Not bad, but other options better
The merits of "almost" earning a knockout victory against one of the best fighters in the world can't be underestimated. Being on the receiving end of a boxing lesson and a severe beating for 11½ rounds, only to recover with the strength of a tornado to push a true champion to the verge of defeat, is a true achievement. But a Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. rematch? It's quite a leap from viewing the glass as half full to having reasonable expectations that a rematch could measure up to the excitement and emotion of the first fight.
The mere possibility of another ending as extraordinary as what we witnessed over the last 90 seconds of Saturday's heart-stopper is undeniably intriguing, and many will be waiting for the announcement of a rematch so they can immediately mark it on the calendar. Still, after navigating through months of anticipation -- marked by dozens of grandiose statements from both camps and countless flawed analyses and predictions tainted by patriotism and bad blood -- will a second fight be worth our while? Are we that desperate for another 12 rounds of watching Martinez impose his superior boxing skills with even greater ease, along with the disenchantment of fans who will claim in hindsight that the outcome was inevitable and that boxing is a farce (among the printable derogatory comments).
Those of us who live and breathe the sport know that there is no crystal ball, and that pugilism is far from farcical. The extensive damage that painted the faces of both fighters after Saturday's bout should be proof enough of that. But the likelihood that Martinez's domination would be repeated, to a somewhat greater or lesser degree, raises the question: Would it be better for boxing, for fans, for Martinez, even for Chavez -- and perhaps for both fighters' bank accounts -- for them to take separate paths and face some of the other top-tier middleweight opponents?
Chavez could move up in weight and start down the tough road that could lead him to super middleweights like Andre Ward, Carl Froch and Kelly Pavlik. Or he could stay at 160 and seek another belt against, in order of difficulty, Gennady Golovkin, Daniel Geale or Dmitry Pirog. A win over one of those titlists would at least give another layer of legitimacy to an eventual rematch with Martinez, should it come together.
In the meantime, Martinez could stay at 160 and continue exploiting his great speed against bigger fighters or lose a few pounds -- as he says, he's still capable at age 37 -- and access the most lucrative market of opponents possible. At junior middleweight, fights with Floyd Mayweather Jr., Miguel Cotto or Canelo Alvarez would be blockbusters. Perhaps even Manny Pacquiao would feel the lure of climbing up to a catchweight to challenge Martinez for his undisputed linear middleweight title in an effort to add to his vast collection.
The alternatives for Martinez and Chavez are far too many and interesting to ignore in order to put on a rematch based on 90 seconds of toe-to-toe action that obscures the definitive end result. Besides, an immediate rematch would add little to either fighter's career, strictly from a boxing standpoint. Each stands to gain more by demonstrating he can excel in different environments and against varied styles, seizing the current momentum to attract other megafights. Perhaps one day, then, Martinez and Chavez can meet again, when a rematch makes sense -- for us and for them.
Gotta give it another go
Saturday's Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. bout can be viewed as a theater play in two acts. In the first, we witnessed an 11-round drubbing in which the favorite put on a highly technical display -- but one in which the fighter on the receiving end of the pummeling showed no signs of being stopped. The second act lasted merely half a round, but in that span we saw the favored fighter visit the canvas twice and the referee come close to stopping the fight.
What do these two scenarios imply? Simple: Someone forgot his playbook, and one of the acts didn't play out as intended. Which fighter was it? Chavez? Martinez? We can't answer that; only they can. And only a rematch will allow them to.
Some believe that Martinez proved himself to be a far superior fighter and that Chavez simply caught him with a shot when Maravilla, after 11 rounds of frenetic punching and moving, slowed just a bit. But you could make the case that the gap between the fighters isn't nearly so wide as the perception. Martinez dished out a great deal of punishment, but he was unable to drop Chavez. Maybe that's a testament to Junior's tolerance to punches, but it could also be a flaw that limits Martinez: It may be that his punching power doesn't match his marvelous technique. Although Chavez took a beating, he didn't seem affected by Martinez's punches. On the contrary, he showed he still had enough energy to continue fighting, while the champion ended up in the hospital.
Then there is the matter of Chavez's game plan. The fight went on mostly as expected, with Martinez betting on his greater speed and moving around while punching. Chavez planned to wait on his opponent, then stalk him later. But, unable to find his range and appearing disoriented -- unforgivable for him and his prestigious corner -- he let nearly the entire fight slip away before pulling the trigger. When Chavez did finally let loose in the final two minutes of the fight, he almost ended it.
Make no mistake, if there is a rematch, the second-act Chavez is the fighter we should expect to enter the ring: playing his natural role, fighting while holding nothing back, coming from behind, betting on his courage and running through anything put in front of him. And why wouldn't that Chavez show up? He has already lost and been humiliated for the first time in his career. And it was the aggressive, no-holds-barred Chavez who nearly pulled the stunning upset. The other Chavez, the one we watched idle through 11 rounds Saturday? That guy never had a chance.
There are other elements to take into account. Chavez-Martinez drew a great deal of attention and, as Martinez said, such fights vindicate the sport. The rematch, then, is a healthy choice. And after what we saw in that last round of the first fight, anything seems possible the second time around -- the ideal situation for any match of this magnitude.
Sergio Martinez put everything on the line, fought the perfect fight and ratified his moniker. But could his marvelous performance -- one that didn't rattle his opponent -- be repeated? Could anyone expect the rematch to unfold in quite the same fashion? I don't think so. Martinez showed all his cards, while Chavez offered only a glimpse of his hidden potential. And who knows? After a highly appropriate second fight, perhaps this play will have earned a third act.
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The Stars Align
Sergio Martinez's middleweight title defense against Miguel Cotto on June 7 in New York is the right fight at the right time.
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