The kid just doesn't match up
There has been a fire burning quietly inside of Sergio Martinez throughout his 15-year professional career that in many ways has nothing to do with his opponent Saturday.
Sure, the promotion of the bout has featured an atypical response from the normally calm and respectful Martinez, who has fired insults and threats at his opponent. But more than anything else, it's simply a case of misdirected hostility.
Martinez isn't fighting Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. so much as he's fighting what his young opponent represents.
Junior's path to fame, fortune and championship gold -- and the purported undeserved ease with which he attained all three -- is the antithesis of the hard road walked by Martinez. That, completely outside of the tale of the tape or the X's and O's of the matchup, is what makes the great "Maravilla" such a dangerous opponent in the most important bout of his career.
Martinez's quest to knock out the unbeaten Chavez is more an opportunity to slay, for good, all of the demons that threatened to derail his improbable rise from an impoverished youth in Argentina to the middleweight world title.
Whether coming of age as a professional in relative boxing obscurity in Spain or, later, traveling the world as a journeyman opponent, Martinez has been forced to overcome his share of tough defeats and questionable scorecards. Not to mention the bittersweet reality of having been excluded from major fights because he was deemed too dangerous and not marketable enough, all while the clock was ticking on his athletic prime and small window of opportunity..
A long-awaited headlining role in his first pay-per-view brings Martinez, at 37, validation for his career and the chance at future financial freedom. It also helps the fighter finally raise his business profile to the same level as his sublime talent, a position he will be unwilling to yield come fight night.
Chavez's growth under trainer Freddie Roach and the fact that he has worked himself into a position to legitimize this fight is both worthy of praise and a plus for the sport. What it doesn't do, however, is magically narrow the chasm between the two fighters' abilities, nor repair the fact that Chavez has yet to face an opponent remotely in the same class as Martinez.
The straight-ahead, bulldozing style of Chavez is not only tailor-made for the counterpunching Martinez -- a dynamic southpaw who is able to cater to and dissect any offensive attack -- Chavez's lack of a consistent jab leaves the front door wide open. With Junior so wide open for attack, Martinez won't have to maneuver around the defensive shell presented by his last three opponents, all of whom eventually succumbed to late knockouts anyway.
Although Chavez's chin has proved to be nothing less sturdy than granite, that doesn't necessarily eliminate the opportunity for a knockout of some kind -- especially considering Martinez's knack for landing razor-like punches from disguised angles, the kind that lend themselves to early stoppages due to cuts.
Martinez certainly doesn't have to respect his opponent's résumé, but as long as he respects the strengths that brought Chavez this far -- a relentless body attack and an improved ability to finish when his opponent is hurt -- a dominant victory on the biggest stage of his career will be easier for Martinez to procure than many promotional spin doctors have tried to lead us to believe.
More going for him than some see
The term "crossroads fight" refers to two fighters meeting at a time when they're headed down different paths in their careers. And although it's easy to argue that both Sergio Martinez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. are on the upswing right now, it's possible that the outcome could lead to some revisionist history in the not-too-distant future that says otherwise.
Chavez could be on his way to a career-defining victory against Martinez, helped by a number of other factors that are proving difficult to measure in the days leading up to the fight. His main asset is a high body-punching rate, but the damage that can be done exclusively with this weapon is limited if a fighter can't follow up its eroding effect with the finishing touch to put an opponent down for the count.
And this could be the X factor for Chavez that no one saw coming. Amid all his defensive shortcomings and slow, plodding ring movement, Chavez has a weapon that hasn't been properly measured: his killer instinct. Junior is the sort of fighter who will take two punches to land one of his own -- or even none at all. But when he finally finds an opening and lands a bomb or two that puts him back in the driver's seat, he jumps on that gas pedal as if he's making the last turn on the final lap of the Indy 500. We've seen Chavez throw two dozen or three dozen punches in a row with respectable accuracy and deadly power after he senses that he has his man hurt, and yet this valuable asset has flown largely under the radar of fight analysts.
To top it all off, Chavez has the right guy in his corner to let him know when to unleash his two-fisted fury. A superb tactician, Freddie Roach surely won't instruct his fighter to throw all caution to the wind and seek at all costs a stoppage against a clever fighter like Martinez, who could easily find a way to neutralize the onslaught and come back with a punishing reply of his own. But Roach must know that Chavez's particular assets could, at some point, suddenly present him with the opportunity to end things quickly.
Although looking for a knockout against Martinez is never the best battle plan, it's certainly not a bad Plan B. And it may be that Martinez is forced to open himself up a bit more than he otherwise would have in order to avoid contending with another edge his opponent may wield: the excessive mercy and, ahem, generous benefit of the doubt that the fighting Chavez family has routinely received from the folks at the WBC, the organization that will sanction this bout.
Granted, these factors aren't as tangible as Martinez's clear credentials as the better, more complete fighter. But they can't be ignored. It's a mistake to apply another familiar boxing term -- "upset" -- to a possible Chavez victory that he could be much closer to achieving than most people think.
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