LAS VEGAS – The kid almost pulled it out. Almost.
Sergio Martinez proved to be what many expected against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Arena – too fast, too athletic and simply too good for the son of a legend.
For 11-plus rounds, the Argentine jabbed and danced his way to a lead so enormous that everyone knew Chavez would need a miracle to win, including his corner. All Martinez had to do was cruise to victory as the final seconds slipped away.
Then, in a moment of great drama, Chavez landed a flurry of punches that put Martinez down and hurt him with about a minute to go. Would he survive? It wasn’t clear. Chavez, smelling blood, attacked desperately as Martinez fought to survive and the pro-Chavez fans went crazy.
Alas, Martinez, at 37, was resilient enough to remain on his feet at the final bell. He proved to be both very good all night long and very tough when it counted as he won a one-sided unanimous decision.
The judges scored it 117-111, 118-109 and 118-109. THE RING had it 118-109 for Martinez, who regained the WBC middleweight that was stripped from him last year and ultimately landed around the waist of Chavez.
“For the first 11 rounds, I worked very hard,” said Martinez, his face more or less unmarked at the post-fight news conference. “I won every round. In the last round, he hit me right and hurt me but I continued to fight like the warrior I am.”
The atmosphere at the arena, on the campus of UNLV, was intense. The outnumbered fans of Martinez, many wearing the blue and white of the national team, created a festive, soccer-like energy.
The Mexican fans, large in number and also spirited, cheered everything Chavez did well. The problem was it didn’t happen often.
Martinez (50-2-2, 28 knockouts) controlled the fight from the beginning with a busy and accurate right jab – followed by plenty of hard lefts – and fleet movement that seemed to baffle Chavez.
Jab, jab, left and he’s gone. It was a simple formula that worked extremely well against a fighter with limited boxing ability and experience.
Chavez (46-1-1, 32 KOs) had his moments. On occasion, he was able to pin his smaller opponent against the ropes and fire off his well-honed shots to the body.
That was the exception, though. Chavez spent much of the fight looking confused in the center of the ring as Martinez did his thing. He just didn’t throw enough punches to win rounds.
Consider the CompuBox punch statistics: Martinez connected on 322 of 908 punches, Chavez only 178 of 390. The latter translates to only about 15 punches landed per round, which isn’t very productive.
“I was very tight,” Chavez said. “I was thinking about throwing punches instead of just throwing punches. I don’t know what happened.”
The result seemed to be a foregone conclusion at the bell to start the 12th and final round. Martinez was all but untouchable and Chavez seemed to be tired and deflated, having come up empty the entire fight.
The kid didn’t give up, though. He tried to pull off that miracle and came tantalizingly close.
It was a left and, following a few more punches, another left that seemed to knock Martinez on his butt and rattle his brain. The majority of the 19,000-plus fans, frustrated until then, erupted as their man suddenly had a chance to win the fight.
Chavez tried to oblige them, pounding Martinez in an effort to finish him off. Martinez was on shaky legs, clearly vulnerable if Chavez was able to land one or two more big blows.
The Argentine didn’t hold much during the final moments, as a fighter of his experience might’ve been expected to do. He fought back, as if to say “I’m not taking the coward’s way out.”
And, when the fight was over, victory was assured because Martinez was still standing. At the sound of the bell, he thrust his arms in the air. He knew what the result would be.
“I thought I was going to finish him in the last round but I couldn’t,” Chavez said. “He has heart. In the rematch, I will knock him out.”
Rematch? Chavez made that a realistic possibility with his last-round rally, which undoubtedly left some fans craving more.
Promoter Bob Arum, who handles Chavez, said he received a call after the fight from his friend Jerry Jones. The owner of the Dallas Cowboys offered up Cowboys Stadium for a second Martinez-Chavez fight.
Of course, Chavez was interested. Martinez was less committal; he said he wanted to take some time off and deal later with the future.
However, his promoter, Lou DiBella was enthusiastic about a second go around.
“When you have lightening in a bottle, you don’t want to let it go,” DiBella said. “A rematch at Cowboys Stadium would be the biggest fight you can make in boxing, I think. I know Julio wants it. And Sergio will do what the fans want.”
After that 12th round, the fans probably would wholeheartedly embrace Martinez-Chavez II.
Photos / Chris Farina-Top Rank