by David P. Greisman
Sergio Martinez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. shouldn’t need to be reintroduced to a boxing audience, not when one of them has been the true middleweight champion for nearly two and a half years and is considered one of the best boxers in the sport, and not when the other is the son of one of the greatest fighters in history and is himself one of the most popular fighters of today.
Yet such a reintroduction does need to happen, not just for the regular boxing fans who should already be quite familiar with them, but also for those casual fans being asked to buy into them as stars who are worth their while, both literally and figuratively.
Martinez and Chavez aren’t just headlining a pay-per-view on a Mexican Independence Day weekend where $60 shows have become tradition. They’re also taking part in an audition for potential ascension.
Martinez, after all, has now been champion for nearly as long as the man before him, Kelly Pavlik, and slightly longer than Pavlik’s predecessor, Jermain Taylor. Yet he is struggling for true transcendence much in the way that both Pavlik and Taylor did.
Chavez, meanwhile, has gone from being bolstered by his famed father to being held back by heredity. While he will never be Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. — and while he will always be Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. — he is finally getting the opportunity to make a name for himself.
Martinez should be bigger than he is, given the exposure he’s gotten on HBO and the exciting moments he’s put forth in some of his matches on the network. His 2010, in which he dethroned Pavlik and then delivered Paul Williams into unconsciousness, should’ve been enough to make him a major player. He’s remained on HBO, scoring stoppage wins over Sergiy Dzinziruk, Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin, yet something seems to be missing.
People should be talking about him. He should be a star in a greater sense, a celebrity whose good looks, charisma and in-ring talents make his matches destination viewing. He should have been on talk shows and in magazines targeting Spanish-speaking audiences. Instead, he had a moment in the “body issue” of “ESPN The Magazine.” Those who saw him might have wondered who Martinez was. What they really needed, though, was a concerted effort to convince them of why they should care about him.
By virtue of his lineage alone, people know who Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is. And that alone gives them plenty of reason to care for him; his bouts are regularly among the highest-rated broadcasts on HBO. He’s transformed over these years from novelty and curiosity into a contender and titleholder. It seems unfair for one fight to make the entire difference, particularly when that fight is against one of the best boxers in the sport, but this match with Martinez will help decide whether Chavez is perceived more as a fighter who belongs, rather than a fraud who wouldn’t be where he is were he someone else’s son.
This has been a good year for Chavez to prove himself, after years of title shots and televised outings that otherwise likely would not have been available. In defeating Marco Antonio Rubio in February and dispatching Andy Lee this past June, Chavez has shown that he is, at the very least, a legit top 10 middleweight and, in this era of numerous sanctioning body belts, far from the greatest fraud ever to wear a world title strap around his waist.
A year ago, Chavez was thought to be easy fodder for Martinez. Today, some believe Chavez will be competitive, a fighter who has grown into — and nearly out of — the middleweight division, a boy who has also grown in a man’s enterprise.
Chavez needs to beat or at least put up a good fight against Martinez to prove himself to be as much a great fighter as he is a great attraction. Martinez needs to beat Chavez to potentially, and finally, become the kind of attraction that matches his abilities.
And so while their regular appearances on HBO should mean that they don’t need to be reintroduced, their stories are being told again, this time in an expanded format on the network’s “24/7” commercial documentaries that run in advance of many of the most major bouts.
For the regular boxing fans, the true fodder for our appetites was the “Face Off” confrontation aired late last month, in which the rivalry between Martinez and Chavez bubbled over into tense trash talk.
“24/7,” though, is seeking to make viewers care about more than just the fight, but the fighters, too. While the fight is the product people will be paying for, the fighters themselves can help make that sale.
That is why we now hear more than the quick stories we’d heard before about Martinez’s rise out of poverty in Argentina, his late entry into boxing after a youth as a soccer player and bicyclist, how his journey through the pro ranks took him to Spain, and how his move to the United States ultimately, and finally, brought him greater opportunities and greater respect.
That is also why we now go beyond the basics with Chavez, delving deeper into his relationship with his father and his early experiments with prizefighting, finding out a little bit more about his professional relationships (trainer Freddie Roach says Chavez “works when he wants to,” conditioning coach Alex Ariza is back on the team) and his personal relationships (Chavez Jr. convinced Chavez Sr. to go into rehab, and Chavez Jr. has a girlfriend of three years).
There will be a second episode of the show this Saturday, one to two episodes less than the runs typically extended for pay-per-views involving Miguel Cotto, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
It’s something, though, and it’s something necessary, even for two fighters who have been on television time and again. Their Sept. 15 pay-per-view is the big show, one that necessitates a big marketing effort, particularly as neither Martinez nor Chavez have headlined a major pay-per-view before — and particularly as Showtime will be airing a four-fight broadcast of its own, one without a $60 price tag.
Cotto, Mayweather and Pacquiao are still fighting, but their careers continue to wind down. There’s a need for more stars, for the familiar faces to become famous ones.
Martinez is 37, and Chavez is probably moving to the super middleweight division after this fight. They may never belong on stages as big as those one-man shows featuring Miguel, Floyd and Manny, but this night in the spotlight remains a veritable audition, one that could bring Chavez the acclaim he’s coveted, and one that could bring Martinez the fame that’s eluded him.
The 10 Count — Sept. 15 mini-mailbag edition
1. We should love having a bounty of boxing broadcasts. These next two weekends, however, are going to require deft maneuvering of DVRs and computers, all while avoiding spoilers from those watching what you’ve not yet tuned in to.
HBO will be airing a tape-delay broadcast this Saturday of Vitali Klitschko’s heavyweight title defense from earlier that day against Manuel Charr. And then the live show will be headlined by super middleweight champion Andre Ward vs. light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, with a lightweight title bout featuring Antonio DeMarco and John Molina on the undercard.
Showtime, meanwhile, will have a broadcast that would’ve had Randall Bailey vs. Devon Alexander in the main event, but Bailey pulled out with what was said to be a training injury, pushing Ajose Olusegun vs. Lucas Matthysse — potentially a very, very good fight — into the headline spot. That won’t mean any less boxing to watch, though, as the network is seeking to elevate another bout into the co-feature slot. There’s not much depth on the undercard beyond a pair of fights involving Ishe Smith in one and J’Leon Love in the other.
If you’re truly addicted, there’s the Klitschko documentary film on HBO earlier in the evening. And there are also numerous other bouts: Tomasz Adamek vs. Travis Walker on WealthTV (with Steve Cunningham fighting at heavyweight on the undercard); Tony Bellew vs. Edison Miranda in London; Marco Antonio Rubio vs. Carlos Baldomir in Mexico; and even a pair of shows on Fox Deportes and Telefutura.
2. The real dilemma, however, is picking between the much-discussed competing cards on Sept. 15, with the top-heavy HBO Pay-Per-View headlined by Sergio Martinez vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., and the quadrupleheader on Showtime with Canelo Alvarez vs. Josesito Lopez in the main event.
Several of you wrote in over this past week to give your thoughts on which broadcast you’ll be watching first, and why:
“I want to watch the Martinez-Chavez fight much, much, much more than the Showtime event, but the lackluster undercard is preventing me from even thinking of ordering it,” wrote Jose L. “Arum says 5 total fights will be aired, but he might as well only air the main event. That's just a horrible undercard for such a big PPV (I say BIG because to true boxing fans, this is HUGE).
“The Canelo-Lopez card on the other hand, is decently stacked from top to bottom. All fights could be potential fight of the year candidates. And if anyone wants to count Lopez out, they have another thing coming. I don't care what anyone says, Lopez is not as small as people make him out to be, and Canelo isn't as huge either. This will be an exciting fight....
“With all that said, I will watch the Showtime event, but if a friend or family member orders the Chavez-Martinez PPV, I'll be there just in time for the main event only, and DVR what I would miss from the Canelo show. I WON'T pay for the PPV with the crappy undercard though.”
3. Joe R., meanwhile, is making his decision based not on the perceived discrepancy in competitive quality of the entire cards, but on what he sees as the discrepancy in the competitive nature of the main events:
“Ordering Chavez Jr.-Martinez, watching the Canelo fight on DVR immediately after,” he wrote, saying that the middleweight championship bout is “the better match-up, in my opinion —the more anticipated fight, more at stake. All my boxing friends love Martinez. We’ve seen him live a few times.”
He also noted one other essential for his evening: “Twitter blackout will be in effect.”
4. But Gilbert M. says there’s no need to choose:
“I will be setting up two TVs, making sure we don’t miss a single punch thrown,” he wrote. “I’ll set it up sports bar style … Won’t be able to accurately score fights, but hopefully the fights don’t go the distance!”
5. And then there’s the live angle, with both cards taking place simultaneously miles from each other in Las Vegas. Scott C. is making the trip to Sin City for the Martinez-Chavez Jr. fight — or, as he calls it, “Chavez Jr.-Zoolander.
“It's by far the best fight of the weekend,” he wrote. “Jr. has made tremendous strides over the last couple of years not only in terms of ability, but in determination as well, which will be a key to his success against the much more skilled Zoolander. It's become close to a toss-up fight, which was unthinkable just one year ago.
“I would love the chance to also see [Jhonny Gonzalez vs. Daniel Ponce De Leon, on the Alvarez-Lopez undercard] as well, but probably not possible given the locations of the venues. The Golden Boy card is excellent, and I only wish, in their zeal to pull fans away from Top Rank and HBO, that they scheduled it an hour or so earlier so I could have attended both cards partially.”
6. As for me? If I’m paying $60 for a card, then I’m watching it live, so we’ll be ordering the Martinez-Chavez pay-per-view solely for that reason. But we’ll also be recording the Showtime broadcast on the DVR and watching it early the next morning.
I’ll also be on a Twitter blackout and will even turn my cell phone off, what with me having no desire to have any of the results ruined. Social media has become a fun part of fight nights for many boxing fans, yet these next two weeks brings two nights in which the surplus of The Sweet Science actually isn’t a good thing for those of us who like to chat about the fights online.
7. I might be blaspheming here — and I very well might be in the minority here with this opinion — but I don’t care who Manny Pacquiao fights next. There was nothing about Pacquiao-Marquez 3 last year and Pacquiao-Bradley earlier this year that made me want to see another installment of either.
When your main selling point is a bad decision rather than good action, then that says something. And it’s a surprising conclusion considering the caliber of these three fighters. They weren’t bad bouts, but they don’t have me reaching for my wallet and drooling like Homer Simpson passing by a donut shop.
8. There might not be a fighter in boxing more deserving of a keep-busy bout against a lesser opponent than Carl Froch.
This is how Froch has spent his past four years: taking a unanimous decision over Jean Pascal, coming from behind to stop Jermain Taylor, taking part in the Super Six tournament with an opening-round split-decision win against Andre Dirrell, going to war in defeat against Mikkel Kessler, bouncing back with a determined and decisive points win over Arthur Abraham, beating Glen Johnson by majority decision, losing to Andre Ward in the tournament’s finale, and then following that up less than half a year later with a big technical knockout of Lucian Bute.
So Froch wants to face faded familiar name Yusaf Mack in November? He deserves it, and it’s up to the fans if they want to spend their money and time watching it. So long as he wins, it’s guaranteed that his recent run will have us watching Froch again when he has his rematch next year with Bute. And if he goes on to have a rematch with Kessler? Not even another Icelandic volcano eruption could stop us from being glued to our screens.
9. I’ve got five words for you to daydream about:
Gennady Golovkin vs. James Kirkland.
10. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Adrien Broner and Jonathan Gonzalez walk into a chocolate bar…
“Fighting Words" appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter at @fightingwords2 or send questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org