Michael Rosenthal

Chavez Jr. has reason to be proud after winning his first title


LOS ANGELES – The kid showed us a lot.

Sebastian Zbik clearly was the more-talented boxer in the ring Saturday night at Staples Center, peppering Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.’s head with quick, snapping punches for much of their fight. Chavez certainly doesn’t have the gifts of his famous father, who was one of the greatest fighters ever.

Junior has a champion’s heart and more skill than many acknowledge, though. He also had something in abundance on Saturday that we haven’t necessarily seen: superb conditioning.

That appeared to be the difference as Chavez won a majority decision to take Zbik’s WBC middleweight title – the 25-year-old Mexican’s first major belt – before an estimated 7,800 fans who chanted his name multiple times during the fight.

Two judges scored a very close fight for Chavez – 115-113 and 116-112 – and the third had it 114-114. RingTV.com scored it 114-114.

Chavez Sr. also won his first title in this town in 1984, stopping Mario Martinez to win the WBC junior lightweight belt at the Olympic Auditorium.

Dad, who worked his son’s corner, played a key role in Junior’s victory long before Saturday.

“My father came to the Wild Card [gym in Hollywood, Calif.] two or three weeks ago and told me, ‘This is where you win the fight, not down the street at Staples Center. Work hard, listen to Freddie Roach,” Chavez Jr. said. “This is where you win titles.’”

The fight was a battle of Zbik’s sharpshooting to Chavez’s head and Chavez’s crushing body blows, as well as the fighters’ conditioning.

Zbik (30-1, 10 knockouts) used his quick hands and polished skills to peck away at Chavez (43-0-1, 30 KOs) from a safe distance to win the early rounds, although he never hurt his foe. He won three of the first four on two cards and all four on the third.

However, Chavez, the stronger of the two, never stopped coming. He countered Zbik’s quick hands by viciously pounding his body from beginning to end, a la Chavez Sr. Zbik took the shots but admitted that they wore him down.

Thus, Chavez was able to outwork Zbik down the stretch and pull out the decision.

“Zbik had a lot of heart,” said Roach, Chavez’s trainer. “He came to win, he fought hard. But Junior was in the best condition ever. He simply outlasted Zbik.”

Zbik believed he was ahead on the cards going into the 12th and final round but his corner told him after the 11th that he needed to win it to win the fight.

They were right.

Zbik was leading by one point on one card but was behind on the other two, one by one point and one by three points. Thus, the fight would’ve been a majority draw had the German won the 12th.

He lost it on all the cards as a remarkably fit Chavez simply outworked him.

“I thought I won the first five or six rounds,” he said. “I thought I was far ahead. But I got hit with those body shots and began to get tired.

“My corner told me I had to win the final round and I thought I did. I think the judges gave Chavez all the close rounds.”

The fight was hard to score but no one would begrudge Chavez this victory.

Zbik’s ability to land punches to Chavez’s head and Chavez’s scary body blows more or less canceled one another out. This fight, as Roach said, came down to resilience, determination, guts.

The German had a lot of the above. The kid just had a little bit more.

Next up for Chavez?

One much-discussed possibility is Miguel Cotto, the talented four-time titleholder from Puerto Rico. Not long ago, that matchup would have been unthinkable.

Now? Not as much.

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