BILL DWYRE

Intriguing matchups give middleweight division an attractive future

Hours before Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. took on Bryan Vera, a November bout in Ontario was announced between Andre Ward and Edwin Rodriguez. Also that month, Gennady Golovkin will take on Curtis Stevens.

The boxing scene Saturday in Los Angeles showcased one great middleweight and three others trying to be.

The great one, Andre Ward, worked from the TV booth at ringside, as one of the three trying to be him, popular Mexican boxer Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., took on a hand-picked opponent, Bryan Vera of Austin, Texas.

That would come later.

Earlier, a few miles away from the scheduled boxing action at the StubHub Center in Carson, two other middleweight bouts were announced. What Chavez Jr. achieved later might have a direct bearing on both fights.

First, upcoming Kazakhstan star Gennady Golovkin, met the press to tout his Nov. 2 battle with Curtis Stevens at Madison Square Garden. Great things are predicted for the 31-year-old Golovkin, who has a 27-0 record, 24 by knockout. Three of those knockouts have already been recorded this year, his most recent a June 29, third-round KO of Matthew Macklin with a body punch.

Golovkin looks like a choirboy, speaks softly and seldom stops smiling. He has been labeled by one of his friends as the "Humble Assassin."

A short while later, the third fighter seeking Ward's greatness status, Edwin Rodriguez, the unbeaten heavy puncher from the Dominican Republic, shared a podium with Ward. They announced they would fight Nov. 16 at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario.

Both have perfect records, Ward at 26-0 and Rodriguez at 24-0. Both also have interesting story lines going into the fight.

Many place Ward only a notch below Floyd Mayweather Jr. as the best boxer in the world. He is a former Olympic Gold medalist and has dominated his division for years.

But Ward hasn't fought since Sept. 8, 2012.

He took a year off to finally have surgery to repair a shoulder injury that had bothered him since he was a teenager. That has given Rodriguez hope that he will be catching Ward at a good time. Ward, of course, debunked that.

"The injury is part of my story," he said, "but I didn't quit working. I'm not 20 pounds overweight."

When it comes to Ward's skills, Rodriguez is a realist.

"I never had to be at my best before," he said. "This time, I will have to be."

Rodriguez, 28, moved to the United States when he was 13. He was twice U.S. Amateur champion, but missed several qualifying events and, as a result, the Beijing Olympics, with a heart-tugging family situation.

His wife, Stephanie, pregnant with twins, went into a hospital in Worcester, Mass., where Rodriguez lives now, for a 23-week checkup. Doctors hospitalized her immediately when they saw complications, and the babies were born a few days later. Neither weighed 2 pounds, and doctors told the parents that their children likely would not survive. They were in the hospital for 120 days.

Sunday, Edwin Jr. and Serena will turn 7.

Each has cerebral palsy, and they face autism issues. But each is progressing, and the Rodriguezes recently had another child, a healthy Evan, now 5 months old.

Even Ward was taken by what Rodriguez and his family have gone through.

"He has an amazing story," he said.

The middleweight connections revolve around Julio Jr. and Ward. They are the box office attractions.

Golovkin's connections said they are open to — translated, that would be "drooling over" — either Chavez or Ward, both big paydays. Also factoring in their thinking is a match against Sergio Martinez, the Argentinian, who handed Chavez Jr. his only loss and who has star quality of his own. He is slowly returning after an injury.

A victory by Rodriguez would open many doors for him and others and drastically change the landscape of the division and the sport.

Chavez could play himself right out of the spotlight with a subpar performance later Saturday night.

Regardless, the middleweight division, and even some of the default weights from its 168 pounds, such as 160 and 175, has an attractive immediate future.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

CHICAGO

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