Friday, September 14, 2012

Chavez-Martinez: Keys to the Fight

The biggest middleweight fight of the year takes place on Saturday, featuring the number-one 160-lber in the world, Sergio Martinez (49-2-2, 28 KOs), against the famous Mexican boxing scion, titlist Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (46-0-1, 32 KOs). There's no love lost between the two fighters as Chavez holds Martinez's former middleweight belt and has avoided a battle with Martinez for over 18 months.

The stakes are high for both. For Chavez, after a long developmental period, he has become one of the top fighters in the division. A win against Martinez would earn him a hero's welcome in his native Mexico and put to rest any lingering claims of being a manufactured champion. Martinez views this fight as an opportunity to cement his legacy as the best middleweight of his era. Read below for the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article.

1. How good is Chavez's chin?
Although Chavez has improved his defense over the last two years working with Freddie Roach, he still gets hit a ton. To this point, his chin has held up well against fighters such as Andy Lee, Marco Antonio Rubio, Peter Manfredo and Sebastian Zbik. However, only Lee from that group could be considered a real puncher.

Throughout his career, Chavez has prided himself on taking his opponents' best shots and continuing to move forward, but he has never faced the combination of power and speed that Martinez brings into the ring. Martinez's counter left hand, which is short and concussive, is one of the best punches in boxing. This fight will really prove whether or not Chavez inherited his father's famous granite chin. Make no mistake; he'll get hit, he'll get hit hard and he'll get hit often. How well he can take these shots is the critical factor in the fight.

2. Who wants a round?
Both fighters can give away rounds. Chavez, typical of a pressure fighter, can be a deliberate starter as he looks for ways to come forward. Against both Zbik and Lee, he rallied from early deficits to secure wins. Martinez can lose rounds by being too clever by half. He feints, poses, dances and shakes, but these moves don't always equate to letting his hands go. Martinez certainly uses these moments to lay traps for later in his fights, but on a round-by-round basis, he can be bested by activity.

Martinez may not be too concerned about dropping a few rounds, but he should be. He's become too knockout happy. With his jousts, selective pressure and cerebral approach to boxing, he's convinced that the big shot will come. It certainly happened against Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin, fighters who had early success but were worn down by Martinez's ring generalship and power shots. For Barker, Martinez's right hook turned the tide in the fight while Macklin fell victim to the counter left hand. With that said, Martinez's recent ring efforts have left little margin for error.

If Chavez can take Martinez's best punch, will Martinez have given away too many rounds looking for the knockout blow that never materialized? If Martinez decides to up his punch output, will it take Chavez too long to get into the fight?

3. How's the body, Sergio?
Martinez is one of the best conditioned athletes in the sport. His stamina, legs and footwork are separators that have enabled him to ascend to the top of the sport. They have also contributed to his prowess in the later rounds of a fight. However, what 37-year-old wants to be drilled to the body repeatedly? (What fighter, period, wants that?) Martinez has claimed that he is actually a much younger fighter in the ring because he hasn't taken a lot of punishment and he maintains a healthy lifestyle between fights. This theory of his will be put to the test because Chavez has a pathological love of crippling left hooks to the body.

Looking over Martinez's most recent opponents, a top body puncher is not on the list. Barker and Macklin both went to the body but they lacked real power. Serhiy Dzinziruk could go the body but he was never really in the fight. Kelly Pavlik and Paul Williams were both notorious headhunters. In short, Martinez, during his recent run, has never faced a committed body puncher like Chavez. It's one thing for the body to hold up against token punches; it's another thing for it to survive constant trauma. How well Martinez limits Chavez's body attack and recovers from the shots he does take will help determine whether he can last 12 rounds, let alone raise his arms at the end of the fight.

4. This isn't your older brother's Sergio Martinez.
Despite his impressive athleticism and hand and foot speed, Martinez, like many advanced fighters, has become much more of a pocket fighter. Far removed from the boxer of the first Paul Williams match, when he used the ring expertly at points to thwart Williams' aggression, Martinez now likes to remain in the pocket. With feints and subtle angles, he stays in front of his opponents in hopes of landing power shots.

Fortunately for Chavez, this is exactly where he wants the fight. Chavez prefers his opponents right in front of him to land his left hooks, uppercuts and right hooks (occasionally, he will mix in a straight right hand as well). If this is the geography of the fight, the bout will be a battle of Martinez's home run shots versus Chavez's grinding body blows. This will be the ultimate test of which fighter's ring attributes are superior.

Martinez could make the match easier for himself by stinking out the fight, moving around the ring constantly and engaging only selectively. However, he's demonstrated that he's a fighter who yearns for the spectacular. I don't expect him to turn in a technical performance in hopes of winning a decision. Although he does possess the attributes to win with his legs, I believe that he lacks the inclination to do so; he would rather inflict pain and wow fans. For Chavez, he knows no other way but to come forward.

5. Will Martinez get a fair shake from the judges?
Chavez is the bigger name. He'll be the one drawing the crowd. He's defending the WBC belt, given by an organization based in Mexico whose president, Jose Sulaiman, has a close, personal history with the Chavez family. The fight's in Vegas, where judges typically favor the aggressor, which figures to be Chavez. Chavez's promoter, Bob Arum, is based in Vegas and has probably done more for the sport in Nevada than any other current boxing figure, with the possible exceptions of Floyd Mayweather or Oscar de la Hoya. On the surface, things may not look too sanguine for Martinez's chances in pulling out a decision.

However, with these caveats – which are legitimate concerns – Martinez drew a fair slate of judges. With Dave Moretti (U.S. - Nevada), Adalaide Byrd (U.S. - Nevada) and Stanley Christodoulou (South Africa), judging for this fight SHOULD be reasonable. All three have vast title fight and international experience. They are more than capable of scoring the bout accurately, without succumbing to the bad Nevada practice of awarding rounds for ineffective aggression.

Byrd has become one of my favorite judges, accurately scoring the Brandon Rios-Richard Abril fight for the underdog, Abril, differing from the two other judges in the fight. She also correctly scored the Maidana-Morales bout in favor of the boxer who did more, not the sentimental favorite.

Moretti has been a fight staple for decades (he judged Holmes-Cooney in 1982!) but his cards, unlike those of fellow Vegas veteran judges like Jerry Roth and Duane Ford, have remained excellent. He's not a slave to the "aggressor."

Christodoulou is a well-regarded referee and judge. He's been a boxing fixture for over a generation. He will often award rounds to the fighter who connects with the more definitive punches instead of the one who lands with the higher volume of shots. (My kind of judge!) He was the one judge who correctly scored Lewis-Holyfield I for Lewis and has no problem going against the house fighter, scoring Trout-Alvarez in Mexico for Trout, Moreno-Monshipour in France for Moreno and Caballero-Barros in Argentina for Caballero. He can be a wild card in some fights and does have a slight Felix Sturm bias. (I don't know if that's relevant in this fight, but it's worth putting it out there.)

There's never a guarantee that any set of judges will come to a just boxing decision, but on paper, Martinez should be in a good position to win a decision if he earns it.

This will be a war of attrition. The first few rounds will be feeling out frames as Chavez tries to get inside and Martinez plans his strategy, attempting to find the appropriate range and angles. Martinez should be able to put a few early rounds in the bank.

Martinez will eventually let Chavez come forward, so he can land his bombs. Chavez takes a number of them and starts to score with his body shots. Many rounds will be close, where Martinez will land the flashier shots while Chavez digs consistently to the body. Chavez will have a higher punch output and will be able to prevail in a number of the middle frames.

As the fight continues, Martinez will realize that he won't be able to knock Chavez out and he'll make a concerted effort to win rounds, despite Chavez's increasing success in landing his own punches. Expect a tremendous final third of the match, with both fighters giving it their all in hopes of securing the victory.

It will be a tense fight with periods of scintillating action, but it's going the distance. Both Chavez's chin and Martinez's body will hold up. I think Martinez's work in the early rounds in the fight in addition to a late rally will give him the seven rounds he needs to win the match, but I don't think that all three judges will necessarily see it the same way.

Sergio Martinez defeats Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. by split decision.

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