For eleven rounds, Julio César Chávez, Jr., resembled Jackie Bibby, the Fort Worth, Texas, man who holds the world record for lying in a tub full of rattlesnakes. Except, for Chávez, the snakes were biting—hard. But Chávez nearly pulled off a remarkable upset when he dropped Sergio Martinez with just over a minute to go in their sold-out fiesta at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Unable to finish a groggy Martinez, Chávez instead had to settle for losing a lopsided unanimous decision. Final scores were 118-109, 117-109, and 118-109.
Even before the opening bell rang, Chávez, 46-1-1-1 (32), looked like he was in for a long night. With a training regimen based on equal parts feng shui and pajama party etiquette, Chávez entered the ring with a “For Whom the Bells Toll” look about him. That he lasted as long as he did is testament to a perverse will that saw him play out the “No Pain, No Gain” mantra in the ring rather than in camp. It was a curious tradeoff. What Chávez calls training is merely an excuse to work up a sweat for a refreshing swim. Despite the fact that he went 12 rounds with the best middleweight in the world, scored a knockdown, and showed the mettle some suspected he lacked, one gets the feeling that his wayward attitude will never change. It was a credible performance for a man who was doubly cursed the moment he left his locker room: first by having to swap punches with a far superior fighter; and, second, by having a work ethic unequal to the arduous task he faced. Nothing less than a perfectly-trained Chávez was going to get the job done against Martinez last night, and when he decided to play Twister in his rented living room, he surrendered any chance he had of being competitive from bell to bell.
Not only did Chávez, Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico, appear to be poorly trained for this fight, but he also seemed at a loss as to how to deal with Martinez. Letting Martinez set up on the perimeter is a disastrous strategy for anyone who answers the bell against him. By far the most reliable way to be smacked around by a shifty southpaw with fast hands is to wade in without a jab, lean over to set your feet, and crank up left hooks from a distance. Chávez, 158, tipped off nearly everything he threw, and Martinez, 50-2-2 (28), was a step ahead of him for most of the night.
Chávez opened slowly, letting Martinez, 159, dictate the pace, and he never really gained steam during the first quarter of the bout. Over the next few rounds, Martinez rattled off quick shots while Chávez hopelessly chased after him. Now and then, Martinez, Oxnard, California via Buenos Aires, Argentina, would switch up and drive Chávez back with combinations thrown in rapid succession. Again and again Martinez, beat Chávez to the punch, and Chávez, blood dripping from his nose and mouth, an ugly welt forming above his left eye, began to wilt in the middle rounds. By then, Martinez was in command and he knew it. Before long, he was hot-dogging and winding up flashy windmill shots. Occasionally, Chávez managed to corner Martinez, where he tried to open up with both hands. A few lefts and some sweeping rights connected here and there, but Chávez had trouble landing his hook in the trenches. Turning his shoulder on the inside to create a small target, Martinez nullified many of the hooks Chávez hurled at him from close range.
More often than not, Chávez found himself often fighting like a man with two left feet, and his punch output dropped dramatically as Martinez worked him over from round to round. It is incredible to see a fighter like Martinez cross his feet right in front of his opponent without paying for it, but Chávez was not quick enough to take advantage of this schoolyard flaw. Nor could Chávez, 26, close the gap, however, and he settled for taking what he could get whenever Martinez allowed him on the inside.
Despite his futility, Chávez inched closer in the 11th as Martinez, 37, decelerated. Showing the moxie he neglects in training, Chávez willingly mixed it up with Martinez in hopes of landing a shot that would leave “Maravilla” hearing the sounds of distant accordions. In the 12th, Chávez bulled Martinez across the ring, where he landed a hard straight right. Seconds later, a left hook sent Martinez stumbling into the ropes like a man too friendly with aguardiente, and a followup barrage sent Martinez crashing in a heap of twisted limbs. A bloody Martinez beat the count and fought back as Chávez swarmed. With about a minute to go, Martinez gained a few precious seconds of rest when he slipped to the canvas after some grappling. He was slow getting up—likely by design—and rode out the perilous last forty-five seconds of the fight.
With the win, Martinez again demonstrated his unique style—to a sizeable audience, for once—and he now has a chance to earn the phantom popularity that was prematurely bestowed upon him by boxing fantasists across cyberspace. But you have to wonder—unless you happen to be a publicist or a moon-faced teenybopper, of course—if Martinez gets extra P-4-P Points for barely making it to the final bell against a fighter derided as a fraud for nearly a decade. That, no doubt, is a question for the self-appointed tastemakers in boxing to answer.
As for Chávez, he has been a running joke for years. Rumors, slights, and slurs have assailed Chávez the way angry honey bees assail those who disturb their hives. Will they stop now that he has lasted the distance against Martinez? Will they stop now that he fought through blood and fatigue while trailing badly on the scorecards against a middleweight whose mythomania has dominated boxing for over two years? Will they stop now that he was within a few punches of pulling off the improbable? You might as well lie down in a tub full of rattlesnakes if you can believe the answer is “yes.”