After years of mockery, innuendo, and torment, Julio César Chávez, Jr. gets his chance to legitimize himself when he faces two-fisted fashionista Sergio Martinez before a sold-out crowd at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, tomorrow night.
Like King Louis XVI—hectored, heckled, and harassed, yes, but thousands upon thousands gathered at the Place de la Révolution to watch him at the mercy of the guillotine—Chávez is as fascinating, one supposes, as an unpopular figure can be. Will Chávez get his head lopped off in Las Vegas, or will some deus ex machina intervene on his behalf?
Stranger things have happened in Sin City, of course, some that are even found on the record. But there are enough red flags surrounding Chávez these days you could stitch them together and drape Teotihuacánala with the finished product à la Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Of course, 24/7 is an infomercial designed to lure HBO subscribers (who already pay a monthly fee) into shelling out more lettuce for extracurricular programming, but seeing Chávez skip workouts, jog with a knee brace, and wake up at mid-day like the layabout he is often accused of being is disconcerting. Closed or secret training sessions—which marked his initial camp—are often the byproduct of injuries, and Chávez reportedly suffers from fallen arches, which may or may not have forced him to miss workout sessions early. Chávez, who had been moving from one place to another like a government witness going from safe house to safe house, has been at loose ends in Mexico and ensconced in a mansion in Hollywood Hills—like a Barrymore on a bender. He finally wound up in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, where he sometimes popped in for a workout at the Top Rank gym, and where he sometimes hit the mitts in swank digs completely at odds with the atmosphere of a professional prizefighter. Indeed, perhaps no boxer in history has moved so much furniture around in preparation for a big fight.
Meanwhile, not only does Martinez incorporate bicycling into his taxing regimen, but he also spends quite a bit of time zipped up in some sort of hyperbaric duffel bag.
But the real mystery surrounding this fight is how knocking over Andy Lee in June suddenly made Chávez some sort of threat to Martinez. You can find more magical thinking in boxing than you can in the pages of The Savage Mind. Still, there is no comparison between Martinez, 49-2-2 (28), and recent Chávez foes like Lee and Marco Antonio Rubio. Lee is a competent fighter, but he is as brittle as ancient crockery, and when Chávez turned it up, Lee disintegrated into a thousand little shards. Martinez, alas, will not go so easily. Not the living legend his fan club makes him out to be—this includes an infatuated media corps where you can find a publicist under nearly every keyboard—Martinez is nevertheless a world-class prizefighter whose unflappability is a mark of true professionalism.
Although Chávez showed a bit of versatility against Peter Manfredo, Jr., last November, he is essentially a banger who, despite his height, likes to work in the trenches. Not only is Chávez, 46-0-1-1 (32), a pressure fighter with an iffy defense, but he also appears vulnerable to southpaws as well. Martinez, Oxnard, California via Buenos Aires, Argentina, seems too fast and too mobile for a fighter as lumbering as Chávez. At 37, Martinez may be on the slide—as his struggles with Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin hint—but surely he has enough to outbox a fairly raw inside specialist. Without a persistent jab, without sure-footedness, without an attack based on angles, Chávez, 26, looks like he will be in for a real harrowing.
Lolling around in his pool, wearing pink underwear, and spooning cereal into his mouth, there is, at times, an almost childlike quality surrounding Chávez. You almost expect him to set up a pillow fort in the ring before the opening bell. Martinez, by contrast, has brought a menacing air to the promotion, one that makes him appear both focused and sour.
While some still believe that Chávez, Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico, draws thousands—and produces blockbuster TV ratings—on name value alone, the truth is he has also earned a following due to his style. Unlike manufactured stars like Chad Dawson—who resembles a repressed Victorian in the ring half the time—Chávez all but guarantees action between the ropes. This concept is quickly becoming a relic in a sport now dominated by network suits and a clueless media apparatus that often doubles as a PR machine for fight racket power structures. Chávez went toe-to-toe against John Duddy, Sebastian Zbik, Andy Lee, and Marco Antonio Rubio in the last two years—providing what this industry needs most—entertainment. Because Martinez is also an exciting fighter—and because neither man frequents novelty shops for fake chest hair—this matchup has raised the collective blood pressure of afoxidandos everywhere. So, too, has the narrative of the fight itself: a Rich Man, Poor Man contrast played out with gloves. Chávez was a Richie Rich wastrel; at times, Martinez did not even own a pair of shoes. Chávez, on the other hand, probably had a walk-in closet full of them, like Imelda Marcos. Chávez made money without being an HBO ward; Martinez left Argentina to fight in boxing hotbeds like Andalusia and Ibiza. Now, they meet between the ropes, where meritocracy and social Darwinism rule. Connections, heraldry, race, tax brackets, good looks—none of that will matter at the Thomas and Mack Center.
“Logic does not exist in boxing,” Chávez said during Face Off. He will have a chance to prove his pithy theory tomorrow night, under the lights, live, so to speak, from the inferno.
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