- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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LAS VEGAS -- By the halfway point of the fight, it was obvious that young Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. was going to need a miracle. He was going to have to reach into the family playbook of his famous Hall of Fame father, all-time great Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., the way his pop had against Meldrick Taylor all those years ago.
In that classic 1990 fight, Taylor was winning in dominant fashion before Chavez Sr. infamously stopped him with two seconds left.
And you know what? The kid almost got it done in the same fashion against lineal middleweight champion Sergio Martinez before an electric, sold-out crowd of 19,186 -- an arena record for boxing -- on Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
In one of the most dramatic finishes in boxing history, Chavez, way behind on the scorecards, dropped Martinez with his bread and butter -- a ferocious left hook -- with about 90 seconds to go.
Martinez was marked up and badly hurt. He made it to his feet and was going to have run out the clock as the crowd went berserk.
Could he survive the way Taylor could not against the old man?
It was touch and go because Martinez went down a few seconds later, but it was properly ruled a slip by referee Tony Weeks. But make no mistake, Martinez was in trouble, undoubtedly praying to hear the final bell.
But he hung on against Chavez, who had been whipped for the previous 11 rounds, and finally heard it ring.
Once the fight was over, the scores -- 118-109, 118-109 and 117-110 -- were academic. What people will remember forever are the final seconds of the fight.
Lou DiBella, Martinez's promoter, summed it up perfectly.
"You saw a boxing clinic for 11 rounds and you saw an epic last round," DiBella said. "I don't know how he held on. That was epic. That was a great night for boxing."
Chavez knew he let the fight escape him by not finishing Martinez when he had him in such bad shape.
"I was 20 seconds away from knocking him out," said Chavez, who was busted up and appeared to have a broken, bloody nose. "I just started way too late. I thought I could do the whole fight what I did the last round."
He could not even come close to that, because Martinez (50-2-2, 28 KOs) had taken him to the woodshed for virtually the entire fight.
"The speed was the difference," said Freddie Roach, Chavez's trainer. "I told him to go out and exchange with him every round. I knew Martinez was good. I just didn't know how good. Chavez can do better. This was a good lesson for him.
"He needed to let his hands go sooner. I told him in the 10th round, he better start fighting or I was going to stop it."
Chavez (46-1-1, 32 KOs) barely threw any punches early on, and Martinez pounded him and easily outboxed him, until the 12th round.
"Chavez fought a great fight and he was a lot tougher than I expected," Martinez said. "He showed a great, great heart. [The knockdown] was a mistake. Julio took advantage and he dropped me. It is great for boxing to have a champion like me willing to fight anyone."
It was Mexican Independence Day weekend, and Chavez had ample support from the boisterous crowd, but all the chants of "Mexico! Mexico!" could do nothing for him.
Martinez, with considerable support from Argentines who dotted the crowd with flags, fought a brilliant fight. A masterpiece -- at least until the final 90 seconds.
There's a reason why Martinez, 37, is rated among the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Martinez and trainer Pablo Sarmiento had a perfect game plan -- an avalanche of right jabs to the head, straight lefts to the body and move -- to deal with the bigger and younger Chavez, who had no answer for Martinez's speed and dominant right jab.
"My guy is a superstar now," DiBella said.
All along, Chavez's promoter, Top Rank, was concerned about matching him with a southpaw, and Martinez exploited it for most of the fight. But no matter how badly Chavez, 26, was losing, he made his fans proud. He did not quit. He kept on trucking, no matter how dire the situation was, and he was almost rewarded.
"You hit me with really hard punches," Martinez told his rival in the ring after the fight. "You're a great fighter."
With the win, Martinez, who earned $1.4 million plus pay-per-view upside, retained the lineal crown for the fifth time. He also lifted Chavez's alphabet title, which he once owned but was stripped of. That angered Martinez, who campaigned for this fight for almost 18 months until finally getting it.
It was worth the wait for him.
DiBella, nervous as always, wanted Martinez to stay away from Chavez, who made $3 million plus a share of the pay-per-view profits, in the late rounds. But that simply isn't Martinez's style.
"He wanted to knock him out, but this kid is strong," DiBella said. "He has balls of steel. He has his father's balls.
"Sergio did what he said he would do. He tagged him continually, but the kid wouldn't go. He kept trying to knock him out. He knows no other way but to entertain. I wanted him to stay away, because he could not lose if he did. He already beat him from pillar to post. I don't know how he survived, because Chavez landed a bomb."
Despite the one-sided nature of the fight, other than the last dramatic moments, there was rematch talk afterward. (HBO will replay the fight next Saturday at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT.)
The way it ended really does make you wonder what Chavez, who was defending his belt for the fourth time, could do the next time.
"A rematch of this fight would be an epic event," DiBella said. "That last round will give Chavez the kind of encouragement he needs for next time. That was great entertainment."
Said Martinez: "It was a tough fight for Julio to have his first loss in; we are two professionals. If Julio wants a rematch and the public wants a rematch, we can do a rematch."
We're in Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the world. Make the bet that there will be a rematch.
Anyone for Round 13?
Sergio Martinez nipped and tucked with scalpel-like precision for nearly all of Saturday's fight with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. before needing to survive a stunning 12th-round knockdown that nearly cost him his revenge and the title he coveted.