SEBASTIAN ZBIK vs. JULIO CESAR CHAVEZ
When: Saturday, June 4
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles
TV: HBO, 10 p.m. ET / PT (delayed)
Weight: Middleweight (168-pound limit)
Title(s) at stake: Zbik’s WBC middleweight title
Height: 5-11½ (182cm)
Hometown: Schwerin, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany
Turned pro: 2004
Record: 30-0 (10 knockouts)
Trainer: Artur Grigorian
Fight-by-fight: http http://boxrec.com/list_bouts.php?cat=boxer&human_id=261861
The Ring rating: No. 6 middleweight
Titles: WBC middleweight (2011-present)
Biggest victories: Domenico Spada, July 11, 2009, UD 12 (won interim title); Emanuele Della Rosa, Dec. 19, 2009, SD 12; Spada, April 17, 2010, UD 12; Jorge Sebastian Heiland, July 31, 2010, UD 12 (most-recent fight).
JULIO CESAR CHAVEZ JR.
Height / Reach: 6-0 (183cm) / 73½ (185cm)
Hometown: Culiacan, Mexico
Turned pro: 2003
Record: 42-0-1 (30 knockouts)
Trainer: Freddie Roach
The Ring rating: None
Biggest victories: Matt Vanda, Nov. 1, 2008, UD 10 (rematch); Luciano Leonel Cuello, March 28, 2009, UD 10; John Duddy, June 26, 2010, UD 12; Billy Lyell, Jan. 29, 2011, UD 10 (most-recent fight).
Draw: Carlos Molina, Dec. 16, 2005, PTS 6.
Skills: Zbik is a careful boxer who gets the most of out the basic tools of the sport — good balance, a high guard, crisp jabs, straight rights and one-two combinations that he mixes in with in-and-out movement. His style is often described as “European” or even “amateurish,” however, it obviously works for him. Chavez tries to fight in a similar manner as his legendary father once did, applying relentless pressure with a devastating body attack. His pressure is usually effective and he is a good body puncher, but he’s often better served by using his height and reach to box from a distance, a style variation that new trainer Freddie Roach is trying to instill. Chavez has a good jab and straight right when he uses those punches from mid-range, but Zbik has tighter technique than the younger man and a style that’s better suited for his attributes.
Power: Zbik, who has only scored 10 stoppages in his 30 bouts, is not known for his power and doesn’t appear concerned about getting more knockouts. He knows what he is, a boxer, and what he isn’t, a puncher. Chavez is not a world-class puncher, either, but he has heavy, damaging hands, and he knows how to put his shots together to break down his opponents as evidenced by the 30 stoppages he’s scored in his 42 victories. Chavez gets excellent leverage on his left hook to the body, a punch that has led to many of his KOs.
Speed and athletic ability: Chavez inherited his father’s heavy hands and rock-solid chin but he didn’t get any raw athleticism from his old man (who didn’t have much, but certainly possessed faster feet than his son). Even when Chavez is at his best, he’s methodical and can even be described as “plodding.” Zbik isn’t an elite-level athlete but he’s lighter on his feet than Chavez and appears to have quicker hands and reflexes. The 29-year-old veteran also has very good hand-eye coordination.
Defense: Chavez is not known for his defensive prowess, but he’s pretty good at picking shots off with his gloves when he’s close to his opponent. He’s working on improving his head movement, but it’s not something he does instinctively or is able to blend with his offense. Zbik doesn’t have much in the way of head- or upper-body movement, but he keeps his gloves high and blocks very well. He’s very good at switching back and forth from his defensive posture to his offensive stance. The German also uses in-and-out footwork to avoid incoming punches.
Experience: Zbik had a good but unspectacular amateur career that included a little over 150 bouts. In 2002, he won the German national title and took bronze at the European championships, but he never medaled in an international tournament. As a pro, Zbik has faced solid, nationally ranked fighters from Europe and South America but he hasn’t fought any world-beaters. Neither has Chavez, who didn’t have much of an amateur career. However, Chavez has faced a few pros who could be (at one time or another) considered fringe contenders, including John Duddy, Carlos Molina, and Jose Celaya. Chavez has 14 more bouts than Zbik but the titleholder has slightly more rounds (209 to 194) under his belt.
Chin: Neither fighter has ever been down in a pro contest, although it should be noted that neither has faced a world-class puncher. Chavez was briefly wobbled by the hardest puncher he’s fought, Duddy, but he quickly regained his composure and dominated the fight. Zbik was stopped in a few of his amateur bouts. Both fighters appear to be able to take a good shot.
Conditioning: Chavez has a reputation for being lazy in the gym. He says it isn’t true. Roach and new conditioning coach Alex Ariza report that he works very hard in camp. However, prior to the Duddy fight, his first with Roach at the helm, Chavez often faded in the late rounds of tough bouts. He didn’t appear to be in tip-top shape for his last bout, a lackluster 10-round decision over Billy Lyell in January. Zbik, on the other hand, has never appeared out of condition for a fight and has proven his ability to fight effectively over the 10- and 12-round distance.
Wear and tear: Both fighters are in their primes and neither has taken a beating in the ring.
Corner: Zbik is trained by Artur Grigorian, a former Olympian and lightweight beltholder who defended the WBO title 17 times during a 10-year pro career. Grigorian was an understudy to Fritz Sdunek, the master German trainer who guided Dariusz Michalczewski and the Klitschko brothers to world titles, at the Universum Gym in Hamburg, so his boxing knowledge cannot be questioned. However, guiding Chavez is Roach, the five-time winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Trainer of the Year award. Roach is almost universally regarded (by both fans and media) as the best trainer on the planet right now.
Outcome: The fighters know that their key to victory is to impose their style on the other and that battle will be evident from the start of the bout. Zbik will beat Chavez to the jab and land occasional right hands while the crowd favorite presses forward and scores with left hooks to the body. The early rounds will be evenly contested but Chavez’s zeal to win his first world title and to appease the fans will cause him to get a little bit reckless during the middle rounds. Zbik will time Chavez’s aggressive rushes with crisp one-two combinations before maneuvering out of harm’s way. Roach will settle Chavez down between rounds and remind the youth to work his jab and angles from a distance. Chavez will obey and score with head-snapping straight punches as he gradually cuts the ring off and eventually pins Zbik along the ropes where he does damage with his body shot. Zbik will fire back from the ropes, but Chavez will land more punches — all of which will be power shots. A left hook to the liver will put Zbik down to a knee late in the bout. The German veteran will get up and gamely finish the fight, but he won’t score as well as he did during the first half of the bout.
Prediction: Chavez by close, perhaps majority decision.