by Cliff Rold
A defending champion from the Latin world, highly regarded by the fistic faithful but largely unknown to the mainstream sporting world.
The undefeated son of a fighter looking to live up to his father’s dreams and stamp his own name in fistic lore.
The ingredients for a classic at hand.
The older champion wants to make the leap to superstardom and looks to do it over the body of a younger man with a vibrant fan base. The younger man brings ample pressure and the energy of youth, willing to take two, and sometimes three, in order to stay on top of his man.
Such was the case almost thirty-one years ago, October 3, 1981, when the great Alexis Arguello defended the lineal and WBC Lightweight championship against one of the last great matinee idols, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini.
On the eve of the anticipated showdown between lineal Middleweight Champion Sergio Martinez and WBC titlist Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., the parallels (even with plenty of contrasts) to Arguello-Mancini are hard to ignore. The fighting styles are different but the promise is similar.
If fans get the same quality of action they did on that long ago Saturday afternoon, they are in for a treat.
The easiest parallel will be on the banners over the ring. While Lou DiBella acts as the co-promoter by way of Martinez, Top Rank is the engine of show. They also gave the world Arguello-Mancini all those years ago. In their well-crafted “This is Boxing” promo, Arguello-Mancini still gets play as a memorable highlight.
Chavez as Mancini isn’t hard to imagine, even if their stories act in converse to one another. Built every bit as much for his story as for his all-action fighting style, Youngstown, Ohio’s Mancini was the son of a contender who lost too much of his prime to World War II.
Lenny Mancini went into the war with a record 31-6-3, a draw against Marty Servo and a narrow split decision loss to then-future World Lightweight Champion Sammy Angott standing as highlights. Ring Magazine rated him the number two contender to Angott when Uncle Same came calling.
Mancini would never get that form back, returning in 1943 and continuing as a professional until 1947, his career closed with two losses to young Middleweight contender Rocky Castellani. His son would be the family hope.
Built carefully, Mancini accelerated at the right time, besting veteran Al Ford and smoking contender (and future titlist) Jose Luis Ramirez to set up the Arguello showdown. Ramirez had Arguello down in a previous, hotly contested battle and it gave Mancini a live look.
With an amateur background Chavez lacked, and an era of greater activity, Mancini got to Arguello in much less time than it took Chavez to reach what appears a burgeoning prime, but the questions they faced were similar. Was the younger man ready for a proven veteran champion of the highest order?
Chavez’s father traveled a different, much storied route. He didn’t miss his prime. Instead, his was the most celebrated career in Mexican history. Where Mancini was trying to finish the legacy of his father, Chavez is trying to live up to what came before.
In both cases, the drive of a son to meet the burden of the shadow over them is fine drama. Like Mancini, Chavez was built into a solid attraction, scoffed at by some as little more than a T.V. attraction until serious wins over Marco Antonio Rubio and Andy Lee made many turn their heads and say, ‘hey, the kid can fight.’ Unlike Mancini, Chavez has already won his first strap, a WBC belt Martinez was forced to give up and one he hopes to reclaim this weekend.
Martinez, ample trash talking of Chavez aside, has in many ways presented a public face much like Arguello’s. Like the great Nicaraguan, today’s Argentine champion has presented the image of a gentleman outside the ring and a tyrant inside of it.
Arguello had more to draw on for his battle with Mancini. After a loss to the historically underrated Ernesto Marcel in his first title shot, Arguello won a classic war with Ruben Olivares to win his first of three divisional titles at Featherweight. A savage, bloody battle with Alfredo Escalera gave him a title at 130 lbs. and, after a significant reign in the class, he would best the excellent Jim Watt to snare 135 lb. honors.
Martinez hasn’t conquered as many divisions, but he’s been impressive in the two where he has done his best work. Like Chavez, and indeed an Arguello who turned pro at sixteen, he didn’t have any amateur career of note and Martinez learned on the job. Martinez caught the attention of American fight fans with a blistering of contender Alex Bunema in 2008, capturing an interim title at 154 lbs.
His career took a major turn at the end of the following year when he lost, with dispute, a fantastic war against Paul Williams at Middleweight. The loss vaulted Martinez into a crack at Middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik in 2010 and Martinez came off the floor to wreck Pavlik down the stretch and secure the crown. A one-punch rematch win over Williams had Martinez marked as one of the world’s best in any weight class.
There he has remained, waiting for someone who can push him over the top, waiting for an opponent who can make the American sporting public fully open their eyes, and wallets, to his tremendous talent.
Arguello made the most of the chance against Mancini, eliminating doubt in a fight that was close on two cards late and stopping Mancini with a furious assault in the fourteenth. It took a magnificent effort as the younger man gave everything he had and, even in defeat, left no doubt he belonged.
Martinez will enter the ring this weekend with far more age than Arguello, if not perhaps as much wear. If the younger man can call on the shadow that lingers over him, and channel it into a similar effort, it will serve Martinez well to recall he doesn’t have one of the luxuries Arguello did.
He doesn’t have a fourteenth round.
The Weekly Ledger
But wait, there’s more…
Ward’s World: http://www.boxingscene.com/andre-wards-world-dawson-rocked-shocked-stopped--56887
And What’s Next for ‘Dre: http://www.boxingscene.com/what-now-andre-ward-review-ratings-update--56957
Ratings Update: http://www.boxingscene.com/forums/view.php?pg=boxing-ratings
Picks of the Week: http://www.boxingscene.com/boxingscenecoms-television-picks-week--56956
Cliff’s Notes…Show of hands: who thinks 2012 might end without Andre Dirrell or Yuriorkis Gamboa ever stepping into the ring? Time isn’t just money. It’s also youth and speed. Nothing gets those back, and money tends to fade with them…Good to hear that WBA/IBF titlist Daniel Geale is in town for Martinez-Chavez. In a world without so many belts, he’d just be the deserving number one contender for the winner. If he’s not going to take a Gennady Golovkin mandatory in pursuit of a crack at the lineal crown, there’s nothing to fault there…Signs are still good for Erislandy Lara-Vanes Martirosyan. That’s better for Lara than the former U.S. Olympian…Ricky Hatton wanting to come back would be the least shocking thing ever. The way he finished can’t be what he wants to remember and there’s a bunch of money out there with Amir Khan if he can get to it eventually…If Oscar De La Hoya is telling the truth of hard ticket sales for Canelo Alvarez-Josesito Lopez (some 14,500 claimed), that’s a great thing for boxing. Two shows and 34,000 tickets moved can’t be bad no matter the network and promotional conflict beneath it all.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]