by Paul Magno
This is the story of two young men, both talented and thirsty for Boxing success, who were steered in very different directions; One down the easy road of fluff fights for adoring, partisan crowds and the other, through the difficult obstacle course of going from prospect to contender to champion.
This is the story of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Andre Berto.
It’s not easy being a boxer and having the last name, “Chavez.” There is a lot of pressure that goes with it and a lot of expectations for greatness. The task is especially difficult when your own legend daddy is looking to have one more run at greatness through you. Combine that with the daddy’s financial woes, and you get a recipe for abuse and career mismanagement.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., “Olympic Hero”, would’ve been huge in Mexico and among Mexican-Americans. At the same time, the younger Chavez could’ve honed his craft in the relative safety of the amateur system until he was seasoned enough to become a pro. However, Chavez Sr.’s government debts and his massive ego, nixed the idea of his son fighting for free on the world amateur circuit. He wanted Jr. to start making money right away. After all, he was a Chavez and the Chavez family draws…and if Sr. can get his back taxes paid in the process, all the better, right?
So Chavez Jr., set off on a torrid pace of fights, using his father’s name and his Top Rank affiliation to get on the undercards of major fights. He got tons of TV exposure on some of the biggest cards in recent memory while beating up on opponents who were, to be kind, several notches below journeymen and more along the line of what you’d find in Toughman contests. Yet, the Chavez Jr. train kept rolling, sometimes once a month and never against anyone with even the most remote chance of beating him.
Rewind to 1988, while Chavez Jr., was growing up Chavez with all the privileges that go along with that, little 5 year old Andre Berto , along with his parents and 6 siblings were making the tough move from their native Haiti to Florida. His Father, a mixed martial arts trainer and fighter, began to train young Andre as a way to keep him off the streets and out of trouble. The stories are legendary about their training routines, usually having to deal with stories about miles of roadwork at an insanely young age and hours in the gym both before and after school.
Eventually, Berto was placed into several youth boxing programs and he excelled. By the time he finished his amateur career, he had won a bronze medal in the 2003 World Amateur Championships, was a two-time National Golden Gloves champion, a two-time National PAL champion and also had won 22 state titles in Florida. He represented Haiti in the 2004 Olympics after being disqualified from the US squad for an episode of roughhousing during a bout, but failed to bring home a medal.
Andre Berto turned pro about a year after Chavez Jr. and set about facing the usual fighters a young prospect fights while making a name for himself. At about the 14 fight mark, Berto’s people started bringing more quality opponents in for Berto. In his 14th pro fight he went up against veteran journeyman, Roberto Valenzuela, and came away with a first round KO. It was then that people started taking notice and the the TV cameras started to show up for Berto.
In his 17th pro fight, some questioned the logic of placing Berto against the physically tough Norberto Bravo, a Contender cast member and a well-traveled journeyman, having competed against the likes of Demetrius Hopkins, Ben Tackie, Ishe Smith, Cornelius Bundrage, Grady Brewer and Gary Balleto. He had a draw with Tackie and beat Balleto, but had lost to the rest of those names. However, he was never blown away in any of those contests and had accounted for himself well, except for his TKO loss at the hands of the much larger Bundrage.
Berto stepped up and beat the stuffing out of Bravo, scoring a TKO in the first round.
Chavez Jr, in contrast, was dispatching Ryan Maraldo in his 17th pro fight on the undercard for Morales/Pacquiao I. Maraldo was coming into the fight with a 1-4 record in his last 5 against club-level opposition. After the Chavez fight, Maraldo would go on to lose 9 of his next 10, again, against club-level opposition.
The next big step for Andre Berto was against a legitimately tough former world champ, Cosme Rivera who had recently nearly pulled off an upset against young lion Joel Julio. Rivera gave Berto his toughest contest to date and even scored a knockdown in the 6th round when a careless Berto ran right into a Rivera counter. Though clearly bothered by the knockdown, he went back, regained his composure and went on to win a unanimous decision against the tough ex-champ.
Chavez Jr.’s toughest fight would come shortly after his bout with Ryan Maraldo. Chavez would fight to a very controversial draw against the unknown Carlos Molina. After being outhustled by Molina over 6 rounds, he was given the gift of a draw- a decision that was soundly booed by his native Mexican fans in Monterrey, Mexico.
The next months would see both young fighters staying active, with Chavez Jr. fighting more often, but Berto fighting the much better opposition. While Chavez busied himself with top 200-level opposition, Berto was fighting fringe contenders like tough David Estrada, who had given Shane Mosley some problems a couple of years back and had nearly KO’d Kermit Cintron in their encounter. Chavez would top out at Jose Celaya, a top 100 ranked journeyman who, although tough, lacked any real skill-set. Celaya would end up giving Jr. a much tougher than anticipated struggle.
Now, we are in June, 2008 and both young fighters are known commodities. The difference is that while the Chavez camp went the easy route of piggybacking on Sr.’s name and opted to fight the worst of the worst, Berto’s camp worked their way up and put their young fighter in against an increasingly high level of opponent.
Chavez’s opponents could be characterized as mostly fighters who would be cannon-fodder on the club circuit. The best fighters on his resume are an undersized and punch-drunk Grover Wiley and local club-fighters Celaya and Ray Sanchez.
Berto’s resume, while not containing any real monster threats, contains skilled veteran fighters who were either former title holders or fringe contenders. Valenzuela, James Crayton, Bravo, Rivera and Estrada round out a list that also includes European champ Michel Trabant and WBC #2 ranked Miguel Angel Gonzalez.
Now, as I write this on June 22nd, Andre Berto is basking in the glow of becoming the new WBC Welterweight Champion of the World after his best performance to date, a one-sided beating of Gonzalez in a title eliminator for the vacated belt, formerly owned by Floyd Mayweather.. He is a legitimate top 10 fighter in one of the most talented divisions in the sport and has any number of money fights within his reach.
Chavez, on the other hand, is in training for his next fight in July against #127th ranked Matt Vanda in a baseball field in Hermosillo, Mexico. He will be fighting on a novelty PPV for a group of fans who mostly show up to catch a glimpse of his dad. The biggest fight on the horizon is a possible showdown with Hector Camacho Jr. later in the year. Camacho Jr. would be the best fighter by far that Chavez Jr. has ever faced.
Two young fighters headed in two very different directions. One is becoming a finely-tuned boxing machine while the other is essentially being sold out for scrap. Papa Chavez has essentially sold out his son’s future for the quick buck of being able to capitalize on his name. In the process, because of the level of opposition he has faced, Chavez Jr.’s skills have eroded and, in a lot of ways, he is a lesser fighter now than when he started his career. Meanwhile, Berto has continued to improve with each passing fight and, even with his lack of experience and seasoning, could give a lot of the top dogs at 147 a decent scrap…and, with the right focus, could be one of the elite Welters in the world in the next year or so.
Berto and Chavez Jr. will probably never meet in the ring because Chavez is already at 154 and moving up, but if they were to meet, the difference in skill and experience between the two would be obvious. You see, Berto was allowed to be a boxer while Chavez Jr. was pushed towards being an attraction.
A lot of what a boxer ends up being is determined by moves and strategies beyond his own control. Champions are not born, they are made; Made by proper matchmaking and incremental steps up the ladder until the fighter is a battled-hardened pro.
Andre Berto’s father gave him a push in the right direction and then handed over his career to people who knew what to do with a talented young fighter.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.’s career got lost in the massive, black-cloud ego of Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., who saw a quick buck and took it in an attempt to feed his own ego while bailing out his huge debts.
I guess, when really thinking about things, the title of this story could just as easily be, “A Tale of Two Fathers.”