Chavez seeking to retire in style

His image tarnished by an awful performance last October, 38-year-old Julio Cesar Chavez says he is fighting once more to restore his dignity.

His image tarnished by an awful performance last October, 38-year-old Julio Cesar Chavez says he is fighting once more to restore his dignity.

Looking fit and prepared, Chavez faces the World Boxing Council super-welterweight champion, Kostya Tszyu, tonight before what is likely to be a rowdy, supportive crowd at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Arizona.

A six-times world champion in four weight classes, Chavez is a hero in Mexico. Cheered on by his vocal, ever-present band of supporters, he is even guaranteeing a knock-out against his heavily favoured opponent.

"I'm physically and mentally ready," he said through an interpreter. "I have trained for my dignity and pride, and for the pride of all Mexicans, and I will knock out Kostya Tszyu."

This fight was to have been held at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The official reason for moving it was a conflict with a Britney Spears appearance. But there are other, darker reasons, too.

Chavez has a 103-4-2 record with 86 knock-outs but is far past his prime. Members of the Nevada State Athletic Commission indicated they might not allow the fight because Chavez looked so overmatched and out of shape in his loss to journeyman Willy Wise over 10 rounds last October.

The Arizona Senator John McCain sent a letter to Governor Jane Hull urging that she block the staging of the fight in Phoenix. "According to many of boxing's most knowledgeable officials and observers, this bout raises serious concerns because of the disparities in the boxers' current ability, condition and age," McCain wrote.

The Arizona commission, after Chavez's promise that he would be ready, approved the fight. "We went at this with an open mind, and we just considered the material and evidence before us," said John Montano, executive director of the Arizona commission.

According to those around him, Chavez has been totally serious in training for the fight, which he says will be his last. He has stopped drinking and even fired two staff members caught drinking at his training site.

The undercard includes a super-lightweight fight between Hector "Macho" Camacho Jnr, as flamboyant as his father, and the South African Philip Holiday. The 21-year-old Camacho is 28-0, Holiday 36-3-1. "What time is it?" Camacho said at the news conference, mimicking his father's trademark line. "It's Junior time!"

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