Photos: Mary Ann Owen
Experience versus youth is one of the ingredients that make a contest compelling, and this is what we have when Sergio Martinez meets Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in Saturday’s middleweight title fight in Las Vegas.
Martinez, the 37-year-old Argentinean southpaw who now lives and trains in Oxnard, CA, is the veteran, a boxer possessed of considerable guile and who is fast and dangerous. Chavez, 26-year-old son of perhaps Mexico’s greatest-ever fighter, brings pressure, heavy hands and superior physical strength.
The fight, on PPV from the Thomas & Mack Center, is a clash of champions, Chavez risking the WBC middleweight title while Martinez, generally considered the best in the world at 160lbs, holds the WBC’s Diamond belt.
It is a fight that once looked unlikely to be made due to a perceived gulf in class but the gap has narrowed: Chavez has been looking formidable while Martinez has shown signs of slippage.
Even though Martinez is the betting favourite at odds of around -200, the feeling in the game is that the fight is one that Chavez can win. Chavez’s promoter, Top Rank, has a history of making big fights at the right time for its star performers. Have they got it right this time, though?
Martinez is a remarkable fighter, his hands-down style and constant movement making him a frustrating opponent to face, and he is capable of unleashing hard punches with startling suddenness from out of his southpaw style.
Both Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin had success against Martinez in the early rounds, though, and although Martinez pulled away to score late-round stoppages there was a hint of vulnerability.
Chavez’s strategy is no secret. He will be looking to keep on top of Martinez as much as possible, slow him down with body blows and keep the slicker, quicker boxer under pressure throughout the fight.
Two years ago Saturday’s fight would have looked like a mismatch but Chavez has improved since his gritty but struggling win over Sebastian Zbik. Trainer Freddie Roach has worked on tightening Chavez’s defence and improving his movement. Chavez has demonstrated an ability to shift position and attack from angles instead of always coming ahead in a straight line.
Even Chavez’s harshest critics agree that he is game and has a good chin, but there are doubters. Chavez’s work ethic and dedication have been questioned, but for a fight of this magnitude it is difficult to imagine Chavez being anything less than 100% prepared physically and mentally.
Freddie Roach sees intelligent pressure as the key. “Martinez is good at setting traps and we’ve got to watch out for that,” Roach said over the phone from Los Angeles. “We don’t want to give this guy room to breathe. I think Julio will be too young, too big and too strong and I think we can get Martinez out of there late in the fight.”
Martinez is likely to be landing sharp punches but Chavez might be able to negate the older man’s savvy by staying on top of him.
It is the size and strength of Chavez, the ability to apply sustained pressure, that suggest to me that this is going to be a gruelling, difficult fight for Martinez.
There was a relentless quality about Chavez in his wins over Marco Antonio Rubio and Andy Lee. In each of these fights Chavez gained momentum as the fights progressed.
Chavez is huge for a 160-pounder, and HBO’s Jim Lampley has referred to him as “the Mack truck of the middleweight division”. While Andy Lee is no Sergio Martinez, he can box and he can bang a bit, but he couldn’t keep Chavez at bay. Even when Chavez was being outboxed and outscored one always had the impression that he would eventually overpower Lee.
While Chavez isn’t what you would call a polished boxer, he does what he does very well indeed. Chavez keeps coming and he doesn’t waste that many punches. He likes to get up close and unload heavy hooks to the body and uppercuts through the middle. Martinez is elusive but both Barker and Macklin were able to land punches in the early rounds. If Chavez can hit Martinez, he can hurt him.
Chavez has the look of a young man who will be difficult to discourage, and he will have the sellout crowd behind him.
Yet, while I believe that Chavez can get into the fight — and stay in it — winning the fight is another matter. I’ve gone back and forth on this but two days out from the fight, and before the weigh-in, I have the feeling, not a very strong one as the fight gets closer, that Martinez will probably be a little too smart and too skillful.
Note: This is an edited preview of the one I wrote for Boxing Monthly. At fightwriter.com I will be taking a look at the wagering aspects of the fight for subscribers after the weigh-in, plus the usual selection of previews on fights that have wagering lines offered.