by Kieran Mulvaney
LAS VEGAS - After eleven rounds of the WBC middleweight title fight between Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Sergio Martinez, one overwhelming thought came to mind:
"Hey, remember last year, when we thought that Martinez was way too skilled for Chavez? And then we changed our minds and decided that Chavez was good enough after all? We were right the first time."
Going into the twelfth and final round, the only way Chavez could possibly stave off defeat was to do what his father had done 22 years previously -- when, hopelessly behind on points, he had rallied in the final frame to drop and stop Meldrick Taylor with just two seconds on the clock.
But there was no reason to believe the younger Chavez would be able to do such a thing, no evidence that he possessed his famous father's fighting spirit after all. For eleven rounds he had meekly and cluelessly followed Martinez around the ring, as the Argentine had rattled southpaw right jabs and straight left hands off his young face.
He wouldn't be able to emulate his father. He didn't have a miracle in him.
And then, suddenly, he nearly did.
A right and a left hurt Martinez, and then a left knocked him into, and part way through, the ropes. Another left hook caught him flush as he stood up straight, and then another, and Martinez was down, the crowd was roaring, even media row was standing, and the roof of the Thomas & Mack Center threatened to blow off.
Chavez smelled blood -- and by this stage both his face, and that of his opponent's, were covered in it -- and now he charged, throwing hard right hands and looking for the kill. But Martinez held steady, his legs somehow found a reserve of strength and sturdiness, and he began to fire back. He made it to the final bell, and to victory.
It was the 50th win of the Argentine's professional career, and it was surely the sweetest. He had been campaigning for a bout with Chavez ever since the WBC belt was removed from his waist and transferred, via Sebastian Zbik, to the Mexican. And, until the closing drama, that intensity and desire showed with every punch.
He moved from right to left and back again. He landed southpaw right jabs that bloodied Junior's nose. He landed straight left hands to the body that backed Chavez up. He snapped the champion's head back and sent the spray flying. He kept his hands low to his waist in his trademark fashion, taunting his foe, stretching his arms out wide, pumping his fists, as if to say, "Is that all you've got? Can't you hit me with anything?"
The Chavez strategy seemed to be to use his superior size and strength to walk Martinez down and impose himself. And every time he was able to pin the Argentine against the ropes or in the corner, he suddenly came to life, as if a green light had suddenly gone on and granted him permission to punch. He dug to the body with hooks and launched uppercuts in close.
The problem was that when he did so, Martinez would absorb the blows -- although he would suffer cuts of his own on his face in the process -- and either spin away or return fire with punches that backed Chavez off. Even when the fight was being fought on the Mexican's terms, Chavez couldn't win.
Then came that dramatic conclusion, and a son's tenuous hold on his family's fighting reputation was restored.
For one round, Chavez showed he belonged in the ring with one of the very best in the business. Alas for him, for eleven rounds, Martinez suggested strongly that he didn't. Chavez finished the fight with his pride. But Martinez finished it with the title.
In the co-main event, Roman 'Rocky' Martinez won a razor-thin split decision over Miguel Beltran in a terrific super featherweight contest that's a contender for fight of the year. Middleweight Matthew Macklin blew out Joachim Alcine in one round. And Guillermo Rigondeaux dropped Roberto Marroquin twice to win a decision and defend his WBA junior featherweight title.