Julio Cesar Chavez was the most feared Mexican boxer during his years of dominance. Let me paraphrase that. He was the most feared non-heavyweight boxer of all time, period. What we know today as the Mexican Style of boxing – a combination of relentless forward pressure, and constant attacks complimented by a deadly left hook was not what people thought when they heard about Mexican boxing.
While he did not invent the style in any way, Chavez singlehandedly swayed the popular perception with his legendary exploits in the ring.
In this breakdown, we will take a look at what made him so special and what are the specifics of his fan-favorite style.
Who is Julio Cesar Chavez
Julio Cesar Chavez was born on July 12 1962 in Mexico in a very poor family with 9 other siblings and spent his childhood living in an abandoned railroad car. As is the case with many great fighters, Chavez started boxing so he could get out of poverty. Some of his brothers were boxing and they took him to the gym at an early age where he started learning the craft that would later make him a superstar. At the young age of 16, he picked up what little he owned and moved to Tijuana to pursue a professional career in boxing.
His professional debut came at 17 against Andres Felix and he won by a 2nd round KO. Nothing could stop his ascent through the rankings. For his first 4 years as a pro, he racked up an eye-watering record of 43-0 with only 6 of the fights going the distance. His pace was frenetic both in the ring and in the frequency with which he fought.
Soon enough came his first shot at a world title. On September 13, 1984, Mario Martinez fought valiantly for 8 rounds but finally fell and Chavez won the vacant WBC super featherweight title. Shortly after that, he gained massive popularity in the USA after knocking out former and future champion Roger Mayweather in the second round. He continued racking up wins at Super Featherweight and defended the WBC crown a total of 9 times.
Move to 140lbs
His first lightweight title came at the expense of WBA champ Edwin Rosario. Chavez’s most prolific fights however were fought at light-welterweight. He won the WBC light welterweight crown from Roger Mayweather, who fought much better than in the first encounter and gave everything he got, but the relentless pressure of Chavez was again too much and Mayweather was forced to remain on his stool after the tenth round.
On March 17, 1990, he faced Meldrick Taylor, the undefeated IBF Light Welterweight Champion, in a title unification fight. The fight was truly epic and it forever defined the unbreakable spirit of Chavez. He was well behind on the scorecards, but he rallied and in the last round finally managed to drop Taylor. The following decision of the judge remains one of the most controversial as Taylor managed to beat the 8 counts, but the ref waved the fight off with just 2 seconds remaining on the clock.
While Floyd Mayweather’s record of 50-0 is impressive, it pales to Chavez’s 89-0. The first time the Mexican swarmer did not get the win was in 1993, 14 years into his professional career in a fight against fellow legend Pernell Whitaker. And in 1994 time finally caught up with Chavez and lost for the first time at the hands of Frankie Randall in his 90th professional bout.
Chavez continued boxing for 10 more years after that. He avenged the Randall defeat immediately and regained his WBC light-welterweight belt. Many prolific fights followed until a prime Oscar De La Hoya dethroned him in 1996 and Chavez never won a world title again. He continued fighting until 2005 when he finally retired after a few “false” attempts of doing so earlier.
El Gran Campeón Mexicano perhaps fought well beyond his prime, but many of his records remain unbeaten. Listen to this: 27 world title defenses, 31 title fight victories, 37 title fights, Rings magazine pound-for-pound best boxer between 1990 and 1993, biggest outdoor boxing match attendance of 136 274 in 1993 against Greg Haugen. A record of 107 wins 86 knockouts, 6 losses (4 of them in the last year of his career) and 2 draws. Impressive, isn’t it?
Now let’s break down each element of his boxing style!
After we’ve seen the outstanding accomplishments of Chavez it’s finally time to get a bit more technical and look at how he achieved them.
Perhaps the most important aspect of his boxing style was his forward pressure. He would relentlessly suffocate his opponent with constant forward movement that would disrupt their game. Outside fighters tried to keep their distance, but sooner or later Chavez got close and into his world. While the classic boxing motto is hit and not get hit, Chavez and other swarmers swear by the seek and destroy adage.
Don’t think that he rushed recklessly forward though. He would always move in a forward weave, ready to slip or duck a punch at any time. There end goal of the pressure was to ensnare each opponent into his own game – infighting and here he would eventually break them down thoroughly. See below:
Chavez’s stance is one of the things that made his style possible. Unlike most boxers that prefer a more bladed stance in order to present a narrower target and to load up the rear hand, the Mexican assassin would often stand almost square. This allowed him to slip equally effectively on both sides.
Another characteristic of his stance was the forward lean. This serves multiple purposes. With the body slightly forward the momentum of both footwork and punches is logically oriented forwards. This means more pressure and more power in the punches. And this is what a pressure fighter relies on.
The square stance also transfers to his overall ring generalship of Chavez. You can’t be a pressure fighter and expect to catch up with opponents if you always chase them in a straight line. Cutting the ring properly and closing the escape routes is a must and Chavez was a master of that. The square stance allowed him to move in both lateral directions and react to the opponent immediately regardless of which way he went.
This type of movement is also effective in a way that the fighter on the backfoot always works much harder than the aggressor and that usually means he will tire out much sooner.
Head movement in the pocket
Chavez is famous for his aggression and pressure, but it would not be possible without his amazing head movement. As tough as his chin was, everyone had a limit and Chavez used his head movement to move forward safely. Dodging punches while keeping a distance is one thing, but Chavez was a master at evading most of the enemies’ attacks from very close range. This way he would defend without losing the ground he already won. Watch the clip below.
Evasion through head movement is also one of the best setups for counter-attacks and Chavez was a master of that as well. He would duck a jab or a straight cross and come back immediately with a vicious counter over the top. He often tied the low ducks with his forward lean, magnifying the force of the counters even more.
A favorite tactic of his was putting the opponent on the ropes and then ducking and slipping all of his attacks with stunning precision, before hitting back the disheartened foe with a flurry of punches
He of course got hit sometimes. But that meant he was at his desired range and giving back stronger and more punches than he received. A necessary attribute of a pressure fighter is an iron chin, and the Mexican was gifted with one for most of his 25-year career.
Infighting is a true test of one’s character. And none had a stronger character than prime Julio Cesar Chavez. Infighting requires boxers to grit it out and not rely on precision and distance. Once inside the trenches, the battle becomes not only technical but a clash of hearts as well. This is where Chavez excelled the most. He was often not the best boxer, but as a fighter, he was on a different plane than his opposition.
Positioning is very important in infighting as fighters don’t have a clear view of their opponent and the extremely short range does not present much time for reaction. This means the positioning and firing from an advantageous angle are even more important than they are at longer ranges.
Changing the head position in relation to the opponent’s shoulder also changes which hand is the power one. Think of it as a form of stance switch. Chavez always managed to acquire a better position from this range. And the frequent footwork shuffles he liked to do along the ropes amplified the advantage in this position even more.
Once Chavez got into the pocket his opponents immediately started to drown in the sea of punches. And endless tirades of head and body shots, alternating sides or doubling on the same side. This tactic was brutal.
Some fighters managed to endure for some time, even mounting an offense on their own. But the constant attacks inevitably depleted their gas tank as well as their willpower, until finally they went to the canvas or were forced to quit on their stool between rounds.
Punches and bunches
Scoring 86 knockouts is a truly spectacular feat, but Chavez was never known as a one-punch knockout artist. His punches carried weight, there is no doubt about that, but almost all of his knockouts materialized after he broke his opponent physically and mentally.
He did not rely on maximum power punches but on an unstoppable onslaught. Even when his opponent was hurt, he would often prefer to pepper them with continuous strikes, rather than trying to decapitate them with one punch (end of fight vs Greg Haugen). This entire clip by Hanzagod below shows highlights of his continuous attacks until the opponents crumbled)
The left hook to the body
We cannot discuss Julio Cesar Chavez’s boxing style without mentioning his left hook. A mandatory weapon in the arsenal of every pressure fighter. Chavez did reach near perfection in his left hook execution as he could land it from a distance, as a counter, or at extremely close range.
He was also never a head hunter. To open up a tight defense you will always need shots to the body that force the opponent’s defending hands to drop down. The Mexican’s left hook to the head was good, yes, but his liver shot was pure excellence. When the opponent managed to guard the head, he would immediately receive a crushing blow to the ribs, and when he defended that, his head would ring with a punch upstairs. Chavez was a master of flowing endless combinations alternating levels and sides, picking up every crack in the armor.
Body hooks from both sides were also frequently used to intercept a foe that tried to escape laterally.
Parries and blocks
Aside from his masterful head movement Chavez also employed a tight and active guard. A lot of his movements were very subtle. Just enough to deflect the force of the strike away. If you watch his fights in real time, it’s easy to miss them.
As an aggressive pressure fighter, his defense rarely gets the spotlight, but if you watch highlights of his defense like the one below by Hanzagod. This is the only thing you’ve seen from him, you can be excused to think that Chavez was a defensive fighter. It’s just that his method of winning fights was not through careful boxing, but by crushing opponents under his will.
After all, knocking the opponent out is the only way to completely prevent being on the wrong side of a judge’s decision.
Many fighters used relentless forward pressure and aggression. Lots of Mexican and American fighters from the early and later days of boxing won world titles racking up knockouts after knockouts and entertaining crowds with their viewer-friendly style. But the biggest ambassador of the Mexican style will always be Julio Cesar Chavez. It’s safe to say that his records will also stand. In today’s landscape, most boxers retire before their 30th fight, so it’s hard to imagine them fighting in 37 world title fights.
In his day Chavez was a national hero, idolized in his country as he brought glory and fame to Mexico with his indomitable will and iron fists. Young boxers today should study him extensively, and if you are just an admirer of the sport, his 100 fights can bring you great entertainment as well.
If you enjoyed this why not check my Top 10 Best Mexican Boxers Of All Time article here.
Check out my other boxer style analysis features here or why not look at my other analysis on the following boxing stars:
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