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Julio C�sar Ch�vez, 103-4-2 in the ring over the last 20 years but 14-4-1 over the last 6�, turns 38 on July 12. It has been more than three years since he defeated a top 10 opponent and more than two since he fought as a super lightweight (140 pounds). Two bouts ago he broke Long Island forklift operator Willy Wise's three-fight losing streak. Yet Ch�vez is the WBC's top super lightweight contender, and earlier this month the Arizona State Boxing Commission approved his license in preparation for a planned July 29 bout in Phoenix with champion Kostya Tszyu (24-1-1, 20 KOs), who is 30 and at his peak.
The fight has critics inside and outside of boxing wondering what gives, other than Ch�vez's leathery face. Last month Senator John McCain (R., Ariz.), cosponsor of the recently passed Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, sent a letter to his state's governor, Jane Hull, calling the fight "an illegitimate and potentially dangerous mismatch." The bout had been scheduled for Las Vegas on July 15, but on the May morning when Ch�vez's licensing was to be discussed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, promoters pulled the fight and Ch�vez was yanked from the commission's agenda. Earlier, several Nevada commissioners had expressed concerns about the validity of Ch�vez's No. 1 ranking, his ability to make weight and his poor performance against Wise. "Officially the fight was never turned down, but there were certainly misgivings," says Mark Ratner, the commission's executive director. Association of Boxing Commissions president Greg Sirb went further, asking on May 18 that WBC president Jose Sulaiman reevaluate Ch�vez's ranking and writing that the Tszyu bout "does not appear to be a competitive match-up."
The Arizona commission's executive director, John Montano, notes that Ch�vez passed his commission's physical and has been knocked down just once, by Frankie Randall in 1994. According to Luis Medina, the WBC's controller of records, the sanctioning body had "extensive medical examinations" conducted on Ch�vez and had him prove his competence by fighting journeyman Buck Smith in December. Ch�vez knocked Smith out in the third round.
Sulaiman, like Ch�vez a native of Mexico, has admitted that Ch�vez's ranking isn't solely a function of his performance inside the ring. Sulaiman told The New York Times, "He's been such a hero in my country that I want him to retire with dignity and honor."
The first time a new Bengals signee rips the front office—and given the perpetually sorry state of the franchise, that could be any minute now—he could have more than hell to pay. A controversial new clause the team is writing into all new contracts says that a player who publicly criticizes the Bengals' organization could forfeit some or all of his signing bonus. While the NFL Players Association has condemned the clause as "illegal" and a violation of the collective bargaining agreement, Cincinnati isn't backing down. "We feel we have the right to expect not just [players'] best performance but their loyalty," says president Mike Brown. "We don't want to have to go through the kind of situation we went through with Carl."
That would be Carl Pickens, the receiver who held out all of last preseason, then in December unleashed a public diatribe in the Bengals' locker room, tearing into the decision to bring back coach Bruce Coslet for 2000. Brown says the Bengals will enforce the clause only in cases of serious malice, but if they do, the NFLPA will take the issue to an arbitrator. "The collective bargaining agreement strictly controls club discipline, and the club cannot negotiate additional discipline into [a] contract," says NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen.
The union has encouraged Bengals rookies not to sign any contracts containing the clause. (First-round draft pick Peter Warrick struck a seven-year, $42 million deal, but the clause was negotiated out of his contract because of numerous other provisions tied to his off-field conduct.) While leaguewide reaction to the controversy has been mixed, that Cincinnati is the team embroiled in it surprises few. Says agent Steve Weinberg, "Typical Bengals."