Julio Cesar Chavez Jr won a unanimous decision over Bryan Vera on Saturday night in his return to the ring from a year-long absence.
Chavez (47-1-1) overcame weight struggles and a lively challenge from the unsung Vera to get the decision on all three judges’ scorecards, winning 96-94, 97-93 and 98-92.
“I definitely won seven or eight rounds of the fight,” Chavez said. “I was very close to knocking him out like three times in the fight.”
Not many ringside observers agreed: The crowd at StubHub Center, largely pro-Chavez during the fight, roundly booed the decision and Chavez as he left the ring. The Associated Press scored it 96-94 for Vera.
The win capped a tumultuous stretch for Chavez, who had not fought since Sept. 15 last year, when he received his first career defeat in a thrilling decision against middleweight king Sergio Martinez.
After serving a nine-month drug suspension, Chavez missed the original 168-pound (76.2kg) contract limit for his comeback bout with Vera. The notorious boxing scion struggled just to get to the new 173-pound limit for Friday’s weigh-in.
Vera (23-7) and his camp were furious with the verdict, feeling he outpointed Chavez with superior activity and aggression in the 10-round bout. Vera landed 176 of his 734 punches — throwing more than twice as many as Chavez, who landed 125 of 328 — while also landing more power shots than Chavez, whose face was swollen and cut by the final bell.
“This is the best performance of my career,” Vera said. “The weight was never an issue. The game plan was exactly what we did. I was never hurt during the fight.”
Vera was the aggressor from the opening bell, chasing Chavez around the ring and throwing twice the volume of punches. Chavez, who would not step on HBO’s scale before the fight, consistently backed up against his smaller opponent.
However, Chavez also landed his left hook consistently, setting up short right hands that turned Vera’s head.
The sixth round was a corker, with both fighters trading big shots. Vera appeared to be winning the seventh round, cutting Chavez on the nose during a flurry against the ropes, but Chavez staggered him with a big left hook in the final seconds.
Chavez complained repeatedly about head butts and low blows by Vera, who finished the final round aggressively and thrust his arms skyward at the final bell.
No matter the decision, Chavez showed some rust and conditioning issues in his first bout since losing to Martinez. Chavez took a pounding in the first 11 rounds of that bout before staggering and nearly stopping Martinez in the 12th, possibly falling a few seconds shy of an upset victory.
However, Chavez’s career hit the rocks shortly after that impressive moment.
He tested positive for marijuana use, receiving a nine-month suspension and a hefty fine, and he split with respected trainer Freddie Roach and strength coach Alex Ariza.
Chavez was ostensibly trained for this fight by his famous father, although the Hall of Famer watched the evening’s opening bouts in a tuxedo while broadcasting for Mexican television’s Azteca Deportes.
Chavez had hoped to return with another middleweight fight, but realized early in negotiations with Vera that he could not get down to 160 pounds anymore. Chavez tried to make the super middleweight limit, but gave up several days ago — and reportedly paid a hefty penalty to Vera on top of Vera’s US$275,000 purse.
Chavez, whose purse was US$2.5 million, could afford it.
Vera is the son and brother of boxers from Austin, Texas.
He competed on the reality show The Contender before upsetting Andy Lee in 2008, leading to a decent career as a second-tier opponent for numerous 160-pound contenders.
Vera revitalized his career in the past 18 months with victories in his past four bouts, including a surprise stoppage of Ukraine’s Sergiy Dzinziruk in January.
STEVENSON VS CLOUD
Haitian-born Canadian Adonis Stevenson defended his WBC light-heavyweight title on Saturday by stopping US former world champion Tavoris Cloud after seven rounds.
Stevenson, a 36-year-old southpaw, won his ninth fight in a row and improved to 22-1 with his 19th victory inside the distance. Cloud fell to 24-2 with his second loss in a row.
Stevenson was a hometown favorite in Montreal. In June, he successfully defended his world title by knocking out American Chad Dawson in only 76 seconds.
“I’ve beaten two great champions,” Stevenson said. “Just basic boxing, connecting, use my jab, my movement. I was training for that. I’ve been seven rounds, I still can box him.”
Cloud, a 31-year-old American, suffered the first loss of his career six months ago, dropping a unanimous decision to 48-year-old Bernard Hopkins to lose the IBF version of the weight class’ world title.
It has been nearly six years since Stevenson, who left Haiti for Canada at age four, had a fight that went the distance.
Stevenson’s only loss came in 2010 to American Darnell Boone, a defeat the Canadian avenged six months ago.
Stevenson slammed a solid left into Cloud’s left eye in the first round and the American went to the canvas in the second round, although referee Mike Griffin ruled it was a slip and not a knockdown.
Cloud was bleeding by the end of the fourth round, Stevenson dropping his guard at times and taunting the challenger as the crowd chanted Stevenson’s nickname, “Superman.”
A hard left to the head in the seventh staggered Cloud and a right hook followed by a body blow opened cuts over both eyes, prompting Cloud’s corner to ask for the bout to be halted just moments after the seventh round ended.
“He was covering more so I went to the body,” Stevenson said. “Sometimes I went for the head and sometimes the body. It worked out well.”