by Paul Strauss: What a night for boxing fans. Between Showtime and HBO, there were more fights than you could shake a stick at. The big record setting one was of course at the Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, NV. It was a grudge match pitting Sergio Gabriel “Maravilla” Martinez against the young title usurper with the bloodlines named Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr.
Simply put, Martinez felt he was unfairly stripped of his middleweight title, and to make matters worse, it was given to this undeserving upstart who happened to be the son of a great fighter. Sergio was uncharacteristically vocal about what he thought was an injustice, and he was determined to set things right. Most of the experts and the odds makers agreed he was likely to be successful. On the other hand, JCC, Jr. was hurt and insulted by Sergio’s comments and determined to make him pay. Both promised knockouts.
Even with hall of fame trainer Freddie Roach’s help, it was thought to be unlikely that JCC, Jr. had the necessary skill and experience to pull off the upset, despite his father having done the seemingly impossible years ago against Meldrick Taylor. That was so long ago (1990), it seemed like a dream.
Critics of Sergio, including JCC, Sr. and Freddie Roach and other boxing purists don’t particularly care for Sergio’s style. When it comes to boxing technique, they feel he lacks fundamentals; although, they begrudgingly agree he is a superior athlete. Consequently, they believed he could be “gotten to” and that JCC, Jr. would be able to do so Saturday night.
However, by the tenth round, Freddie had changed his mind, and offered an honest assessment between rounds. He expressed doubts about whether JCC, Jr. would be able to affectively deal with the tremendous speed Sergio possessed and pull off the necessary knockout he almost certainly needed to win the fight. Both Freddie and JCC, Sr. tried, with different styles, to let JCC, Jr. know he had to punch if he expected to have any chance of winning the fight. There’s a good chance JCC, Jr. already knew that.
In their different states of emotion, Freddie and JCC, Sr. got their points across. Freddie calmly told JCC, Jr. he wanted him to exchange with Sergio. In other words, when Sergio punched, Freddie wanted JCC, Jr. punching. The more animated JCC, Sr. yelled at JCC, Jr. to “….quit worrying about being set and throwing the perfect punch………just punch”! Well, easier said than done when you’re facing a kind of a Willie Pep type or Will-of-the Wisp type fighter, who is moving here, there and everywhere. You can just imagine JCC, Jr. thinking, “Nail this #^*_……feet to the floor, and I’ll take care of him”!
With only two rounds left in the fight, there was no apparent hope for JCC, Jr. to change things for the better. It looked as though he was going to be shutout. But, like the losing baseball team, this wasn’t a no-hitter. JCC, Jr. had gotten through with some pretty good shots to both the head and body. However, that almost made things worse, because his punches didn’t seem to carry power he envisioned they would. On those few occasions when he would spark somewhat of an attack, Sergio would come right back with his own rapid fire assault, once again driving JCC, Jr. back into defensive mode.
However, with great athletic type fighters like Muhammad Ali and Roy Jones, Jr, they are often not technically sound. They don’t have to be. Their physical skills are so superior to those of their opponents that they can get away with things like carrying their hands too low, and moving straight back, etc. They taunt their opponents with sins of omission, but more importantly dazzle them with hand and foot speed, feints and fakes, and the constant need to reset or reposition themselves so they can punch. It’s very frustrating and demoralizing. That seemed to be the case for JCC, Jr. going into the championship rounds Saturday night.
Put it another way. It didn’t look like JCC, Jr. had a prayer. He had lost every round, and was on his way to an embarrassing one-sided loss. Sergio was going to be vindicated, and JCC. Jr. was going to be exposed as someone less than deserving of a title belt.
However, when something or someone is not technically sound, difficulties can arise when least expected. The person experiencing the problem wants to say, “Please Stand By” so they can rectify things, but in the ring there’s no time. It’s almost like waving a red flag during a bull fight. El Toro wants to close in and send the vulnerable fighter into the air. In the 12th round, Sergio had let himself get positioned up against the ropes. Still no problem, he’d done that before without penalty. But, then he got tagged with a good right hand. It temporarily froze him. For once in the fight, he was motionless. No problem, right? A technically sound fighter still has the where with all to clinch, block, parry, slip or duck the next shot or even volley. There are some “dangerous when hurt” type fighters who instinctively will nail you with a counter shot, sometimes not even realizing what they’ve just managed to do.
That’s not the case when a fighter his not technically sound, as is Sergio. In Sergio’s case, when he becomes stationery, he provides his opponent with a golden opportunity. That happened Saturday, JCC. Jr. when late in the 12th round, JCC, Jr. got through with a right hand. It was like a little kid at Christmas, grabbing at his gift, ripping open the paper to reveal what was hidden. He liked what he saw, and kept ripping away, landing a good solid left hook to the right side of Sergio’s head. In his excitement, he missed with a second right, but then got through with another left hook, which landed on the point of the chin. It was a beautifully placed punch. He wanted more and followed that one up with yet another that bounced off Sergio’s head. Finally, Sergio tried to clinch. Normally when he does so, it’s a tactical effort. He keeps his feet moving to one side or the other, attempting to keep his opponent off balance, but now his legs weren’t under him. As a result, JCC Jr. pushed him, and then tossed him off. Sergio fell to the canvas, and a knockdown was signaled by the referee.
Amazingly Sergio climbed to his feet. His facial expression told you everything about his condition. He was in big trouble, but only seconds remained in the fight. Could he weather the storm? Not to worry, Sergio proved he is a champion, the type of champion Jack Dempsey once described as having the ability to get up when he can’t. After taking the hard, brain rattling shots he did, a lesser fighter wouldn’t have been able to even get up, let alone stay on his feet under yet another assault. Sergio proved he has a great champion’s heart and courage, and he not only took several more shots, he was punching back before the final bell sounded.
That was bad news for JCC, Jr., because there was no hope he could win a decision. In a way, it didn’t matter. His last minute rally gave both him and his fans the needed shot in the arm they so desperately desired to recoup their faith in all they deemed right with boxing. Mexican fans once again had their hero, even though somewhat tarnished and without his title. It didn’t matter. It was a bit like that old saying about losing the battle, but winning the war. They could now firmly declare that when these two warriors meet again, which is inevitable, their hero will be victorious. Going into Saturday, they tried to convince themselves he could do it. Now, after the 12th round, they know he can do it!