By Jake Donovan
Regardless of what anyone thought of the fight taking place on a network as prestigious as HBO, the feeling going in to the middleweight title bout between Julio Cesar Chavez Jr and Peter Manfredo was going to be action packed for however long it lasted.
A fun fight was exactly what was offered on Saturday evening, much to the delight of the rabid crowd of approximately 5,000 fans on hand at the Reliant Arena in Houston, Texas. Even more of a treat for the heavily-Mexican attended event was the ending, which saw Chavez Jr make the first successful defense of his title with a fifth round stoppage of Manfredo in their televised main event.
Both fighters came within the middleweight limit. Manfredo Jr was 159.4 lb, rehydrating to 178 lb by fight night. Chavez was a fit 159.8 lb at the weigh-in, gaining nearly 20 lb by the opening bell.
Chavez Jr picked up one tradition from his legendary father, who was a notoriously slow starter. The first round was a feel-‘em out process for both fighters. Manfredo scored with a left hook early, while Chavez Jr moved around the ring in search of his comfort zone. He found an early home for his jab, which drew blood from Manfredo’s nose midway through the round.
Action picked up in the second round, with the house favorite controlling the action. A combination up the middle had Manfredo covering up along the ropes, and Chavez repeatedly targeted the body with jabs and right hands. His vastly improved footwork made for a difficult target, although Manfredo scored late in the round with a right hand that backed up the defending titlist.
Chants of “Mexico” reached a fevered pitch in a wildly entertaining third round. Chavez Jr drew a rise out of the crowd after connecting with a right hand, though Manfredo shook his head insisting that the punch looked better than its true impact. A left hook later in the round caught the attention of the New England native, who charged forward in response.
His attempted rally was thwarted by loose tape, though both fighters atoned for the break with a thrilling exchange at the bell. Manfredo took it one step further, with the tail end of a one-two coming after the bell, though immediately acknowledging it as Chavez Jr grinned while walking back to his corner.
The fists continued to fly in the fourth, with Chavez Jr. repeatedly connecting upstairs. Not to be outdone, Manfredo came storming back, wailing away at the body and scoring with right hands up top. Chavez Jr shook off the blows and returned fire, as a right hand and left hook drew the crowd to its feet. Both fighters slowed as the round progressed, though Chavez Jr. finished strong with a three-punch combination just before the bell.
Manfredo’s best moments of the fight came and went in a fifth round that began strong but ended all wrong. A right hand caught the attention of Chavez Jr., leading Manfredo to believe now was the best moment to move in for the kill.
All he did was awake a sleeping giant.
Chavez Jr shook off the temporary pain and connected with a right hand that caused Manfredo to shake his head in disbelief. The unbeaten Mexican wasted no time in attempting to close the show, drilling the challenger with a flurry of head shots.
Manfredo was rocked several times as he struggled to steady himself along the ropes. Chavez Jr. didn’t let up, prompting referee Laurence Cole to move in and rescue Manfredo just as he was attempting to clinch in hopes of buying some time to clear his head.
Instead, he was left to be consoled along the ropes by the third man and ringside medical staff, while Chavez Jr began his well-deserved celebration.
The official time was 1:52 of the fifth round.
Arguably his finest moment as a pro to date, Chavez Jr was pleased with his performance as well as the work put into the training camp leading up to this fight.
“We worked on defense, defense, defense in the gym,” Chavez Jr said of the fact that he wasn’t hit nearly as often as had been the case in past fights, as evidenced by Manfredo’s low 24% connect percentage. “The plan was to box and eventually move in.”
Things went exactly as planned for the 25-year old budding star, who improves to 44-0-1 (31KO) with the win, his third of what has become a breakout 2011 campaign.
Moving in the opposite direction, Manfredo has a six-fight win streak come to an end as he falls to 37-7 (20KO). Leading into the fight, the former reality star insisted that this would be it if he were not victorious. His post-fight commentary left open thoughts on whether or not he’d call it a career, but was displeased with how his latest title shot ended.
“I knew what I was up against; I knew I couldn’t win,” said a dejected Manfredo, suggesting that a quick stoppage had taken place. “They stopped the fight. They didn’t give me a chance.”
Unfortunately for the personable Providence fighter, one more opportunity doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Bigger fights are on the horizon for Chavez Jr in 2012, beginning with a mandatory challenger who also happens to double as the World lineal middleweight champ.
Chavez Jr doesn’t care who he’s matched up against, just as long as he gets to prove his worth and further silence his mountain of critics.
“I want to fight the best. Sergio Martinez is a great champ. I’ll fight Martinez, (Saul) Canelo Alvarez, whoever is out there.”
An eight-fight undercard preceded the HBO-televised main event between Julio Cesar Chavez Jr and Peter Manfredo, which airs live from the Reliant Arena in Houston, Texas.
In the evening’s chief support, super welterweight prospect Jose Pinzon scored a unanimous decision over Larry Smith in a tedious eight round affair. Scores were 79-72 across the board in a bout that was repeatedly met with boos. Pinzon (21-2-1, 13KO) scored a third round knockdown of Smith (10-8, 7KO), perhaps the lone bright spot in an otherwise forgettable fight.
Unbeaten prospect Wale “Lucky Boy” Omotoso showed skill, heart and endurance in outlasting Lanardo Tyner in an entertaining eight-round affair. Scores were 79-73 (twice) and 78-74 for Nigerian-born Omotoso (20-0, 17KO), who wins in his second straight stateside appearance. Tyner falls to 25-5-2 (15KO) but his antics made for a fun fight that will earn him returning assignments.
Alex Saucedo couldn’t have asked for a more appropriate setting for his pro debut. The former amateur standout was a huge hit with the crowd, who didn’t seem to mind only getting a brief glimpse as he flattened Curtis Sheppard at 2:28 of the first round. Saucedo (1-0, 1KO) was in control throughout the brief affair, ending with Sheppard (0-2) flattened from a chin shot and stopped as he arose to rubber legs.
Lightweight prospect Mickey Bey was fortunate to escape with undefeated record still intact, in taking a highly disputed unanimous decision over Hector Velazquez. Scores were 76-75, 77-74 and an investigation-worthy 78-73.
Bey (18-0-1, 9KO) was floored in the second round by a left hook and spent most of the fight battling his way back, but was given the benefit of the doubt on the cards. An unspecified injury took place at some point in the bout, as he was spotted at ringside afterward with his right hand wrapped in a soft cast and in a sling.He was also given a chorus of boos in the end, while Velazquez (51-17-3-1NC, 35KO) was given a hero’s salute upon leaving the ring.
Local featherweight prospect Ivan Otero (7-0-1, 1K) was forced to work in order to preserve his unbeaten record, as he boxed his way to a four-round unanimous decision over Gino Escamilla (5-11-1, 2KO). Scores were 38-38 even and 40-36 and 39-37 for Otero in a bout that drew genuine cheers from the raucous fans on hand for the preliminary action.
Former welterweight titlist Joshua Clottey returned to the ring for the first time in 20 months, scoring a second round knockout of Dallas-based journeyman Calvin Green. A left hook ended matters at 1:56 of the second round.
All it took on this night was one punch to get the job done. A left hook floored Green, where he rolled around before getting up on unsteady legs, prompting the immediate stoppage.
The win is Clottey’s first in more than three years as he improves to 36-4 (21KO), as he has been forced to an extended layoff plagued by frustration and the politics of the sport. Green falls to 10-8 (7KO) in dropping his third straight.
Local featherweight prospect Luis Zarazua improved to 2-0 when he defeated Ricardo Avilipa (1-6) via unanimous decision. The scores were 40-36 on all three scorecards. Zarzua used his speed and punching power to cruise to the easy victory. (Ryan Burton at ringside)
Light heavyweight prospect Marcus Johnson (21-1) bounced back from his April upset loss to Dyah Davis when he defeated William Bailey (10-13) via six round unanimous decision. The scores were 60-53 twice and 60-52. Johnson simply overpowered his out of shape foe who could do little more than try to use his weight to push around his much more talented opponent. (Ryan Burton at ringside)
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to JakeNDaBox@gmail.com