One of the many reasons why boxing is so great is that because, unlike any other sport except MMA, it truly isn't over 'til it's over.
You can't hit a five-run homer or score a nine-point touchdown. But in boxing, a fighter can have lost every moment of a fight and still miraculously find the knockout punch to win it with one second left.
So when middleweight titlist Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. went into the final round against lineal champion Sergio Martinez on Sept. 15 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, everyone knew that he was way behind -- but that there was also that wing and a prayer of landing one big blow, even though Martinez had been cleaning his clock in a one-sided rout.
To Chavez's credit, he never gave up. He comes by it honestly, because anyone who knows boxing knows the legend of his all-time great father, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.
Remember, in 1990, when Chavez Sr. met Meldrick Taylor in a much-anticipated junior welterweight unification bout in Las Vegas but was hopelessly trailing and in need of a miracle knockout in the 12th round in order to preserve his title and undefeated record? Senior dropped Taylor in shocking fashion and referee Richard Steele, in one of the most debated calls in boxing history, stopped the fight with two seconds left, giving Chavez the mother of all comebacks.
Could the son replicate that drama and save his own undefeated record and title? He came awfully close, but ultimately couldn't, eventually losing a lopsided decision. Still, the 12th round of the fight -- with Chavez's go-for-broke near-knockout and Martinez's incredible heart to carry on after getting dropped -- was one of the most dramatic in boxing history and the 2012 ESPN.com round of the year.
The round helped Chavez salvage a measure of his reputation and turned a blowout into cause for a probable rematch in 2013. It was that exhilarating.
Chavez stalked Martinez in the first minute and then, with 1:45 left, finally broke through, landing a sweeping right hand that rocked Martinez. Chavez continued to punch while Martinez, with blood streaming from a cut over his left eye, fired back in a tremendous exchange.
Then Chavez backed Martinez into the ropes, and it happened:
He staggered Martinez with a left hook that forced him to duck his head briefly between the ropes and then cracked him with two more lefts on the chin and a right hand, and Martinez fell to his rear end.
The sheer drama of the moment sent a jolt of human electricity surging through the arena as the sold-out pro-Chavez crowd of 19,186, finally given something to cheer, erupted in pandemonium on Mexican Independence Day.
Using the ropes to support him, Martinez dragged himself off the mat, took the count from referee Tony Weeks with 1:18 to go, banged his gloves together and waded back into battle.
"Chavez has his chance," exclaimed HBO's Jim Lampley. "They're on their feet in Vegas!"
Chavez banged away at a still-hurt Martinez, landing about a half-dozen shots as HBO's Max Kellerman called out, "Shades of Meldrick Taylor and his father!"
After Martinez went down on a slip with a minute left, Chavez continued to pound away. But Martinez, instead of running or holding, stood his ground and fired back until the end.
"High drama down the stretch," Lampley said at the final bell. "Julio Cesar Chavez made his dramatic bid to match what his father did on St. Patrick's Day 1990 against Meldrick Taylor and almost pulled it off, but Martinez held on. Without holding on, without running, he fought his way through!"
Juan Manuel Marquez-Manny Pacquiao IV (fifth): Marquez and Pacquiao have now waged 42 rounds against each other through four outstanding fights, and this round just might be the best of them all. Pacquiao was down in the third round but evened the knockdown total in this memorable frame. He hurt Marquez with a straight left hand that sent him reeling and forced him to touch his glove to the canvas for a knockdown with 1:50 to go. Marquez was badly hurt, but he responded by landing a nasty right hand flush on Pacquiao, who walked through it and had Marquez wobbly and ready to go after landing a right-hand bomb with 40 seconds left. Pacquiao was teeing off and going for the knockout, but the bloodied Marquez would not go down. He kept punching back as the round closed in violent, sustained action between the great rivals.
Orlando Salido-Juan Manuel Lopez II (ninth): In an all-action rematch, Mexico's Salido wound up stopping Lopez in front of his Puerto Rican fans in the 10th round to retain the featherweight belt he had won from him in 2011. It was a great fight and this was the best round, taking the drama to an even higher level than in the outstanding eighth round. Salido and Lopez, whose faces were showing the brutality of the fight, slugged away at each other from the outset. The fighters went on to rip each other with clean shots for virtually the entire round as Lopez's fans went wild. "One of the great rounds we've seen this year," Showtime's Gus Johnson said. Absolutely.
Brandon Rios-Mike Alvarado (fifth): The entire junior welterweight fight between these brawlers was filled with intense back-and-forth action, but this round was something special, particularly the last minute or so. Alvarado, whose face was swelling, badly rocked Rios with head shots and looked like he had him in trouble early. A right hand did damage that sent Rios' head wobbling, and Alvarado hurt him with an uppercut and repeated right hands. But Rios, with a great chin, somehow stayed up and, seemingly in the worst kind of trouble, suddenly rallied. He closed the final 30 seconds of the round with raging fury, landing thunderous shots that Alvarado stood up to and took like a champ.
Danny Garcia-Amir Khan (fourth): This junior welterweight unification fight had been a thrilling shootout until Garcia got the dramatic upset knockout with 32 seconds left in this tremendous round. Khan had been down in the third and his balance was still off in the fourth as Garcia dropped him (for the second time in the round's first 10 seconds) with a series of right hands that forced him to touch his knee to the canvas. Garcia continued to attack, but Khan rallied to turn this into an ultra-dramatic, action-packed round. Despite an enormous heart, Khan could last for only so long as Garcia landed a left hook on top of Khan's head, dropping him to his back side. Khan jumped right up but was wobbly, prompting referee Kenny Bayless to stop the fight.
Brian Viloria-Hernan "Tyson" Marquez (fifth): The best round of a sensational flyweight title unification fight featured Marquez staggering Viloria with a heavy right hand and unloading dozens of punches to batter him around the ring. But as Marquez tired, Viloria began to unload in a sizzling exchange. He landed several shots, including a left-right combination that dropped Marquez against the ropes. There was still a minute left in the round, and when the fight resumed, they were back at it, banging away for the remainder of the round.
Mike Alvarado-Mauricio Herrera (second): The junior welterweights slugged it out for 10 thrilling rounds, but this round was the best in a fight that featured sustained and hellacious action.
Robert Guerrero-Andre Berto (seventh): Berto had already been down twice in this interim welterweight title bout when he was hurt by left uppercuts in this action-packed round. He rebounded to land hard right uppercuts, but Guerrero showed a tremendous chin. He was the one hurting Berto at the end of the round, sending him staggering back to his corner.
Stephane Jamoye-Lee Haskins (sixth): YouTube this baby and you won't be sorry. Belgium's Jamoye, who won the European bantamweight title from England's Haskins on an eighth-round knockout, got knocked down in the round and ate all kinds of leather before coming back to do damage as they both went for broke, caveman-style.
Marco Huck-Ola Afolabi II (12th): With the outcome of this rematch and Huck's cruiserweight title on the table in the final round, the fighters emptied their tanks. The technique wasn't pretty, but they were swinging at each other like desperate, drunken sailors in a blazing action round to conclude what turned out to be a draw.
Wilfredo Vazquez Jr.-Jonathan Oquendo (fifth): Oquendo took the fight with former junior featherweight titlist Vazquez on short notice, but the Puerto Rican rivals produced a heated scrap that really picked up in the fifth round, during which Oquendo rocked Vazquez and turned his legs to jelly. Vazquez touched his glove down, but the referee missed it and the battle raged on.
Raymundo Beltran-Ji-Hoon Kim (first): These action brawlers, both known for good fights, delivered against each other in the opening frame, trading knockdowns. Beltran was floored by a left hook, but he came back to stagger Kim with a left hook before knocking him down hard (and nearly out of the ring) with another big left hand.