Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is no world beater, but he’s an improving fighter.
The popular middleweight contender proved that fact by dominating Peter Manfredo Jr. to a fifth-round stoppage in Houston, Texas, on Saturday.
Chavez (44-0-1, 31 knockouts) was not the plodding sponge who seemed to absorb every punch Sebastian Zbik launched at his head during his WBC title-winning effort against the undefeated German contender in June.
The 25-year-old son of the Mexican legend fired a sharp jab, utilized fluid lateral movement and landed accurate body-head combinations often punctuated by hard right crosses in every round of his HBO-televised bout against Manfredo.
Still, Chavez would get annihilated if he ever stepped foot in the ring with RING champ Sergio Martinez, which is why his promoter, Bob Arum of Top Rank, will never make that fight.
That’s OK. Fans already know that Martinez is the king of the 160-pound division. What Chavez proved on Saturday is that he’s a real contender who can likely compete with any middleweight not named Martinez.
Despite his gaudy record and newly acquired WBC belt, nobody believed that Chavez, THE RING’s No. 5-rated middleweight, was as good as most of the other 160 pounders ranked by the magazine.
Some boxing writers (including this one) believed that certain middleweights currently unranked by THE RING, such as the WBA’s unbeaten “regular” beltholder Gennady Golovkin, would take Chavez’s lunch money in the ring.
One couldn’t blame Manfredo, also unranked by THE RING but riding a six-bout win streak going into Saturday’s fight, for liking his chances against Chavez, who built much of his record facing journeymen and was blatantly protected by Top Rank until recently.
Manfredo (37-7, 20 KOs) isn’t the most gifted boxer, but he had faced better competition than Chavez has fought, including former titleholders Sergio Mora and Jeff Lacy, as well as former two-division RING champ Joe Calzaghe.
He lost to those fighters, but he was competitive with Mora and Lacy.
He wasn’t competitive with Chavez, who easily controlled every round except for the fourth, when Manfred pulled the odds favorite into crowd-pleasing exchanges.
However, Chavez reverted to boxing in the fifth and wobbled the 30-year-old veteran with a right hand mid-way through the round.
Chavez quickly attacked Manfredo, swarming the tough New Englander, who stayed on his feet but did not punch back, until referee Laurence Cole stepped in and halted the bout at 1:52 of the round.
Chavez, who landed 52 percent of his power punches according to CompuBox, overwhelmed his wounded prey along the ropes in much the same manner as Calzaghe did when he stopped Manfredo in three rounds in 2007.
It was by far Chavez’s best performance in a major bout.
“This was my first time focusing on boxing, my first time focusing on defense, and I think it turned out pretty well,” Chavez said during his post-fight interview on HBO.
Chavez said all the things a young contender is supposed to say when Martinez’s name was brought up along with fellow Mexican star Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.
“I want to fight the best,” he said. “Martinez is a great champ, Canelo would be a great fight for the Mexican public, but it all depends on what my promoter says. But I fear no one.”
Chavez doesn’t have to fear anyone. Arum will continue to make the right moves with his budding star, while trainer Freddie Roach continues to work on Chavez’s technique and ring gerneralship. Chavez is improving, but we should all keep in mind that he beat a competent pro in Manfredo, nothing more.
Manfredo, who said he was “done” with boxing during his post-fight interview, knows it.
“I’m not an HBO fighter,” said Manfredo, who lost to Calzaghe, Lacy and Chavez on the network.
Chavez, however, just might be.
Photo by Naoki Fukuda.