LAS VEGAS — His elbow hurts, his back and knees ache, and about all that keeps Julio Cesar Chavez from dropping out of boxing right now is the prospect of a $15-million payday next May against Oscar De La Hoya in Chavez's 100th and, he says, final fight.
"There are people coming behind me, pushing me very, very strongly," Chavez said. "That's why I want to retire. My time has now come."
But the 33-year-old champion, once the sport's most prized fighter, trudges on and tonight, in an unheralded and almost invisible bout, will defend his World Boxing Council super-lightweight title against No. 1 contender David Kamau at the Mirage.
Although Kamau (26-0, 20 knockouts) is a tall, heavy-handed fighter who might be able to rock Chavez from the outside, a weary Chavez admits that his motivation is to keep moving toward De La Hoya.
Assuming he gets past Kamau, Chavez (95-1-1, 81 KOs) is scheduled to fight WBC lightweight champion Miguel Angel Gonzalez on Nov. 4, then De La Hoya.
"I don't know if I'll get to 100 fights because I'm a little bit exhausted with boxing," Chavez said through an interpreter. "I've had a lot of problems with my arms, with my knees. I really don't want to extend myself much longer.
"After so many years of working out, it all builds up. I am not giving what I used to be able to give. I will fight De La Hoya for a lot of money, and then retire."
Chavez, who watched De La Hoya's sixth-round technical knockout over Genaro (Chicanito) Hernandez last Saturday on television, said he respects the 22-year-old fighter and appreciates De La Hoya's recent turn to a bobbing and weaving style.
"Oscar De La Hoya looks good boxing, but you have to consider the opponent," Chavez said. "Chicanito Hernandez certainly is not an opponent in my category. Fighting me will be a much more difficult opponent. Chicanito doesn't know how to move in on a fighter. . . . He needs more heart."
Could De La Hoya be as difficult to fight as Pernell Whitaker, the welterweight who dominated Chavez two years ago in their controversial draw?
"Whitaker is much better," Chavez said. "De La Hoya hits hard, and he's fast, and he comes in with a lot of force. But he has to learn how to fight, and Whitaker is very difficult. That's why I want to fight De La Hoya soon, before he learns."
The Kamau camp, meanwhile, is convinced that the Kenyan-born slugger, never known for his lateral movement, can be just elusive enough to avoid Chavez's punishing shots.
Kamau, 30, has been based in Los Angeles for all of his professional career and fought 18 times at the Forum before signing with Don King recently so he could get the Chavez bout.
"I can knock Chavez out with any punch, left or right," said Kamau, who sat as the WBC's No. 1-ranked contender for more than a year as Chavez lost and then regained the title against Frankie Randall. "He can't take a shot. Chavez isn't like he used to be. He used to be a great fighter, but not anymore."
On the undercard, Terry Norris is defending his World Boxing Council super-welterweight title against David Gonzales.