Chavez's return spruces up the options

The Sports NetworkMarch 4, 2014 

Cape Coral, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - One of boxing's highest-profile heels is back.

No doubt to the consternation of fans, observers and media members keen on pointing out his commitment shortfalls, Mexican legend progeny Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. reappeared on the big stage Saturday night with a one-sided battering of recent nemesis Bryan Vera.

While everyone and his/her brother wanted to see the amiable good guy work over the supposedly spoiled rich kid after he'd been shafted out of a decision last fall, Chavez instead pounded his man from rope to rope for the bulk of the 36 rematch minutes they shared at San Antonio's Alamodome.

The judges were misguided at best - and something else at worst - when suggesting Chavez had done enough to win while being outpunched and outlanded in nearly every round in the initial go-round, but they were spot on in Episode 2 when giving Chavez two official counts of 117-110.

The third card of 114-113 in his favor was far closer than the visuals indicated, but the right guy won.

And having done so, Chavez got back onto the watchful good side of the HBO broadcast crew, eliciting a view from blow-by-blow man Jim Lampley that his effort "should awaken some of those dormant fans who loved him so much in the past, but haven't loved him so much in the last year."

The fondness-fest continued with bearded analyst Max Kellerman, who proposed the winner showed "that when he's in shape, properly conditioned and makes weight, that he's got a lot of skills."

The winning return to prominence yielded the predictable stream of "who's next?" questions from Kellerman in the post-fight conversation, which provides a platform to examine here what might be the best - and/or most likely - routes for Chavez to take now that he's back to main-event status.

Bryan Vera: Though Lampley and Kellerman watched Vera and somehow suggested a Timothy Bradley comparison, it seems far more accurate to suggest the Texan is cut more from the Arturo Gatti cloth, which, along with highlight reels and popularity plaques, certainly yields images of trilogies.

For all practical purposes, after all, the series is now tied at 1-1, and there's certainly been enough violence in the two fights to suggest that fans might be riveted enough to stick around for a third incarnation - even if, a la Pacquiao-Morales, for example - it seems one man is clearly ahead.

Carl Froch: I'll go ahead and say it ... While claiming the Nottingham slugger is the division's true sheriff is silly in light of his loss to Andre Ward, there are far fewer among us who would insist he's not the best combination of street cred and in-ring excitement residing at 168 pounds.

He has a rabid fan base, has fought on HBO and has suggested previously that a matchup with Chavez is far more titillating in his own mind than a second go- round with countryman George Groves, whom he'll see again in May. If he wins that one, it seems, his Chavez stock would rise beyond penny share status.

Andre Ward: If Chavez wants the most exciting - and potentially winnable - fight in the super middleweight class, he'll look for Froch. If he wants to try himself against the best fighter in the weight class, and one whose acumen suggests less of a winning proposition, it turns to Ward.

Of course, while all that's good in terms of logic, it doesn't seem to be a fight Chavez needs as much as Ward probably wishes he did. And while their shared HBO allegiance would sidestep Cold War promotional nonsense, it'd be a shocker if Chavez decided to take the hardest road.

Sergio Martinez: While I can't speak for the masses, I'll say with certainty that given Chavez's weigh-ins at 173 and 168 pounds in two fights since last meeting with King Sergio, I wouldn't have dreamed that the Argentine's name was still on the Mexican's mind two years after their 2012 title bout.

But there Chavez was Saturday night, pointing the WBC middleweight out specifically when grilled by Kellerman about what he was seeking next. Martinez has a winnable date with Puerto Rican weight-riser Miguel Cotto in the meantime, but after that, I'd certainly pay attention to a rematch.

Gennady Golovkin: Triple-G is such a hot commodity these days that he can make a Spanish speaker go bilingual. Though Chavez had worked through an interpreter for the beginning of his Max chat, he switched to English when it came to letting the Kazakh know he was interested in getting together.

"I would like to fight Gennady Golovkin next," he said in halting, but hardly uncertain terms on Saturday, no doubt setting the HBO offices ablaze with plans of when, where and for how much. A slugging, albeit untested phenom against a rock-chinned enigma with passionate fan following.

At 160 or 168, it's a match made in premium cable heaven.

THIS WEEK'S TITLE FIGHT SCHEDULE

SATURDAY

IBF junior middleweight title - Las Vegas, Nev.

Carlos Molina (champion) vs. Jermall Charlo (No. 5 contender)

Molina (22-5-2, 6 KO): First title defense; Fifth fight in Las Vegas (2-1-1)

Charlo (17-0, 13 KO): First title fight; 11 straight wins by stoppage

Fitzbitz says: "Count me in as another who may rue the day he underestimated the long-suffering Molina, but it says here that he's in with a young guy with too much skill." Charlo by decision

WBC super bantamweight title - Las Vegas, Nev.

Leo Santa Cruz (champion) vs. Cristian Mijares (No. 6 contender)

Santa Cruz (26-0-1, 15 KO): Second title fight; Held IBF title at 118 pounds (2012, three defenses)

Mijares (49-7-2, 24 KO): Twelfth title fight (9-2); Held WBA, WBC and titles at 115 pounds

Fitzbitz says: "Mijares is a solid veteran who's been successful on the top level, but Santa Cruz is bigger, younger and better at this point in his career - and he won't lose in this spot." Santa Cruz in 10

Last week's picks: 2-2

2014 picks record: 10-4 (71.4 percent); Overall picks record: 557-198 (73.7 percent)

NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder - no interim, diamond, silver and other champs. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.

Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who's written professionally since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at fitzbitz@msn.com or follow him on Twitter: @fitzbitz.

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