Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Notes from the Chavez Jr-Zbik Card

  • Let me open by saying that Julio Chavez, Jr. and Sebastian Zbik fought an outstanding, rough, physical battle.  Quite frankly, there wasn't too much excitement leading up to this fight, in that Chavez Jr. had been fed a slew of unthreatening opponents by Top Rank on his march to a title shot and Zbik was a paper champion with little power and few notable names on his resume.  Nevertheless, the two staged intense, determined trench warfare.  Kudos to both of them for making a great fight and for Top Rank's matchmakers in putting together an entertaining main event, even without the benefit of world-class boxers.

  • I scored the bout 115-113 for Chavez.  However, it was easy to pick Zbik as the winner.  The 10th round was the perfect example of the difficulty in scoring the fight.  Zbik landed numerous straight right hands and left hooks throughout the first half of the round.  Chavez rallied in the last minute with some punishing left hooks and even some right hooks, a punch you don't often see from an orthodox boxer.  Zbik landed more clean shots than Chavez did throughout the round, but Chavez's punches had a lot more sting and caused more damage.  The majority decision was perfectly acceptable, even though the judges had relatively wide differences in their scorecards.  You could make a case for each fighter winning up to eight rounds.

  • That segues perfectly into one of my personal boxing predilections.  I am a sucker for a good body puncher.  Nothing makes my blood boil as a fight fan as much as a great left hook to the liver.  And boy, does Chavez have that punch!  Chavez may still be a work in progress and he has all sorts of other flaws that I'll get to in a moment, but his almost pathological commitment to the body is worth the price of admission to any fight. 

  • Before I go into additional technical details about the fight, let me just say that the HBO telecast with Bob Papa, Roy Jones, Jr. and Max Kellerman was superlative, easily the most informative broadcast that I have seen on any network all year.  Each member of the broadcast team provided pivotal insights throughout the fight.  I started jotting a few of them down because they were completely on the mark.  The following statements are paraphrases from the broadcast: "Chavez should be fighting on the inside.  Forget what he trained for.  He should be fighting in close."  "The huge difference in weight could be a big factor in this fight."  "Zbik's footwork and aggressiveness seems to be deteriorating in this round because of Chavez's body shots."  "Zbik is landing clean combinations in every round."  "Zbik has not gone to the body at all."  "This has turned into a classic Chavez fight."  Although many of these themes were ideas that I would have discussed further on my own, there is no need to rehash HBO's wonderful work.

  • On my scorecard, Chavez won the fight in the 5th and the 11th rounds.  I had Zbik taking the first four rounds with clean, combination punching, although Chavez did land some memorable left hooks to the side and the liver.  In the 5th, Chavez positioned himself right on top of Zbik and just unloaded, unmercifully, with left hooks, right crosses and uppercuts.  He scored with a number of left hook-right cross combos and he ended the round with a beautiful left hook to the body-right hook to the head combination that hurt Zbik.  Chavez won most of the middle rounds by landing more authoritative punches.  I though Zbik pulled out the 9th and the 10th was a toss-up in which I slightly favored Chavez.  In the 11th, Chavez dug deep and pummeled Zbik with left and right hooks to the body.  He also threw a couple of right uppercuts and left hooks to the head.  Zbik looked dismayed as he walked back to the corner.  

  • Zbik fought bravely and came to America to win.  He essentially battled a cruiserweight and landed some great combinations.  Zbik had little power but he fought valiantly, if not always intelligently.  No one should question his courage, conditioning or heart.  He absorbed hundreds of menacing shots to the body from a man who outweighed him by 15 pounds.  There aren't many boxers who would have lasted 12 rounds fighting in that style.  Give Zbik credit for his tenacity.

  • However, let’s assign Zbik and his corner some major demerits.  If you face a guy who can't jab or do anything from the outside, why do you stand in front of him and fight toe-to-toe in the center of the ring?  Zbik should have used movement and angles, fighting selectively in spots throughout the rounds.  He should have made it an amateur-style fight, where he would throw quick combinations and get in and out without receiving too many punishing blows from Chavez.  He had superior defense and he should have used his vast amateur experience to dictate the style of the fight.  There is no reason why Zbik should have allowed Chavez the opportunity to throw hundreds of bombs on the inside.  Zbik engaged in Chavez's ideal fight, and lost. 

  • Chavez is a mess on defense.  He must learn better technique than just sticking his head out and absorbing shots.  Against a fighter with real power, Chavez won't be effective for 12 rounds without at-least an adequate defense.  Give him points for machismo but I know that Freddie Roach will be working intensely with Chavez on his fighter's defensive shortcomings.  Chavez didn't even try to slip, block or parry shots.  He just took them and kept coming.  Although there exist these romanticized, glorious Mexican fighter stereotypes about their ability to take punishment in the ring, there is no need to get hit with 50% of your opponent's shots.  That's just foolish and it isn't a recipe for future success.  Perhaps Chavez was completely unfazed by Zbik's power and will tighten up his defense when he faces a real puncher.  However, I remain skeptical about Chavez's ability to beat world-class fighters without significant improvement in this area.

  • I will say that Chavez does some nifty things on offense.  He uses some subtle footwork to ensure that he can land his left hook.  At times, he practically switched to southpaw just to connect with his left hand.  His body positioning and footwork enabled him to land his body shots with consistency, even though Zbik knew that the left hand was Chavez's primary weapon.  Chavez's uppercuts (both left and right hand) hit their mark throughout the fight.  Although they are not as well publicized as his left hook, Chavez's uppercuts are solid, accurate assets in the ring.

  • There was talk immediately after the fight that Chavez might face Miguel Cotto next.  I think the key factor in that fight will be the weight.  If the fight takes place at the middleweight limit or even at 158, I would favor Chavez.  If Chavez has to go down to 154, I think he would have to kill himself in training to make the weight.  I think Cotto wins at junior middleweight.  However, if the fight is close to the middleweight limit, I don't think Cotto's body will hold up for 12 rounds.  Even though Cotto has a great hook himself, as the old boxing adage says, "Don't hook a hooker."  Cotto didn't last against the pressure fighting of Margarito or Pacquiao, I'm not sure he could take 12 rounds of Chavez's vicious body assault in this phase of his career. 

  • Don't get used to seeing Chavez at middleweight for too much longer.  Just 23, Chavez barely made the 160 minimum and then rehydrated to 180 by the time the fight started.  His upper body still looks like it has a lot of filling out to do.  He did fight for 12 rough rounds and seemed to be in pretty good condition.  However, I'm not sure that middleweight is his ideal division.  I think he ultimately winds up at light heavyweight.  Wherever that sweet spot is, I would expect an increase in power.  Once Chavez has a few camps where he is spending his time learning the finer points of craft instead of using his training to shed pounds, I think some additional offensive improvement will take place.   

  • Mikey Garcia looked sensational in his fourth-round knockout against Rafael Guzman.  In his previous fight against Matt Remillard, Garcia was perhaps too patient in throwing his power shots.  Against Guzman, by the second round Garcia was already unloading vicious left hooks and punishing straight right hands.  By the fourth round, Garcia was tagging Guzman at will with the old 1-2.  The right hand that ended Guzman's night was magnificent. 

  • Garcia has demonstrated throughout his career that he can be a great counterpuncher.  Against Guzman, he showed that he can also finish opponents when he leads.  Garcia also possesses tremendous ring savvy and fights with a maturity that belies his 23 years of age.  Chavez is two years older than Garcia, but much further away from being a world-class fighter than Garcia is. 

  • My previous reservations about Garcia had nothing to do with his talent or technique.  Garcia clearly has two "A" punches with the left hook and the right hand.  I questioned his fighting temperament.  Against Guzman, Garcia showed that he could be an assassin.  I don't know if he's fought 12 tough rounds against a world-class fighter yet, but he may only be one fight away from taking on the best in the division.  With this performance, Garcia put the featherweight division on notice.  He could be a real star in the making. 

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