Boxing: Chavez intent on enlarging fearsome reputation: While Lewis v Tucker has failed to excite Las Vegas, a squat Mexican is actually selling tickets for tonight's promotion. Jonathan Rendall salutes the best fighter in the world

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The Independent Online
WHOEVER wins the Lennox Lewis- Tony Tucker world heavyweight championship fight tonight, there is one title he will not be able to lay claim to. That is the title bestowed by the boxing press and trade of being the best fighter, pound for pound, in the world. Normally such subjective judgments provoke fierce debate. But for the last two years there has been none: Julio Cesar Chavez, of Mexico, who defends his world light-welterweight title on the undercard in Las Vegas, is reckoned to be without peer at any weight.

Chavez has a published record of 86 victories in 86 bouts. He has won 74 of them by knock-out. Some say he did once lose, by disqualification for hitting a man when he was down, against an obscure American named Jerry Lewis in 1982. But such qualification is for train-spotters only. Even in the days of four versions of world titles, Chavez's achievement in having won five titles at three different weights (super-feather, light and light-welter) will stand the test of time. Of the 24 opponents he has faced in world championship bouts, only six have lasted the distance.

Tonight Chavez defends his title against the No 1 contender, Terrance Alli, of Guyana. Against any other champion Alli would be regarded as a worthy challenger. He has won 52 of 61 fights. He can box and move and has sting in his punches. But against Chavez he is regarded as a no-hoper. Alli starts at odds of 20-1 against and they are probably accurate. As with the peak Mike Tyson - with whom he shares the same promoter, Don King - opponents about to take on Chavez bear the haunted look of men going to the gallows.

Having Chavez signed to a contract has saved King's skin now that Tyson is incarcerated. To say that Chavez is popular with Mexicans and Mexican- Americans would be a gross understatement. His last fight brought 136,274 fans, the largest crowd in boxing history, to the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. His previous title defence, against Hector 'Macho' Camacho in Las Vegas, sold out the Thomas and Mack Center faster than any other act, including Guns n' Roses. It also attracted the largest pay-per-view audience outside the heavyweight division. Although Lewis and Tucker have top billing this weekend, it is Chavez who will be bringing along the gate.

The brash Camacho, who had lost only once in more than 40 bouts but who took a horrible beating from Chavez, was just one of perhaps a dozen top-class boxers whose careers have been effectively ended by the fists of 'JC Superstar'. The only man to test Chavez was the American Olympic champion, Meldrick Taylor, whom he met in March 1990. Taylor was ahead on points going into the final round but had absorbed a mauling in the process and was stopped, swallowing blood, with 10 seconds to go. Taylor has not been the same since.

Vicious body punching is the key to Chavez's success. Always relentlessly pressing forward, he will sometimes go exclusively to the body in the early rounds even though he is adept at every facet of the game. In this respect Chavez stands in the tradition of outstanding Mexican world champions such as Carlos Palomino (who beat both John H Stracey and Dave 'Boy' Green with body punches in London in the 1970s), Jose Napoles, Pipino Cuevas and Lupe Pintor who targeted the liver with cruel precision to bring the hands down and expose the chin.

Until Chavez, the Panamanian Roberto Duran was regarded as the best lightweight in history. Now people are not so sure, Chavez's scheduled autumn bout with Pernell Whittaker, the world welterweight champion from Virginia who has already won two world crowns, is expected to be the biggest-grossing welterweight fight since the DuranTommy Hearns-Sugar Ray Leonard series in the early 1980s.

Like Duran, Chavez makes few concessions to his American paymasters and has declined to learn English. And like Duran he is known as a happy-go-lucky character between fights who can be spiteful when one approaches. In the run-up to tonight's bout he told the affable Alli through an interpreter: 'I'm going to make you look a lot uglier than you already do. I'm going to make it last. I'm going to give you a slow beating.' From the frozen look on Alli's face it seemed the noose was already being tightened.

(Photograph omitted)