Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Opinions and Observations: The Chavez/Donaire Card

Obviously, fighting at 181 pounds in a middleweight match is going to lead to some advantages. When they entered the ring on Saturday Night, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. had ten pounds on Marco Antonio Rubio, and he used the differential to establish his physical dominance. He leaned on Rubio, with his head, arms, shoulders and elbows. Chavez made the fight a bruising battle on the inside. Furthermore, Chavez delivered his customary punishment to his opponent's body. He dug left hooks, left uppercuts and right hooks to Rubio's stomach and sides all night.

Much was made of Chavez's problems with making weight prior to the fight (actually, this has been a theme throughout his career), but Chavez didn't let this issue affect him in the ring. When a fighter blows up in weight between the weigh-in and the bout, the boxer usually has one of two problems: he slacked in his training or he is fighting in the wrong weight class. For Chavez, both of these issues might actually be true but nevertheless, he was the fresher fighter in the last few rounds of the fight.

Chavez's team wants its fighter to continue at middleweight. It would be interesting to see what Chavez looks like in the ring with a full training camp. Most top fighters do 10 to 12-week training camps. Chavez often does no more than six weeks. Perhaps, if he dedicates himself a little more to the sport, we will see an even better fighter. However, it's possible that he is what he is at this point. Many fighters such as James Toney, Chris Arreola or Joan Guzman never reach their full potential in the sport because of their aversion to proper training. It's possible that Chavez, even with Freddie Roach and Alex Ariza, belongs on this list. Maybe he gets with the program and further improves; maybe, because of his training issues, his peak is right now.

Technically, Chavez has improved significantly under Roach. As opposed to the Sebastian Zbik fight where Chavez was hit with practically every right hand that Zbik threw, Chavez flashed some crafty defensive moves against Rubio. At times, he took a step or two back to nullify Rubio's offense. He also used subtle head movement and angles when coming in to land combinations. In addition, he did a better job at tucking his chin. Chavez will never be a defensive whiz, but he is progressing. He is no longer the piƱata that he was against Zbik. Interestingly, of the two fighters, it was Chavez who had the much higher connect percentage.

Chavez's right hand remains a work in progress. Occasionally he will throw it as a "show" punch, in order to land another left hook. Sometimes, he will throw a right hook to the body when he's in close with his opponent. Nevertheless, the right hand isn't a weapon yet at this point in his career. His one-handedness will be a major detriment as he faces better opposition. Instinctively, fighters circle to their right against an orthodox puncher to avoid his right hand. However, with Chavez, fighters can circle to their left to avoid Chavez's left-handed weapons. Fortunately, Chavez's recent opponents have come right at him. But if he faces a mover (such as Sergio Martinez), he will have a lot of problems without a real right hand.

Rubio is a solid pro. He's essentially a spoiler or a gatekeeper. If a fighter's off or not as good as advertised, Rubio can win. He doesn't have enough of an offensive variety to beat the best. Against Chavez, he displayed his limited arsenal: an ineffectual jab, a sharp right hand and a left hook to the body and head. He wins by wearing down opponents, but he couldn't make a dent in Chavez's 181-lb. frame. He won a few rounds based on a higher activity level and accurate punching, but not much more. He didn't embarrass himself but he had no clear path to victory, with the exception of Chavez collapsing because of his bad conditioning.

Nonito Donaire tried everything he possibly could to get Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. out of there. He started off as the aggressor, landing punishing left hooks and uppercuts. He used angles and movement to get different points of entry for his power shots. He turned southpaw in hopes of confusing Vazquez. He squatted and lunged in front of Vazquez, trying to explode from unconventional positions. He fell back and let Vazquez lead, hoping that Vazquez would open himself up more for counter shots. Donaire threw the kitchen sink at Vazquez, and the challenger survived the whole 12 rounds.

Donaire was shooting for the spectacular. He landed many eye-opening punches and combinations. The left hook at the end of third round was pulverizing. The combination which knocked down Vazquez in the 9th round – left uppercut followed by a left hook – was picture-perfect. However, he seemed frustrated by Vazquez's insistence on remaining in the fight. After all, Vazquez was fighting "Nonito Donaire." How dare he stay upright for 12 rounds!

This fight was a learning experience for Donaire. Not every opponent, especially a former champion from a rich boxing lineage, will be compliant and let you accomplish the spectacular. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to pile up the points and assert your dominance in that regard. It's not that Donaire got hit with a lot of hard shots by Vazquez, but he certainly got touched more than he had to. Ultimately, it's not worth it.

Questions will be raised regarding Donaire's power at junior featherweight. Donaire was not able to stop a boxer who was knocked out last year by Jorge Arce, another fighter who was moving up in weight. Ultimately, I think Donaire's power looked fine at junior featherweight. Vazquez kept a fairly tight defense throughout most of the fight and didn't really open up until the match's second half. This, of course, is a tacit admission of Donaire's power. If Vazquez didn't fear Donaire's power, he would have been much more aggressive.

It must be said that Donaire's right hand looked off almost the entire fight. He landed a couple of decent right hands in the 8th and 9th rounds but most of the night he was late or off-target. In addition, the right didn't have any real snap to it. Donaire's left hand is so dynamic that he can dominate guys like Vazquez with just the one hand. However, against crafty guys like Guillermo Rigondeaux or Toshiaki Nishioka, he will need a much more accurate right cross.

Ultimately, it was a very solid performance for Donaire against a good fighter, but there are things for him to work on, technically and mentally. Donaire must make his right hand a more reliable weapon. Maybe Vazquez would have stayed down if Donaire connected on a few more right crosses.  In addition, the best fighters often take what their opponents give them. For Donaire, if that means winning a dominant 12-round decision, then so be it. There wasn't a need for Donaire to take as many risks as he did against Vazquez just to earn a knockout. Bad things happen when you start letting your opponents hit you. If Donaire stays disciplined, he has the physical tools to beat anyone in the division. However, if he continues with needless risks, he can be had. The choice, actually, is his.

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