Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. has had a full year to think about what happened before and during his last right, a unanimous decision loss to Sergio Martinez that could rightly be described as "lopsided" as well as "the one that got away" -- in more ways than one.
For 10-and-a-half rounds Martinez carved up Chavez like a Christmas turkey with razor-sharp punches and made his face look like a serving of mashed potatoes with all its lumps and bumps. But in the 11th, and especially in the final minute of the fight, Chavez summoned up a near-historic rally that included a knockdown that injured Martinez's knee. The final scorecards hardly indicated just how close Chavez came to duplicating his father's unforgettable rally against Meldrick Taylor 22 years earlier.
Chavez Jr. also hurt himself by smoking marijuana during his preparation, which resulted in a failed drug test, a nine-month suspension and a $900,000 fine- which was later reduced to a $100,000 fine. By not giving himself the best chance to win outside the ring, he couldn't possibly win inside the ring -- and yet he almost did.
Saturday will mark his first fight back and his opponent -- rugged veteran Brian Vera -- is no easy mark. He has won six of his last seven fights, including four straight, and at age 31 he seems to be at the peak of his form. Two victories over Sergio Mora and two straight KOs, including one over longtime WBO junior middleweight titlist Sergiy Dzinziruk, has earned Vera yet another chance to break through and potentially earn his first crack at a major title.
Statistical factors that may influence the outcome include:
What Might Have Been: For a big chunk of the Martinez fight, Chavez was a shadow of the fighter who built a 46-0-1 record. Going in, Chavez was an offensive powerhouse that used smothering pressure, a superb body attack and knockouts brought about by attrition.
But there were signs of slippage. Against John Duddy, Billy Lyell and Sebastian Zbik Chavez averaged 63.8 punches per round, landing a combined 44% overall, 39% of his jabs and 46% of his power shots but in the three fights preceding the Martinez showdown (Peter Manfredo Jr., Marco Antonio Rubio and Andy Lee) his output slipped to 43 punches per round but his accuracy remained similar (44% overall, 28% jabs, 49% power). Against the slippery Martinez, however, Chavez needed to impose his strength in numbers and he failed to do so.
The slow start that dogged Chavez against Lee (20 punches per round in the first three rounds) went on for 10 against "Maravilla" (27.9 per round). But Chavez lifted his game in the 11th and 12th rounds, for his 57 connects made up 32% of his overall total and an astounding 42.6% of his power connects in the bout.
What was most frustrating for Chavez fans was that when he punched, he landed. Chavez only threw 32.5 punches per round to Martinez's 75.7, resulting in connect bulges of 322-178 (total), 140-49 (jabs) and 182-129 (power). But Chavez was the more accurate fighter -- and not by a little -- as he led 46%-35% overall, 37%-28% jabs and 50%-45% power. Had he been able to up the output, we might have seen a different result. In Chavez's last 5 fights, he landed 40% of his total punches, second only to Mayweather's 42% among active championship caliber fighters.
The Offensive Dimension: The cornerstone of Vera's renaissance has been extraordinary output. In his last three fights against Sergio Mora (the second time around), Serhiy Dzinziruk (KO 10) and Donatas Bondas (KO 7), Vera's average 96 punches thrown per round (landed just 23%) - way above the 56.9 middleweight average. Like most volume punchers (Leo Santa Cruz being the exception), Vera's accuracy suffered because in those three bouts he landed a combined 23% overall, 14% jabs and 30% power, below the division norms of 32%, 23% and 38% respectively.
But one unusual aspect of Vera's attack is its balance. Most volume punchers throw far more power shots than jabs but in Vera's case he averaged a combined 45.3 jabs and 50.2 power punches among his 95.5 punches per round -- a 53-47 tilt in favor of power shots. Meanwhile, the typical middleweight's ratio is 58-42 (23.8 jabs, 33 power shots per round). That offensive diversity combined with Vera's unpredictable punching patterns make him quite a handful for opponents and will certainly test Chavez's defensive prowess and willpower.
A Mutual Problem: Neither man is a defensive mastermind. Sergio Mora landed 42% of his power shots in his rematch against Vera while Dzinziruk connected on 31% of his jabs. But Vera performed better against Bondas as he tasted 26% overall, 16% jabs and 37% power. But Chavez, even a depleted version, is a cut above Bondas.
It was thought that Chavez was getting a handle on his defensive woes. Against Zbik, Lyell and Duddy Chavez was struck by a combined 36% overall and 45% power but against Lee, Rubio and Manfredo, those numbers slipped to 23%, 17% and 28% -- better than average numbers for middleweights.
But against Martinez -- a future Hall of Famer -- Chavez's defensive numbers decayed to 36% overall, 28% jabs and 45% power. Will Vera's scatter-shot attack exploit Chavez's suspect defense or will Chavez's size and power prove too overwhelming?
Prediction: Chavez has always performed better against fighters who come straight at him, and if Vera is going to do one thing he's going to be running in with guns blazing. Chavez will be bigger and stronger physically but will he be mentally ready for the challenge? Vera, though more limited skill-wise, has no such problems. He makes the most of what he has.
Given the styles this will be a pulse-pounding war that will go plenty of rounds. If all is right with Chavez mentally he has the skill-set to win fairly handily. But if there are chinks in Chavez's resolve, (trouble boiling down to the 168-lb limit) Vera will expose them and pull yet another upset. The guess here is that Chavez will enter the ring in a good frame of mind because he knows another loss, especially to an opponent with a tailor-made style, will be fatal. Chavez by decision.