For former two-time world champion Jesse James Leija, this is the best fight night in San Antonio since Chávez-Whittaker in 1993. He's right.
This Saturday, the Alamodome will be a fight fan's heaven.
WBC middleweight champion Julio César Chávez Jr (44-0-1, 31 KOs), the son of Mexican legend Julio César Chávez, meets top ranked Marco Antonio Rubio (53-5, 46 KOs), who has won nine straight fights, including eight by KO. WBC and WBO bantamweight champion Nonito Donaire (21-1, 18 KOs) meets former world champion Wifredo Vázquez Jr. (21-1, 18 KOs), the son of a Puerto Rican legend. These are two great fights. Donaire is one of the 10 best pound-for-pound boxers in the world and is a favorite to retain the crown, but Chávez-Rubio could go either way. The event will be televised live by HBO. Chávez is trained by Freddie Roach, the world's top trainer (trainer of Manny Pacquiao, the world's best boxer).
True, these are two boxers in their prime (Donaire and Rubio), and two approaching it fast (Chávez and Vázquez), but there is no doubt that Saturday night's big star will be Chávez Jr.
He is the son of Julio César Chávez, the greatest Mexican fighter of all time (and one of the greatest ever period, in any weight). American fight fans probably remember Chávez Sr. best for his last-second KO of Meldrick Taylor back in the '90s. Behind on points coming into the last round, Chávez knocked Taylor down and referee Richard Steele stopped the fight with two seconds left (Steele was right: after the eight-count, he asked Taylor twice whether he was OK, and Taylor didn't answer; Chávez won the rematch by KO in five).
Chávez Jr.'s team has expertly handpicked opponents for him (mostly paquetes, or bums), but his level of competition has gradually increased and he possesses his father's trademark: a murderous hook to the liver. Top ranked middleweight contender Marco Antonio Rubio is his toughest test to date. He's a rugged, dangerous fighter with decent boxing abilities and a strong punch, whose greatest victory came against then-undefeated David Lemieux.
On Tuesday, Rubio and Chávez were supposed to appear at an open training session at Jesse James Leija's gym on San Pedro Ave., but only Rubio showed up.
Chávez Jr. is a slight favorite, but they're both warriors and Rubio has a puncher's chance. It should be a great fight. Rubio said that, if he beats Chávez, he'll go for Sergio "Maravilla" Martínez. And just in case you don't know who the heck Martínez is, take note: He's from Argentina, has a record of 48-2-2 (with 27 KOs), is the world's WBC and WBO middleweight champion of the world, and is considered the world's third best pound-for-pound boxer behind Pacquiao and Mayweather. The reason? Stuff like this:
But back to Saturday night: Nonito Donaire, from the Philippines, shouldn't have too many problems with former champion Wilfredo Vázquez Jr., the son of a Puerto Rican legend. Widely regarded as one of the 10 best pound-for-pound boxers in the world, Donaire has a tremendous punch, speed, and good boxing ability. (By the way, the following clip is an example of great punching and lousy refereeing: the fight should've been stopped as soon as Montiel hit the canvas).
Vázquez Jr., on the other hand, has a good punch, speed, and also can box, but he was recently stopped by over-the-hill Jorge "Travieso" Arce in one of the best fights of 2011, which raises questions about his chin.
The upset loss cost Vázquez Jr. his title and his unblemished record. Fighting Donaire so soon is risky business, to say the least. But kudos to him for having the cojones to face that monster. My prediction: Donaire by KO in the early-to-mid rounds, mainly because Vázquez won't go anywhere: he'll duck it out with the champion, but will get caught by one of Donaire's hands, the kind that can put an elephant to sleep. A Vázquez victory will not only revive his career, but grant him instant star status.
Make no mistake: this is the type of first-class boxing gala that gives hope to a sport marred by matchmakers from hell. No matter who wins, these four guys will come to fight. If you don't believe me, hear it from the local hero:
6:30pm Sat, Feb 4
(By Enrique Lopetegui; Rubio training/interview and Leija videos by E.L.; video editing by Guillermina Zabala)