By Keith Idec
NEW YORK — Bob Arum didn’t lie when he people asked about making Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. versus Sergio Martinez before the middleweight title fight finally came together last month.
The Hall-of-Fame promoter just wasn’t willing to publicly speak the truth about protecting Chavez from a fighter he and his trusted matchmakers at Top Rank Inc. knew Chavez was not equipped physically or mentally to challenge until earlier this year. Arum admitted at The Edison Ballroom that they exercised extreme caution while waiting for the son of Mexico’s most famous fighter to develop into a credible challenger for boxing’s best middleweight.
“When we were sitting around like this and talking about some of [Chavez’s] other fights,” Arum said, “and people would say, ‘When is he going to fight Martinez, who’s the real middleweight champion,’ I would divert the conversation. So people would say, ‘Arum is having Chavez duck Martinez.’ And everybody was right. That was the truth. He wasn’t ready to fight him. And now he’s ready. That doesn’t necessarily guarantee he’s going to win, but I think he is very competitive and I give him an excellent chance to win this fight.”
Arum emphasized that it wasn’t the bigger, stronger and younger Chavez (46-0-1, 32 KOs) who wasn’t willing to meet Martinez (49-2-2, 28 KOs) before they eventually agreed to terms for an HBO Pay-Per-View main event Sept. 15 at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
“The one who was chicken was his promoter,” a laughing Arum said, mocking himself. “I didn’t want to do it.”
Lou DiBella, Martinez’s promoter, and Arum exchanged a hi-five after Arum acknowledged his previous fear of matching Chavez against Martinez. DiBella understands, however, why Arum and his advisors altered their opinions once the 26-year-old Chavez showed so much improvement in successive victories over Sebastian Zbik (30-2, 10 KOs), Peter Manfredo Jr. (37-7, 20 KOs), Marco Antonio Rubio (54-6-1, 47 KOs) and Andy Lee (28-2, 20 KOs) over the past 13 months.
“They did the right thing because they waited until they thought he could win the fight,” DiBella said. “That’s what happened and they believe they’re going to win. And two years ago, they would’ve gotten their asses kicked all over the ring, and they knew it.
“The kid is a different fighter now. He’s also [f***ing] huge. He’s huge. This is not an ordinary-sized middleweight. This is a huge middleweight, the biggest middleweight in the division, like [Kelly] Pavlik used to be. And Sergio’s a small middleweight. I’m worried about this fight.”
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and BoxingScene.com.