This Is Not About Boxing
By the time this goes to press, it will have been five days since Sergio Martinez outclassed Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. to reclaim the WBC middleweight title that he never officially lost. The belt had been outright stolen from Martinez in a cross-wired clusterf***k of boxing/PR/economic politicking — the nascent, corrupt state of which is becoming increasingly obvious — and was then handed to JCC, Jr., heir apparent to the pugilistic throne of his legendary father and namesake, all but gift-wrapped.
Boxing, in case you didn’t know, is like that: a quagmire of competing alphabet organizations (WBO, IBF, WBA, WBC, IBO, etc) who hand out trinket variations of each weight class’ belt — “regular” titles, as well as interim, and whatever a “diamond belt” is — to favored sons and cash cows, all the while shielding them from any legitimate challenge, short of the occasional big-money superfight. In general, it’s a pretty gross display, one that sees marketable young fighters racking up paper wins against sub-par competition long after their developmental phase should be wrapped up, and aging, broken-down veterans sacrificed as a stepping stone, a notch on the belt of a valuable up-and-comer (see Canelo Alvarez vs. Shane Moseley, Muhammad Ali vs. Larry Holmes, etc).
This is the system that benefitted and, despite this first loss on his record, will continue to benefit Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. Coddled and protected due to the potentially massive earnings hinging on his father’s name, he had by last weekend amassed a professional record of 46-0, with one draw and one no contest, a feat mostly achieved by mauling warm bodies that walked around at 15 pounds less than he did.
A gigantic middleweight with a long reach and numbing power but little maneuverability or accuracy, Chavez’ strategy consists mostly of bullying his opponent into a corner, unleashing massive body shots and sapping their will. Even then, though, his glaring lack of discipline showed: when he TKO’d Peter Manfredo in November of last year, he never actually landed any of the “fight-ending” punches flush; the referee called a stop to it because Manfredo wasn’t fighting back.
This is how paranoid Chavez and his team were about damaging the brand: they ducked a fight just over a year ago with Ronald Hearns. Hearns, son of middleweight legend Thomas Hearns, is at best a middle-of-the-road light middleweight who was recently knocked out in the first round by Erislandy Lara. And yet, he had one semi-effective weapon in his arsenal: a right hand with more-than-minimal pop. The fight was set, then cancelled due — according to his camp — a grab-bag of conditions: his weight not being properly on target (something else for which JCC is infamous), a nagging injury, etc.
Rumors ran rampant that he was on an illegal diuretic or performance enhancer, and that a positive test was inevitable. The fact that no two members of the training camp or PR team could get on the same page led to serious speculation that Chavez was simply ducking Hearns because of the quasi-legitimate thread the latter posed.
The speculation was predictably, weakly, denied.
Sergio Martinez, despite his champion status, was a virtual unknown until just a couple of years ago, and had to thrash then-middleweight king Kelly Pavlik — back when that still meant something — and KO Paul Williams into the fourth dimension to even get noticed. Prior to that, Martinez worked at nightclubs and waited tables while pursuing his professional boxing career in Spain. He had to fight hard for everything he achieved, and never had opponents or titles gift-wrapped for him. He has experienced losses, knockdowns, brutal cuts, adversity, and fought through it all.
He’s also, most importantly, a terrible matchup for Chavez.
Understandably, JCC’s team wanted nothing to with Martinez, who was stuck steamrolling middling challengers for comparable peanuts while Chavez raked in lucrative purses facing even weaker competition. For those of you who don’t follow boxing, two things: That’s like one Superbowl team refusing to play the other, agreeing instead to play a game against me, my chinchilla, and nine blow-up dolls. Why are you still reading?
Eventually, though, it had to happen; circumstances dictated it. Specifically, Martinez looked slightly less than spectacular in a unanimous decision victory over Matthew Macklin, while Chavez looked truly impressive against a formidable opponent when he stopped lanky Irish scrapper Andy Lee in the seventh round on his trademark windmill body shots. A Martinez/Chavez fight was promised, and immediately booked. In a detail that was not unforeseeable, Chavez would bank significantly more than his opponent. It seems, in retrospect, that Team Chavez was counting on one of two things: that Martinez was finally slowing down enough to be beatable, or that he would balk at the relatively paltry purse.
Neither happened. Martinez gleefully accepted the six-figure contract (I said relatively paltry), and with it the opportunity to take out his frustrations on the very object of them.
For 11 increasingly one-sided rounds, the fight played out the way most objective pundits figured it would: Martinez, hands low throughout, peppered the bigger but slower Chavez with jabs, hooks, uppercuts, crosses, all the while staying out of range and trajectory with his superior footwork. Chavez, having also inherited his father’s iron chin, never went down and never actually appeared rocked, but suffered a few lacerations as well as considerable swelling under his left eye. In short, he was proving to be what his detractors had long considered him: a spoiled cash cow with a famous name, badly outgunned by the true champion.
Something interesting happens when the object of your derision turns out to be exactly what you think: your hate and indignation grow, surpassing even glee at your own smug sense of justice. Maybe it’s a bit of a letdown; after all, how exciting is life if things are simply as they appear? You are cheated out of an experience, albeit one you didn’t know you wanted.
But in round 12, those same people almost ate crow. Chavez whipped a flush right hook to Martinez’ chin, scoring the fight’s only knockdown. Martinez, visibly rattled, got to his feet and, instead of clinching, continued to stand toe to toe with Chavez, who went for broke, winging Hail Mary bombs that just deflected off of Martinez’ guard. Thrilling though it was, it was also too little, too late, as Martinez walked away with a wide unanimous decision victory, and the unified middleweight belt.
Let’s be clear: Chavez is not Floyd Mayweather. The scrutiny and detraction that dogged his professional career was born not of his boringly superhuman skill, but because of the fact that he was made a star of a fighting man’s sport, despite never having to fight FOR anything. Likewise, the ensuing, somewhat grudging respect the boxing public has exhibited towards him since that monumental round is rooted not in the satisfaction of seeing a self-made idol fall, but in the inherent admiration we feel when we see fighters fight. I don’t know what, if anything, Chavez rallied for on that night. The point, though, is that he did rally.
Nor, either, is Sergio Martinez entirely a hard-luck story. He has god-given talents of his own, and has modeled for Nike — I mean, come on. And we wondered if, between the KO victory over Paul Williams and the Chavez fight, he had lost a step, if (at 37 years old) age was catching up to him, or if he simply wasn’t as good as we all thought, as we all hoped him to be.
In the end, we got the best of both worlds: a fighter actually fought, and a visibly aged, battle-worn champion emerged a victor. A rematch is in the works for next year, but that hardly matters. The whole affair — the circumstances, the match-up, the outcome and, I hope, the reception — will play itself out again, I think, sooner than we expect.You Might Also Like: