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Questions will be answered in tonight’s intriguing Chavez-Vera showdown

By Graham Houston

The fight distance and the weight limit were changed but Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Bryan Vera weighed in on Friday and we have a fight at the StubHub Center in the Los Angeles suburbs tonight (TV coverage on HBO). The bout is now scheduled for 10 rounds, not 12 as originally intended. The original weight limit of 165 pounds was stretched to accommodate Chavez’s struggle to make weight. Chavez weighed in at 172.4 pounds on Friday, while Vera came in at 171.2 pounds, making this a catchweight contest.

While Chavez is a massive betting favourite, doubts persist about Chavez’s dedication. Chavez hasn’t boxed since he lost to Sergio Martinez a year ago. A positive test for marijuana saw Chavez given a nine-month suspension by the Nevada commission after the Martinez fight. He hasn’t been working with trainer Freddie Roach for this fight, instead promoting an assistant trainer Vladimir Baldenbro, little-known to the boxing public, to the position of head trainer, while Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. has had an expanded role and will apparently work in his son’s corner tonight.

Vera, meanwhile, has had the longest training camp of his career. He will have one of the game’s top trainers, Ronnie Shields, in his corner. He’s ready to fight the fight of his life, and we know that Vera will give it all he’s got. The 31-year-old veteran from Austin, TX, has pulled off several upsets — battering an undefeated Andy Lee into defeat in the seventh round, blasting right through Sebastien Demers in three rounds in Quebec (in a fight made at 168 pounds) and twice outhustling Sergio Mora. Vera is in good form, too, having won four fights in a row, which includes outlasting and outslugging Sergei Dzinziruk in 10 give-and-take rounds last January. So, it’s understandable that people are giving him a good shot at springing what would be one of the big surprises of the year.

Chavez has superior talent and I would say that he is clearly the heavier hitter. I thought that Chavez looked rather drawn at the 3 PM weigh-in on Friday, but with some 30 hours to replenish his system he is likely to look big and strong in the ring tonight. I do believe that Chavez might have been draining himself to make 160 pounds. If you remember, his fight-night weight was 181 pounds when he defeated Marco Antonio Rubio in a middleweight title bout in February 2012, and he reportedly had to lose almost six pounds in the last 24 hours to make the 160-pound limit for that fight. Chavez, then, could be significantly heavier than Vera when the two men enter the ring.

Defence isn’t Vera’s strong suit, and while he can take a lot of punishment and keep right on pitching I’m not sure if Vera can stay with Chavez for round after round in what is likely to be an intense, physical type of fight. This, however, is assuming that Chavez has prepared properly and is motivated.

Chavez has very big fights in his future if he can get past Vera, including a possible match against Andre Ward. Surely, one would think, he wouldn’t want to risk frittering it all away by coming into this fight out of shape and unfocused.

There has been much speculation about whether Chavez really cares about his boxing career. I would guess that he does. We will get a much better idea when the fight gets under way tonight.

The Vera camp requested that the fight distance be reduced to 10 rounds. Trainer Ronnie Shields was concerned that Chavez would use his weight and strength to wear down Vera in a long fight. With two rounds fewer to worry about, the theory is that Vera can come out fast and busy against the slow-starting Chavez, put rounds in the bank and build up such an advantage on points that Chavez won’t be able to catch up.

I suppose that things could work out this way, but unless Chavez is unthinkably under-trained and under-motivated one would think that he must eventually start to let his punches go and dig in with the left hooks and the left uppercuts. Vera has never been elusive — awkward, yes, tough and gritty, without doubt, but he doesn’t figure to be making Chavez miss too much. If Chavez starts to get rolling and starts to hurt Vera, I believe that it could be the beginning of the end.

I am to an extent trusting the matchmaking skills of Chavez’s promoter, Top Rank, and the shrewdness of Chavez’s Mexican manager, Fernando Beltran. Vera has no doubt been carefully selected to make Junior look good. It might not work out that way, but that’s the plan. Now it’s up to Chavez to deliver.

I’m banking on Chavez having sufficient pride to have got at least into reasonably good fighting shape. If this is so, I believe he can grind down Vera in what seems sure to be a war of attrition. I’ll go with Chavez by TKO before the end of the ninth round. If Chavez is not in fighting shape, we have a problem.

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