
Claiming visa issues, Chavez did not attend the hearing in person, instead appearing by telephone along with Top Rank promoter Bob Arum and translator Ricardo Jimenez, a Top Rank publicist. Las Vegas attorney Don Campbell was present at the meeting to represent Chavez.
He made a plea for leniency -- a six-month suspension and $10,000 fine -- arguing that marijuana was not performance enhancing. However, the commission voted 3-2 on the punishment. The nine-month suspension, which is retroactive to the day of the fight, is in line with punishments the commission has handed out in similar cases.
However, Chavez was fined far more heavily -- 30 percent of his $3 million purse for the Martinez fight -- than he would have been because the commission viewed this as his second drug violation, albeit for a different substance, in the state in less than four years.
In November 2009, Chavez tested positive for Furosemide -- a diuretic typically used to help cut weight or used as a masking agent for steroids -- in conjunction with his fight against Troy Rowland, which took place on the Manny Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto undercard in Las Vegas.
The commission suspended Chavez for seven months and fined him $10,000 (10 percent of his $100,000 purse) and the fight result, originally a lopsided decision win for Chavez, was changed to a no-decision.
"I'd like to apologize to everyone in boxing," Chavez told the commission. "I know this has been a very bad thing for me and my career. A lot of things have been said about it and my reputation. I respect boxing a lot. I've been in it a long time. I try to do the best I can and will continue to try to do the best I can because I love boxing more than ever."
While Arum said he had no argument with the length of the suspension, he railed against the heavy fine.
"The nine months is fine, but a 30 percent fine on a purse of $3 million, that's extortion," Arum told ESPN.com. "That means Julio has to make a decision -- is he going to contest the fine in court or he can elect not to fight ever again in Nevada. There's no question the nine months is the nine months, but it's ridiculous money, particularly since you already take out 30 percent for taxes.
"I was hoping for nine months, that worked out. The fine is an absolute stunner. You don't do that to an athlete. Which athlete in any sport has been fined as much as $900,000?"
Nevada commission executive director Keith Kizer told ESPN.com that even if Chavez refuses to pay the fine and never fights in Nevada again, the commission can still get its money by attaching his purse paid by another commission.
According to Kizer, Chavez's fine is the largest ever handed out for doping in Nevada, easily surpassing the $100,000 fine Fernando Vargas was assessed after his knockout loss to Oscar De La Hoya for a positive steroid test in 2002.
The fine is also the second largest in Nevada combat sports history. Mike Tyson was fined $3 million in the wake of biting Evander Holyfield's ears in their notorious 1997 heavyweight championship fight. The next biggest fine after Chavez's was when then-light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins was fined $200,000 for inciting a dangerous fracas at the weigh-in when he shoved Winky Wright the day before their 2007 fight.
Under questioning from the commissioners, Chavez admitted that he smoked marijuana "eight or nine days before the fight."
"I feel very bad about the situation," Chavez said. "I know I committed a big error, a mistake. I wanted everyone to know this has hurt me and that I let a lot of people down. It was a big mistake and I know it has damaged me."
Chavez was asked why he thought the commission should be lenient on him.
"I'm asking for leniency so I can fight as soon as I can, but I am willing to take my punishment," he said. "I know I committed an error."
Asked why he decided to smoke before the fight, Chavez said, "I was told it would help my stress. I was tense for the fight and someone mentioned it to me and that's why I did it eight or nine days before the fight."
Chavez would not say who suggested he smoke marijuana other than that it was a "personal friend of mine from Los Angeles."
Chavez was asked if he had felt pressure before previous fights and answered, "Never like this time."
On why he smoked marijuana before this fight and not any other, Chavez said, "I couldn't tell you the exact reason why I did it. I just can tell you I was under a lot of stress and had family problems, a lot of things going on in my life. Just something I did. It was the biggest mistake and I'll never do it again."
Chavez said he never smoked before any other fight, but declined to answer whether he had ever smoked marijuana at all, answering only, "I wasn't myself. I was not thinking properly."
Dodging that question did not go unnoticed by the commissioners during their deliberations.
"He didn't answer if he had smoked before and that has an impact on me making a decision," commissioner Pat Lundvall said.
She also noted that this was Chavez's second offense and that he had also falsified his prefight medical questionnaire by not disclosing his marijuana usage, which he was claiming was for medicinal reasons to reduce his stress.
"He's well aware of the rules of the commission," Lundvall said.
Chavez's suspension ends June 15, and Arum said he is planning Chavez's next fight in late June in Texas or Mexico City.
"He's going to fight (June 22 or June 29), we cleared that with the commission," Arum said. "They told us we can promote the fight during the suspension as long as the fight takes place after the suspension is up. But we were not going to take this fight to Las Vegas anyway. We have a hold on a building in Texas or we may do the fight in the new arena in Mexico City. One thing we won't do is have Chavez fight in Mexico during the suspension [where he could get a license]."
Arum said Top Rank has six possible opponents on the list and "we're running by everyone and next week we'll zero in on the one he will fight."
Arum said after the June fight, assuming Chavez (46-1-1, 32 KOs), 27, wins and is uninjured, he would work on a rematch with Martinez for September. Martinez also has an interim bout to deal with. He defends the 160-pound world title on April 27 in his native Argentina against England's Martin Murray.