Saturday night at the Los Angeles Staples Center, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. became Mexico's first middleweight champion, defeating Sebastian Zbik (30-1) for the WBC title in a majority decision (114-114, 115-113, and 116-112).
Neither man is overwhelmingly experienced. The biggest name on either's resume is Chavez's own, who largely has been criticized for making a career against stiffs off his father's hard-fought legacy. Tonight, however, Chavez fought less like a man who inherited a name and more like one who wished to defend its honor.
For Chavez, tonight marked his second fight beyond 12 rounds, his third under trainer Freddie Roach, and his fourth at middleweight. The fruitful work in camp paid dividends for Chavez, noting after the fight what his father told him on a visit to his training at the Wild Card Boxing Club, "This is where you win championships: training, running, and listening to Freddie Roach." While the father credits Roach, for his part, Roach lauded his strength coach Alex Ariza, saying of Chavez down the stretch of the fight, "Junior was in his best ever condition, and outlasted [Zbik]."
By every Compubox metric, Zbik outdid the Mexican: punches thrown (834-796), connected (391-256), jabs landed (56-14), and power punches landed (335-242). The outset did not look good for Chavez, who appeared to give away the early rounds. Chavez (43-0-1), however, landed the harder shots and dictated the type of war that was waged: shoulder to shoulder, trading shots in the center of the ring. Chavez's ring generalship was not prototypical for a Freddie Roach fighter built on speed like Manny Pacquiao or Amir Khan, but it garnered Chavez that most iconic feature of a fighter in Roach's stable: victory.
As Chavez slugged to the body, Zbik complained of low blows. The referee said that Zbik was pushing down on Chavez's head, leaving Chavez's punches with no other target but the waistline. In the ring after the fight, Zbik was gracious in defeat, but stated his perspective on the fight, "I thought I won the first five or six rounds... but then I got hit by some hard body shots... My corner told me that I had to win the last round to win the fight. I thought I won that round." All three judges disagreed.
Of the approximately 7,000 in attendance, the fight must have been most odd for one man: Sergio Martinez, who is now recognized as the best middleweight and whom the WBC stripped incomprehensibly, which eventually enabled Chavez to win this title tonight. (To watch two men punch each other in the face for a bedizened belt is hard for any sane person to rationalize, but when those two men are fighting for a belt that rightfully belongs to you, the ratiocination must be even harder on a brain already taxed by concussive blows.)
To Chavez's credit, when asked if he'd fight Martinez, he replied, "As long as the money is right, I'll fight anyone in the world." As representatives of Chavez's promoter, Top Rank, filtered among the press, they continually stated that Miguel Cotto, the current junior middleweight champion, was in attendance. Martinez's name was never mentioned. For Chavez in the future, it likely won't be, either.
But for Mexican boxing fans, the future can wait. Tonight, Chavez built a bridge to the past: winning a world title in his 44th recorded professional fight, just as his celebrated father had. Junior proved to critics that he has heart; to skeptics that he has discipline; and to himself that he deservingly ranks among the world's elite fighters.
On the televised portion of the undercard, Mikey Garcia 26-0 (22 KO) was announced as "The Fighting Pride of Oxnard", to which no Oxnard inhabitant would take offense since junior middleweight Antonio Margarito has brought the town shame in scandal, welterweight champion Victor Ortiz has moved to Ventura, and Sergio Martinez still has a shaky understanding of English. He faced off against Rafael Guzman, of whom Garcia would later say, "I thought he would run and hide. He came to fight."
By the second round, Guzman's right eye was bleeding from left hooks. In efforts to protect the side of his head, Guzman only left open the front of the face. Garcia found it with jab-right combinations frequently. In the fourth, Garcia landed the jab and then right while dipping in anticipation of Guzman's hook. After the fight Garcia concluded, "It was the perfect right hand," to which his brother and trainer Robert Garcia added, "Mikey's ready for any featherweight in the world."