By Nat Gottlieb
Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland
"I was one of those hungry fighters," Jack Dempsey once famously said. "You could have hit me on the chin with a sledgehammer for five dollars. When you haven't eaten for two days, you'll understand." Bryan Vera understands.
Even though Vera will have been fed before he enters the ring for his rematch with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., he'll still be hungry. The Texas boxer burns with desire to avenge what he -- and many others felt -- was an underserved defeat in his first bout with the Mexican last September.
As for Chavez, well, he's a more complicated story. There isn't much doubt as to which of these two fighters is the more skilled boxer. Chavez has that edge by a generous margin. But the real edge he will need to beat Vera for the second straight time is something that eluded him in their first fight: fire in the belly.
Chavez even admits he didn't give it his best shot against Vera.
"I believe that Vera fought as well as he could in the first fight," Chavez says, "and I know that I did not fight my best by a long shot. People are going to see I have the fire and hunger back. I have been training for five months and my weight is perfect."
When Chavez uttered those words, Vera (23-7, 14 KOs), who was sitting at the same press conference podium in San Antonio, could only shake his head. "It's obvious to me that he isn't hungry," the 32-year-old Texan says. "Since he's been a baby, he's had fame and money. He's never had to struggle in life. I don't think he has it in him to want to fight."
One sign a fighter doesn't feel a sense of urgency is often his inability to make the designated weight limit. In Chavez's first bout with Vera, the contract called for a ceiling of 160 pounds. But approaching the fight, apparently struggling to make the weight, Chavez's team renegotiated the limit first to 168 pounds, and then a short while later jumped it to 173, two pounds under the light heavyweight limit.
To anyone who has seen Chavez in his best fights, it was clear when he fought Vera that something was off. Chavez spent most of the night uncharacteristically backing up. And even though Chavez is a very good counterpuncher, when Vera got within range, the Mexican simply didn't let his hands go the way he usually does. He seemed content to throw just one punch at a time, as if he was waiting for the right moment to throw his signature left hook and knock Vera out.
"I know that I left some doubt in many people's minds," Chavez says, "because of my weight issues and the fact that I did not have the consistency in my attack. I need to be active, consistent, and land my shots with power, so I can finish the fight with a big flourish."
Vera also wants to win this fight with flare; undoubtedly believing that after the first fight, nothing short of a very convincing victory will sway the judges. "Am I worried about getting robbed again?" Vera says. "I try not to think about that for this fight. I don't think it will happen this time. The last time, everybody, including the judges, came in with this expectation that Chavez was going to walk through me. Now, because of what happened before, there'll be more eyes on me, a more equal judging."
If Chavez does enter the ring in top shape, the odds would be against Vera emerging with a victory. But beating the odds is something Vera has had to do many times before.
When the Texas boxer first turned pro in 2004, he reeled off 14 straight victories against opponents who were as unseasoned as he was. Then, after beating journeyman Darnell Boone, he was suddenly thrust into the ring with nothing but top prospects and contenders.
For the most part, the results weren't pretty.
In nine fights, spanning 2007 to 2011, Vera faced opponents with a combined record of 179-5. He lost five of those fights and was knocked out twice. After those defeats, he was widely regarded as little more than an entertaining, journeyman brawler.
Asked why he was overmatched so many times, Vera says, "I had a different manager then than I do now. He wasn't trying to look out for me. He was just interested in getting the biggest payday that he could. If I had had my way, I would have built up my résumé before fighting some of those guys."
Vera was not discouraged by the downturn in his career. Instead, he worked even harder, and the results were positive. He beat four straight opponents, including former junior middleweight titlist Serhiy Dzinziruk. Then along came Chavez and another setback. The Texan is aware that a second straight loss on his record will probably keep him from his longtime goal of being a champion.
Chavez also has a lot at stake. His controversial victory over Vera came on the heels of his first career loss, in which he was overwhelmed and outclassed by middleweight champion Sergio Martinez. A loss to Vera would almost certainly damage his already fragile reputation as a top tier fighter, and in the process, tarnish his legacy.
"The thing is that Vera actually thought he won the first fight," Chavez says, "which will make this fight even better. He wants to win. But I have more hunger and no weight problem. I am more motivated. This fight will do away with any doubt who is the better fighter."