By Graham Houston
In the U.S. the big fight of the weekend was Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. outpointing Marco Antonio Rubio, in Europe it was the cruiserweight championship war in Germany that saw Yoan Pablo Hernandez win a unanimous decision over Steve Cunningham in their rematch.
Chavez looked huge at a fight-night weight of 181 pounds and Rubio couldn’t budge him. Rumours of less-than-ideal preparation (trouble making weight, a drink-driving charge in Los Angeles that was revealed the day of the fight) raised hopes for Rubio backers but this was like boxers from different weight divisions meeting.
Even though Chavez back-pedalled and coasted occasionally, perhaps to conserve energy, he was mostly bullying Rubio and banging him around.
Rubio had seemed to be a harder hitter in past fights than he was in this bout. I didn’t see the solid right hands that I was expecting Rubio to throw, although he landed enough short punches on the inside to have Chavez’s right eye swollen.
Emanuel Steward noted in the HBO commentary that despite his impressive KO statistics Rubio isn’t really that big a puncher, more the type who wears down his opponents. It didn’t help Rubio, of course, that he was hitting a man who outweighed him by 10 pounds on the night.
Chavez has improved noticeably in the last year. He isn’t getting hit as much, he is showing the ability to move, and his punches are flowing more naturally. Even though his dedication remains in some doubt, technically Chavez is far better than he was even a year ago. This doesn’t make him the best middleweight in the world, but he can fight and he provides entertaining bouts, and that’s not a bad combination.
In Germany, Hernandez and Cunningham showed that the cruiserweights can provide classic contests although aficionados were already aware of this — Holyfield vs Qawi, Toney vs Jirov and more recently Adamek vs Briggs I and II and Adamek vs Cunningham were riveting bouts.
It was almost amazing that Cunningham was able to survive a hellish fourth round that saw him dropped twice. Cut over the right eye, Cunningham pushed forward from the fifth and managed to will his way into the fight. In the end, though, his southpaw Cuban opponent was too young, too fast and hit too hard.
I must hold up my hands and say that in the first fight between them I thought that Hernandez was showing signs of not wanting to be there when Cunningham piled on the pressure and hurt him to the body. This time, it seemed to me that Hernandez was mentally ready for the best that Cunningham could bring and even seemed to be enjoying the exchanges. Cunningham just couldn’t quite impose his authority. Every time you thought that the fight was tilting Cunningham’s way, Hernandez would come back with impressive combinations, and he hurt Cunningham in the last round to set the seal on what I thought was a convincing victory. It is fights such as this that keep fans intrigued.