Originally created 02/28/04

Chavez looks for breakout performance in title defense



LAS VEGAS - Jesus Chavez is more economical with his words than with his punches.

So he has no trouble summing up tonight's fight with Erik Morales in one sentence.

"He wants to establish himself as a three-time champion of the world, and I want to establish myself as a true champion of the world," Chavez said.

Morales has been well on the way to his goal since winning his first title at 122 pounds nearly seven years ago. For Chavez, though, the road to the top has been long and difficult.

Chavez gets a chance to make a name for himself when he defends his 130-pound title against Morales in a scheduled 12-round fight that figures to be nonstop action from the opening bell.

It's the first defense for Chavez, and the fact that he agreed to make it against the two-time champion known as "El Terrible" says a lot about his growing confidence in his abilities. He's so confident, in fact, that he bet some of his own money on the odds that favor Morales at 3-1.

"This is a fight that needed to happen. I think this is just the perfect time for it," Chavez said.

Chavez, who won the WBC title with a decision last August against Sirimongkol Singmanasak in his adopted hometown of Austin, Texas, knows something about timing.

He was the WBC's No. 1 contender for four years beginning in 1997, but immigration problems and other difficulties kept him from a title shot.

When he got it in 2001, he put up a game effort against Floyd Mayweather Jr. before being stopped after nine rounds while sitting on his stool.

Since that fight, he's won five straight - four by knockout - and took the title that Mayweather vacated to move up in weight.

"I learned a whole lot in that fight with Mayweather, like how to take your time, score your punches," Chavez said. "Defensively I think Mayweather is a lot better than Morales and he's faster, too."

Chavez (40-2, 28 knockouts) spent much of his fight with Mayweather throwing wild bombs at the champion, then getting picked apart by counterpunches.

Chavez figures to have no problem finding Morales, who beat Marco Antonio Barrera in the 2000 fight of the year and whose only loss came by a disputed decision to Barrera in their rematch.

Morales is 16-1 in title fights since winning the 122-pound title in 1997 with a knockout of Daniel Zaragoza. He is 45-1 with 34 knockouts and fights with a relentless style that usually wears down his opponents.

Still, the fight with Chavez is only his second at 130 pounds, and there is always the question of whether he can bring his punch with him to the higher weight level.

Morales, though, said he has had trouble making weight for years and is finally at a weight where he can train comfortably.

"When I was a super bantamweight and a featherweight, I fought because I needed to win those fights, but it is going to be different at 130 pounds," he said. "Now at 130, I fight for pleasure."