By Fiona Manning
Jesus “El Matador” Chavez is set to fight his nemesis Carlos Gerena in the main event of Top Rank’s Pay Per View “Latin Fury” show at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on March 22.
Originally slated to face WBC super featherweight champion Sirimonkol Singmanassak, Chavez learned last month that the champ was pulling out of their battle yet again, this time claiming another gym injury.
Boxing’s original clown, Jorge “El Maromero” Paez stepped into the breach but yesterday failed his neurological examinations in the state of Nevada.
Today, Chavez learned that he will face Gerena, the only man to ever beat him apart from former WBC super feather champ Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
“This is revenge,” said the 30 year old Chavez who is 38-2, 28 KOs. Talking by phone from his home in Austin, Texas, he sounded subdued regarding his championship delay but happy that he has an opponent like Gerena to tackle in the interim.
“Gerena beat me on an eight round split decision eight years ago in my home town! I owe him! I always wanted a chance to get back at him but I never expected the opportunity to present itself this way.
“Frankly, I am disappointed that Singmanassak is making me wait again. I have been waiting since January last year for my title shot but I hear he’s supposed to be fighting me in June or July.”
Chavez said he is ready for anybody at this point. As per usual, he has been training diligently at Richard Lord’s gym under Lord’s watchful eye as well as co-trainer Ronnie Shields.
“I’ve been hearing for over a year that I was going to fight Sing-manassak but delays and setbacks are typical in my life. Compared with some of the things I have been through, this is a piece of cake. Everything I have experienced in my life has taught me patience.
“Not only that, I see myself as the people’s champion. I want to fight and they want to see me fight, so I don’t want to let the fans down.”
Chavez said he was initially reluctant to face anybody but Paez. “He’s probably the easiest guy in my division.” He said. “He presents some dangers but really, I didn’t want to run the risk of getting injured or cut in case I am unable to fight when Singmanassak is finally ready.”
The fighter said that he feels he’s much stronger and more durable than Gerena. “I;ve been through so much,” said Chavez. “I’m a different person.”
He’s not kidding. Chavez’s life story is so interesting it was the subject of a Hollywood documentary called “Split Decision” which made the film festival circuit two years ago but which has not yet found a distributor.
Chavez was a young fighter in Chicago several years ago, whose ring nickname came from the tough Matador gym where he trained. Some local kids convinced him to join their gang in an incident which turned out to be the most disastrous experience of his life.
He served as lookout for a robbery at the group’s local liquor store. Unable to live with himself, Chavez was the first to turn himself in. He ended up incarcerated on robbery charges for 10 years at the Illinois State Penitentiary but his problems did not end there.
When released, Chavez learned to his dismay that his Mexican-born parents had never legally moved to the US and he was promptly deported back to Mexico, a country he had not visited since he was three years old and a country in which he could not speak the language.
Chavez’s exile proved to bring out the man in him. He pursued his boxing career, learned to speak fluent Spanish and spent time with his grandparents whom he had never met.
Within a year, he sneaked back over the border via his father’s help and relocated to Austin, Texas, both to get away from the Chicago “gang” and to get a fresh start.
Joining forces with Richard Lord, Chavez lived and breathed boxing and still does. He slept in the gym and can still be found there more often than not.
Under the name Jesus Chavez, he began notching up impressive career wins over good opposition until he applied for a driver’s license in 1997. Somebody in the governmental department put two and two together and figured out who he was.
He was immediately placed on deportation orders but since he was scheduled to fight Troy Dorsey for the NABF super feather title, he was allowed to take the fight and was scheduled to leave the next day.
So impressive was his seventh round KO victory over Dorsey, that promoter Bob Arum signed the personable Chavez to a contract and promised to help him with his legal woes.
Chavez returned to Mexico where he successfully defended his title twice and when he returned to the US one year later, it was with full governmental blessings.
“My green card is more important to me than any world championship could ever be,” said Chavez who remains steadfastly loyal to those who stayed with him through thick and thin.
“I feel so strongly about the opportunities I have in my life that I never let anything interfere with my boxing career,” he said. “I don’t even have a girlfriend.”
He remains close to his parents, often visiting them in Chicago but he has also grown deeply attached to his family and friends in Mexico.
“It’s a hard life where my family lives there,” he said. “But it was home to me and I appreciate the time I spent there. I will always treasure the time I had with my grandparents because they are wonderful people who really looked after me.”
Ultimately, Chavez hopes to reward his family, friends, trainers and fans with a world championship.
“I know what my destiny is,” he said. “For some it’s a twisty, winding road, for others, the journey is short and more direct. For me, the longer I wait, the more I am challenged, the sweeter the victory will taste.”