By Jake Donovan
With his legendary father leading the way into the ring and cheering him on at ringside, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr continued the growth portion of his still budding career.
The second-generation titlist maintained both his unbeaten record and his alphabet middleweight belt with a hard-fought decision win over Marco Antonio Rubio in the main event of HBO’s first boxing telecast of the year Saturday evening at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Scores were 118-110, 116-112 and 115-113 in favor of Chavez Jr, who made the second successful defense of the belt he won last June.
As the comparisons to his father remains inevitable, Chavez Jr. continues to emulate the original model in all but giving away the first round of each fight. The action was slow, with Rubio dictating the pace on the occasion in which punches were exchanged between the Mexican rivals.
Chavez Jr. came alive in the second round, stalking Rubio and catching him along the ropes. The success didn’t carry over into the third round, as he was left to showcase the granite chin trait that runs deep in his family’s genes. Rubio enjoyed his most successful round to that point, with Chavez Jr showing his ability to take a punch, but hardly a sound formula for winning rounds.
The pace didn’t pick up very much in the middle rounds but was fought entirely in a phone booth. Chavez Jr. worked the body well, but appeared to be punching himself out early on – perhaps a testament to his struggling all week to make weight (159.5 lb at Friday’s weigh-in after stripping down to his birthday suit) and then piling on 22 lb. from weigh-in to the opening bell.
Rubio appeared fit and trim, but couldn’t quite come up with a fluid attack that forced Chavez Jr to change his ways. A low blow in the fifth round by the Mexican veteran actually benefited both fighters, as each seemed to be in the need for an unofficial time out.
Yet another punch south of the border came about in the sixth, sadly one of the standout moments of a round that actually drew boos from the once-rabid and partisan crowd of well over 14,000 fans on hand. Chavez picked up the action in the seventh, smothering Rubio and landing in combination upstairs. He was outworked in the eighth, but landed more while scoring the more telling blows.
The rate of activity was smart on Chavez Jr’s part, as he knew trying to match Rubio punch-for-punch would’ve sapped his energy well before the stretch run. Call it a rare case of the rising young star outthinking a wily veteran.
“I had a problem with the weight,” Chavez admitted afterward in stating the inevitable. “After the seventh and eighth round, my legs started to feel like I was paying the price for struggling to make weight. I don’t want to battle with it again like the way I did (for this fight). I just have to be more careful and can’t be overconfident with that.”
Still, the young lion knew he had to dig down deep if he planned to leave San Antonio with his “0” and belt still intact. Both fighters did just that, as the punches flowed far more freely in the final four rounds a seemingly even fight heading down the stretch.
Rubio continued to outwork Chavez Jr, nearly doubling up the defending titlist on punches thrown. However – in yet another lesson learned from his legendary fighter – Chavez Jr. found success and comfort in efficiency, landing at a much higher percentage.
Chief among the young Mexican’s attack was his dedication to the body, which forced toe-to-toe warfare in the championship rounds. Rubio had no problem standing and trading, but was outgunned in such moments as Chavez threw and landed with far greater conviction.
How much his efforts were reflected on the final scorecards depends on your viewpoint. Rubio’s greater workrate made the fight a lot closer than most suspected would be the case, but in the end it was Chavez Jr. who remains unbeaten as he advances to 45-0-1 (31KO).
Rubio snaps a 10-fight win streak as he falls to 53-6-1 (46KO). The loss was his first since suffering a lstoppage to then-lineal middleweight king Kelly Pavlik in his lone other title bid three years ago.
Pavlik has since lost his lineal crown to Sergio Martinez, who has been chomping at the bit for a high-profile middleweight showdown with Chavez Jr., currently in possession of the belt that – if not for boxing politics – should still be in possession of the Argentine southpaw.
Bring it on, insists the young Mexican.
“I would like to fight Sergio Martinez, Antonio Margarito or Miguel Cotto. Of course, I’m ready for Martinez. If Bob Arum says ‘Let’s go’ then let’s go.”
Of course, it would take a far greater effort in order to conquer a man viewed by many as among the top three or four fighters in the world.
To his credit, Chavez Jr. is well aware of this, though insisting that the best is still yet to come.
“If I fight like I did today, (Martinez) would win. But I know what I’m capable of and know that I will get better.”
DONAIRE DECISIONS VAZQUEZ IN UNEVEN PERFORMANCE
Nonito Donaire enjoyed a successful if uneven debut in the 122 lb. division with a 12-round decision over Wilfredo Vazquez Jr in their HBO-televised co-feature
Scores were 117-110 Donaire (twice) and an absurd tally of 115-112 Vazquez Jr.
Both fighters were visibly marked up over the course of the bout, each sporting battle scars in the form of welts underneath their eyes. Given their styles, most experts expected an all-out slugfest for however long it lasted.
Instead, the evening saw both fighters make adjustments to offset the strength of the other. Such was reflected in a feel-‘em out first round, though Donaire was credited for controlling the early action as Vazquez was tentative in looking for counter opportunities.
A brief scare was averted in the second round, when Donaire overcommitted on a punch and was shouldered to the canvas. Vazquez Jr. couldn’t get off a punch quick enough to sell the notion of a knockdown, as referee Rafael Ramos immediately ruled it a slip.
Donaire had success in the third round, catching Vazquez Jr on the inside and trapping him in the corner. However, the three-division titlist made the mistake of falling in love with his power, gunning for a one-punch knockout rather than effectively building on his lead.
“I thought my power was enough to take him down. Maybe I got involved with all that controversy that was on beforehand,” Donaire admitted afterwards. “I’m not happy with my performance today; I didn’t get over that hurdle.”
The in-ring hurdle came in the form of an injured left hand, which left his hand wrap soaked in blood at night’s end. “It was the second or third round when I felt it,” Donaire revealed in the post-fight interview. “There’s something wrong with it, that’s for sure. It’s very painful.”
Whether or not it had a psychological effect on Donaire isn’t immediately determined. Whatever the case, Vazquez Jr. began to jab his way back into the fight, enjoying several moments of success throughout the middle rounds.
Donaire regained control somewhere around the eighth round and never really looked back, though at one point looked straight ahead and with his hands down as he dared Vazquez Jr to try and hit him. His best moment in the fight came in the ninth, when a left uppercut rocked Vazquez Jr, with a follow up left hook putting the second-generation Boricua boxer on the canvas for the first time in his career.
It was cruise control for the rest of the fight for Donaire, while Vazquez Jr. did his best to erase a massive deficit, but could never quite catch up. The former 122 lb. titlist scored with right hands in the final round, enough to surprisingly seal victory on the card of Dr. Ruben Garcia (whose Ph.D. clearly isn’t in the field of officiating).
Fortunately, the other two judges were in line with reality. The win allows Donaire to extend his unbeaten streak to 27 straight as he improves to 28-1 (18KO), winning a belt in his third weight class in the process in picking up a vacant 122 lb. belt.
While not being thrilled with his performance, Donaire was hardly pleased that he was forced to sweat out a split decision before having his arm raised in victory.
“I was surprised. There were jabs he was landing, but nothing particularly to win rounds. I thought I won every round… well the majority of the rounds.”
Vazquez Jr suffers his second loss in the past three fights as he falls to 21-2-1 (18KO). The belt at stake was once around his waist during a year-long stay as titlist before suffering a 12th round stoppage loss to Jorge Arce last May.
Both bouts aired live on HBO’s Boxing After Dark.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]