(Chavez Jr., left, after weighing in for his fight against Brian Vera; photo credit: Chris Farina/Top Rank)
Sometimes the more compelling match ups in boxing are accompanied by back stories, grudge matches and pre-fight shenanigans. It seems to be better for the long term (and even short term) health of the sport when the antics are innocuous or light hearted.
But with approximately 98 percent of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. vs. Brian Vera pre-fight news rightly centered around Junior's trials and tribulations, weight-related and not, it makes one wonder exactly what we're looking at here. Is this serious pugilistic business, or some manner of half-cocked joke?
Signs pointed to the latter after Chavez was awarded a unanimous decision over Vera that few seemed to feel he clearly deserved.
In the co-feature, Adonis Stevenson sauntered over Tavoris Cloud in what was supposed to have been a competitive fight.
Despite the usual cheerleading that seems to favor the "house" fighter, the HBO commentating crew spent a chunk of time discussing Chavez Jr.'s various sins and misdeeds, even going so far as to add him to an on-screen graphic that highlighted the upper echelon of the light heavyweight division. It wasn't clear whether or not the HBO graphic artist team meant to pull on Chavez' chain, or whether they truly expected him to compete in the light heavyweight division before too long, but it wound up a crystal ball of sorts. Chavez looked huge in the ring compared to Vera.
Most rounds were difficult to score, and most stuck to the pattern of Vera throwing about twice as much as Chavez, and the middleweight/light heavyweight/Ford F-150 scoring with the more damaging punches.
Every so often, a right hand would appear to stun Vera or a left hook would send an electric twitch to one of his feet, but by and large -- mostly large -- Chavez was taking mid-round rests and watching his output closely. In the meantime, his right eye was puffing up, his forehead was marking up, and his endurance was burning up. Chavez did indeed uncork a lead left hook that regularly caught Vera, but its effect wasn't obvious until Vera had taken a dozen or two of them.
Vera was expected to bring an awkward style to the table, and he did exactly that, preventing Chavez from picking up much momentum by moving in and out unpredictably, tripling up jabs before connecting with right hands and even roughing up the larger man at times. In the rounds that clearly belonged to Vera, Chavez spent about as much time complaining about fouls as he did punching.
Through round 6, most of the Twitter and Facebook scorecards had the fight somewhere in the realm of even, but Chavez seized initiative in round 7 by wobbling Vera with a left hook just before the bell. Vera closed a tad stronger, though, taking round 9 as Chavez did little more than vacation. As the fight came to a close in the 10th, it was again quantity vs. quality, and neither fighter took that skirmish without dispute.
A reasonable card of 96-94 were followed by increasingly farcical cards of 97-93 and 98-92, all for Chavez Jr.
It wasn't the first time in Chavez Jr.'s career that he's been let off the hook despite seemingly losing, or breaking the rules, and through all of it, his trademark impish grin has been stenciled onto his mug. It's as if he's in on the joke that most of us just suspect: no matter what Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. does, the check is in the mail. The punishment for infractions will be minimal, if it exists at all. Really the only thing to sort out, in terms of his career trajectory, is what weight he'll be fighting at -- for the time being.
A stereotypical "hard luck" kind of fighter, Brian Vera, 23-7 (14 KO), will soldier forth as though the world owes him nothing, even though it probably does. He's rarely the name fighter in the equation, thus close decisions are unlikely to go his way, and he doesn't have fight-ending power against most guys. He's a high risk, low reward type of guy. Here's hoping he's thrown a television date and payday for his effort.
In the opening bout of the telecast, Adonis Stevenson improved to 22-1 (19 KO) while defending the light heavyweight title, surprising many by thoroughly outboxing Tavoris Cloud at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Not only were Cloud's moments few, but it was difficult to clearly give him a round. That and cuts over both eyes, courtesy of Stevenson's overhand lefts, had Cloud's trainer Al Bonanni thinking twice about letting his fighter answer the bell for round 8.
Having put six months of deep thought and training between his loss to Bernard Hopkins and now, former IBF titlist Cloud, now 24-2 (19 KO), had little to offer against Stevenson. The consensus expectation was that exchanges would be plentiful, as Adonis Stevenson is a power puncher and Cloud is a swarming bruiser, but it was not the case. Rather, Stevenson used better, lighter feet to maneuver around Cloud with ease, while Cloud simply couldn't plant his roots to shake loose the solid punches necessary to freeze Stevenson.
It was a simple strategy for Stevenson, and he implemented it perfectly: jab, left hand, uppercuts and body shots inside, taunt when action resets. Tavoris Cloud just had no answer, aside from occasional snarling and grunting that accompanied the odd retaliatory bomb. In the opening round, Cloud's left eye was scraped up by a punch and he never seemed to move on from that moment. When Stevenson opened up, Cloud threw up his high guard and retreated, and Cloud's offensive spurts were nullified by the champion's higher quality stuff.
HBO's punch stats had Cloud landing a mere 36 punches in the bout, and throwing one third of Stevenson's output. Without a doubt, Stevenson's craftier style had Cloud hesitating, but the latter's lack of offense gave him almost no chance to win at all.
At 36, one wonders how much farther Stevenson can go in boxing despite not having many miles on the odometer, and the division has enough match ups for him to pounce on. As he didn't take much punishment, a quick return to the ring would be ideal if considering his age. Perhaps Sergey Kovalev type could force him to stand in there more.
As for Cloud, he's still somewhat young at 31, but two losses in a row coupled with a career full of hiatuses should be worrying. A dismantling at the hands of a fighter like Bernard Hopkins is one thing, but getting completely undressed by Adonis Stevenson should be something of a wake up call. If he's wading in with heavy feet, little head movement and not-so-fast hands, he needs an extra dimension that he hasn't yet shown.