By Cliff Rold
For most of eleven rounds, the challenger looked like he trained by oversleeping and eating Cheerios in pink drawers. The son of the man many hail as the greatest Mexican Fighter of all-time wasn’t living up to his lineage.
After years of carefully selected foes and high sanctioning body ratings he hadn’t earned, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. had slowly become a respectable. A paper WBC title win over the unproven Sebastian Zbik gave him valuable real estate at Middleweight. Defenses against Marco Antonio Rubio and Andy Lee gave him the look of a fighter to be taken serious.
In the sort of circumstance only boxing’s fractured title picture could provide, Chavez found himself the hunted by the one man he should have been chasing all along: lineal World Middleweight Champion Sergio Martinez.
From the moment Martinez was forced to give up the WBC title due to a confluence of network interests and boxing politics, his sights had been set. He wanted the kid. He said it was about the belt. It was really about the moment the kid could provide.
For all his talent, for all his success, Martinez has failed to create much of a market for himself. He was the real Middleweight Champion of the World and he desperately needed a platform to express that to the world; to make it matter.
For eleven rounds, he had it. While Chavez showed some spots of offense, what fans got was a show. Martinez was too fast, too slick, and too good. He was the seasoned pro, the man who earned his way in the ring. Chavez was there to take his lesson.
The younger man had some more luck as the fight grew late, the legs of the 37-year old champion slowing just enough to let the younger man land. He might even have won the eleventh on a charitable scorecard.
Then came the final round.
In 1990, his father had come from well behind to drop Meldrick Taylor and force a stoppage with only two seconds left on the clock. It was the fight where Chavez forged his legend. Jr. almost equaled the feat.
A right hand visibly rocked Martinez, who fought back through the fog. Backed to the ropes, a savage left hook had him shaking in the breeze and two more deposited him on the floor. After a fight largely devoid of drama, the crowd was on its feet.
Anyone who was watching at home was surely on theirs as well. More than a fair share of couches certainly bore footmarks.
Could it happen again? The question hung over every remaining second. The last half of the round was like the best Hollywood chase scene, boxing’s version of the “French Connection” as Chavez looked to close the miracle.
He didn’t. Martinez survived, even firing back just enough to keep it honest late in the frame. He finally had his moment, his platform, and he made sure he got the win. Millions who missed the fight saw the moment in replays on Sports Center as the birth of a new output deal with HBO meant ESPN, finally, could give sports viewers real highlights on the nights when the sport needs them.
It was a fitting end. The kid with talent and a lack of professionalism got just close enough to have to take a long look in the mirror. The man who did it the hard way, the long way, left with the belt of the pretender to his throne.
It was a hell of a three-minute ride. It was the BoxingScene 2012 Round of the Year.
Orlando Salido-Juan Manuel Lopez (9): (Three (3) first-place votes received) – Coming off the deck in round five, Salido found himself in another epic struggle with the man he’d upset in 2011 for a piece of the Featherweight crown. It didn’t get any better than round nine. As reported on fight night:
No matter your style preference, who won the ninth round can forever be debated as long as the argument concludes with the agreement that there hasn’t been a better round in recent memory.
Salido fought as if he had wounded prey in front of him, but Lopez took a major risk that reaped major benefits in going for broke. The former two-division threw savagely to the body, forcing the Mexican to back off ever so slightly, just enough to allow for a two-way brawl to ensue. Both fighters threw every punch with the intention of knocking the other out, though neither fighter conceded.
The round ended in a well-deserved standing ovation…
The fight ended one round later, Salido finishing Lopez and extending his reign as WBO champion. For three minutes, champion described them both.
Juan Manuel Marquez-Manny Pacquiao (5): (Two (2) first place votes received) – The shock of seeing Manny Pacquiao down for the first time in four Marquez fights came in the third round of this Welterweight brawl. His fifth knockdown of Marquez in the series came in a hellacious fifth round that was just getting ready to roar. Marquez took a sneaky left and suffered a balance knockdown, never really leaving his feet as his glove scraped the floor. He was far more hurt later in the round when a Pacquiao right hook buckled his legs. Pacquiao had him in trouble and did everything he could to finish. Marquez battled back, taking the worse of it along the ropes but refusing to fall. It may have been the best round of the series. The best punch was yet to come.
Brandon Rios-Mike Alvarado (5): (One (1) first place vote received) – It was almost the fight of the year. Almost having the round of the year said a lot about why in this Jr. Welterweight classic. The action was relentless, as reported the night of the fight:
The first big blow of the fifth was a right from Alvarado; he did it again before the first minute was done. A right uppercut and two more right crosses came across the bow. Rios, being countered silly in spots, just kept coming, firing and taking the worst of it as Alvarado multiplied leather on his face. Rios came back and found some punches to make Alvarado think. What Alvarado apparently thought was that he’d go back to landing hard and make sure he won the round.
It would end up being the last hurrah for Alvarado, overwhelmed in the sixth and final round of a fantastic fight.
Brian Viloria-Tyson Marquez (5): (One (1) first place vote received) – Brian Viloria wasn’t losing rounds, a good way to start the first Flyweight unification clash since the Beatles were on the charts. Marquez walked into a big shot in the first and was struggling to get on track. Then came round five, and suddenly it was anyone’s ballgame. Marquez hurt Viloria early in the round with a blistering right and attacked like there was no tomorrow. Viloria tripped to the deck as Marquez chased him from the ropes to mid-ring and Marquez was right back on him with a left and right. Viloria weathered the storm, lying in wait as Marquez’s arms grew weary. All night, his ability to time counter shots was Marquez’s undoing. In the fifth, it turned the tide. A left-right put Marquez on the floor to stop the rally cold. Marquez rose at eight and kept swinging but the moment was gone. Viloria would ultimately win by stoppage in ten.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org