By Greg Beacham AP
CARSON, California — Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. won a unanimous decision over Bryan Vera on Saturday night in his return to the ring from a yearlong 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 hadn’t fought since Sept. 15, 2012, 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 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 wouldn’t step on HBO’s scale before the fight, consistently backed up against his smaller opponent.
But 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.
But 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 couldn’t get down to 160 pounds any more. 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 last four bouts, including a surprise stoppage of Ukraine’s Sergiy Dzinziruk in January.