By Ivan G. Goldman
“Maybe I wasn’t ready when I was crowned champion.”
This recent comment from Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. explaining why he didn’t make his first defense against Sergio Martinez was disarmingly honest, pronounced without a hint of subterfuge or hype.
Clearly Julio believes himself a much better fighter now than when the WBC’s Jose Sulaiman, working with Bob Arum’s Top Rank Promotions, slid him into the middleweight title last year like they were threading a needle. A little move to the left or right could have missed entirely, putting Chavez in a tough spot against tougher competition. He won the vacant title by decisioning Sebastian Zbik of Germany because Sulaiman’s alphabet gang had pronounced them the best two middleweights in the world. Well, not a whole lot of people believed that, and as it turned out, Chavez didn’t either, as we found out when Max Kellerman refereed a discussion between him and Martinez on HBO’s Face Off. HBO will show the episode again. It can also be found on YouTube in its entirety.
Still, you have to give grudging admiration to both Sulaiman and Arum. They choreographed their movement of Chavez beautifully. It was all very similar to the way Arum hustled 1992 Olympic Gold Medalist Oscar De La Hoya through the rankings to Big Money. Eventually Oscar proved himself one of the very best, and now maybe it’s Chavez’s turn.
Very clearly Sergio thinks otherwise. The fact that he holds no world titles is a powerful indictment of the way alphabet gangs pollute the sport. Still, it’s clear Martinez wants that belt.
I confess I didn’t immediately watch the Face Off episode hyping the September 15 pay-per-view contest. I dug it up only after Martinez received anonymous threats and someone vandalized his car in front of his Oxnard, California home shortly after the show made its debut. It’s widely believed that comments from Argentine Martinez, which were a tad insulting to Mexican fighters, triggered the stupid acts. It would be nice if the cops find the guilty oafs, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. In any case, even if the perpetrators were of Mexican origin the entire Mexican nation is not responsible for the actions of one or two meatheads. If you think otherwise you should accept responsibility for Charles Manson.
Frankly, because of the threats and vandalism that resulted, causing Sergio’s promoter Lou DiBella to cancel an open workout, I was expecting a much more torrid exchange of words. Instead I saw two excellent, poised, respectful athletes exchange opinions with utmost candor. They were “cool” in both positive connotations of the word. It was all quite civilized and pretty darn entertaining, although every once in a while Kellerman did what he could to create more fireworks. Still, his questions were mostly on the mark, and their answers were skiled and informative.
I came away with two main conclusions:
1. If these two guys spoke English they could captivate the U.S. They’re both handsome, dignified, articulate, and intelligent.
2. It’s going to be one hell of a fight.
Some particularly gripping highlights of their exchange:
* Chavez calling Martinez a “ballerina” and “not a great puncher.”
* Sergio: “How are you going to catch me, Julio?”
Chavez reply: “The ring is a square like this (demonstrating with his hands). You can’t get out.”
Martinez counter-reply: “Neither can you.”
* Martinez noting that with the help of Freddie Roach, Chavez will probably fight more intelligently, “not just like the typical Mexican” who, according to Martinez, is all offense and lacks defensive skills.
It’s not unusual to see two competing athletes with self-confidence. But what happens when one of them, during the course of the fight, can plant doubt in the mind of the other? A pitcher might feel confident when he walks out to the mound, but after he gives up a two-run homer on his favorite pitch, he will probably have an entirely different mind set if his manager keeps him in there. If southpaw Sergio can start to break his man down with lefts to the middle, what will Junior think then? And if Chavez’s body attack takes away Sergio’s 37-year-old legs, what then?
Martinez noticed Paul Williams dropped his right when he threw his left, which spelled Williams’ doom in their second bout. Everyone has defects. What he will zero in on against Chavez remains to be seen. I think Martinez’s most dangerous weapon may be his right hook. A straight left from a southpaw is a formidable punch, but to the opponent it looks similar to an orthodox fighter’s jab, and maybe he can deal with it. On the other hand, a southpaw’s right hook, executed properly, looks to his opponent like it came from outer space. Pacquiao became the great fighter he is after he polished his hook.
As for Chavez, he brings his youth, his body attack and toughness. And that may be enough.
Ivan G. Goldman’s latest novel Isaac: A Modern Fable came out in April 2012 from Permanent Press. Information HERE