A billboard on the Atlantic City Expressway spelled out the pecking order of last Saturday night's fight card at the Convention Center. Large white letters proclaimed: MIKE TYSON vs. ALEX STEWART. Below that, in smaller type, was written: PLUS JULIO CESAR CHAVEZ. Chàvez, the man many boxing experts consider the best boxer in the world, pound for pound, had been relegated to undercard status.
Chàvez defended his WBC and IBF junior welterweight crowns with a third-round knockout of Ahn Kyung Duk of Korea. Chàvez's performance was as classic and efficient as Tyson's, an hour later, was reckless and explosive. The victory ran his record to 73-0. It was his 60th knockout and 18th title fight. During his 11-year career, Chàvez has continued to prosper even while moving up in weight from 130 pounds (he held the WBC super featherweight title) to 135 (the WBC and WBA lightweight crowns) to his present 140.
Last March he came within a few ticks of the ring clock of losing to Meldrick Taylor, then the IBF junior welterweight champ. All Taylor, who led on two of the three scorecards going into the final round, had to do was stay away from Chàvez during those last three minutes. But Chàvez drove him to the canvas with several vicious rights. Although Taylor beat the count, the referee stopped the fight with two seconds to go, and Chàvez had his fifth world title.
Despite his heady credentials the 28-year-old Chàvez has yet to attain the kind of celebrity in the U.S. that he enjoys in his native Mexico. In the U.S., he is recognized only by boxing fans. One reason is, he speaks little English. Another, Chàvez maintains, is Don King, who has promoted most of his fights. Chàvez believes that, in King's eyes, he has become a second banana to Mike Tyson.
Last Thursday, Chàvez walked out of a press conference King was presiding over—even though King had claimed during his rambling introduction of Chàvez that "I love Julio, and Julio loves me."
"I've had it with Don King," said Chàvez before stalking out.
Disgruntled or not, Chàvez was all business once he got in the ring. Ahn, 28, may have been 29-1, but he had never fought outside Korea and didn't figure to threaten Chàvez's unbeaten streak. The first round was study period for Chàvez. He seldom looks at tapes of his opponents in action, preferring to size them up in the opening minutes of a bout. He did just that with Ahn, moving him about the ring, picking off his winging combinations with elbows and gloves.
Twenty-six seconds into Round 2, Chàvez fired a sharp straight right that dropped Ahn for a count of six. Working calmly and unhurriedly, Chàvez knocked Ahn down again about 30 seconds later. Ahn, game and gritty, caught Chàvez with a left-right to the face. Chàvez stopped his pursuit for a moment, then landed a solid hook just before the bell.
At 1:55 of the third round, Chàvez landed a left hook to the body, followed by a left-right combination that sent Ahn down again. Ahn laboriously picked himself up on the count of four and took a few steps toward his corner. When the ref asked him if he wanted to go on, he shook his head no.
Afterward Chàvez talked about his future. It had been announced earlier in the day that Taylor had signed to fight WBA welterweight champ Aaron Davis in January, a development that eliminates the possibility of Chàvez-Taylor II in early 1991. "I don't think Taylor has the right to fight for the welterweight championship," said Chàvez with clear passion. "He should have to fight and beat me first."
King's current contract with Chàvez calls for two more bouts. Besides Taylor, one possible—and attractive—opponent is Hector (Macho) Camacho. Camacho took a strut through the ring early in the evening, drawing boos from the crowd. Chàvez later allowed as how he would enjoy taking on the Macho Man, "so I can shut his mouth for good."
Whoever Chàvez faces, he clearly is not interested in performing on any more undercards. "I want good fights that will get me lots of money," said Chàvez, before settling down to watch the Tyson-Stewart fight on a press room video monitor. That seems a reasonable request from the man who may well be the best fighter in the world.
Perhaps the world's best fighter, Chàvez (left) KO'd Ahn to run his record to 73-0.