The biggest knock on boxing for the last few years is that the best don’t want to fight the best. What that meant is that the two best pound-for-pound fighters in the world – Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao – who are both in the primes of their career (or at least they were before 2012) and are close enough in weight to make the fight, have not met each other in the boxing ring for one reason or another. Nor is it likely to happen anytime soon. Boxing has a ton of problems for sure. One only has to look at all the different worthless titles, governing bodies and promotional wars for the sad tale. But at least for this coming weekend and the one previous, boxing is showing/had fights that are really worth watching, and none of them involve Pacquiao or Mayweather fighting some guy who isn’t the other. And it’s good timing too – with UFC 151′s cancellation and upcoming main event problems, boxing has had the combat sport spotlight all to themselves lately (in a good way, unlike the aforementioned UFC 151 debacle).
First, there was the 9/8 fight between Andre Ward and Chad Dawson. Ward is the unquestioned best supper middleweight boxer in the world, while the same could be said about Dawson at light heavyweight. Dawson not only agreed to fight Ward at supper middleweight, but also in Ward’s hometown of Oakland; hometown decisions are NOTORIOUS in boxing. At the time of the fight, Dawson only had 1 loss in 34 pro fights, while Ward (a 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist) had 25 wins in 25 pro fights. What happened at the fight that night was the coming out party of Andre Ward. It was a coming out party not in the sense that no one knew who he was; he was already a star, and in the top 5 of a lot of pound-for-pound lists. It was one in the sense that he put on such a dominating performance against top level competition that he just might be the top pound-for-pound fighter sooner rather than later. Ward displayed his trademark defensive skills, as Dawson barely hit him; the knock on him though was he is not a finisher. He certainly finished Dawson – he knocked Dawson down 3 times during the fight. The last one, which happened in the 10th round, made Dawson tell the ref “It’s over. I’m finished. I’m done”.
On the horizon this upcoming weekend are two fights which show the best and worst of boxing right now. On Mexican Independence Day weekend, two of Mexico’s most popular young stars will be fighting: Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. (46-0-1-1, 32 KO’s, and is the son of the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez) will be facing one of the top pound for pound fighters in the world in Sergio Martinez (49-2-2, 28 KO’s) . Also, 22 year old Canelo Alvarez (40-0-1, 29 KO’s) – Chavez, Jr’s. closest rival for Mexican fight fans’ hearts among his peers – will be squaring off against Joselito Lopez (30-4-0-1, 18 KO’s). That’s the good thing. The bad thing is both fights are happening on the same night, both in Las Vegas, with the Chavez Jr.-Martinez fight on PPV, while Canelo will be on Showtime.
That’s the kind of counter programming that shouldn’t happen in boxing. But with Top Rank and Golden Boy not really getting along, it did.
Nevertheless, I think we’re in for a treat this weekend. Canelo should beat Lopez. Lopez has moved up from featherweight, to lightweight, to welterweight and now to light middleweight for this bout. Canelo is bigger and stronger and he should manhandle Lopez. Lopez is actually the fourth choice of opponent for Canelo. The first choice was Paul Williams, who days after agreeing to the bout was involved in a motorcycle accident which has resulted in him being paralyzed from the waist down. Then James Kirkland stepped in, but his injury wasn’t fully healed and had to pull out. Victor Ortiz was choice #3, coming on the heels of his high profile fight with Floyd Mayweather, Jr. last year. A funny thing happened on the way to the Canelo bout though – he fought Lopez earlier this year, and even though he was winning on points, he suffered a broken jaw and could not continue after 10 rounds. Enter, Lopez.
The Chavez, Jr.-Martinez fight promises to be the more intriguing and entertaining one this weekend. For the longest time, Chavez, Jr. was fed tomato cans. He is such a huge draw for Mexican fight fans though, and the fact that he was perceived by a lot of observers to be a draw not because of his skills but because he is the son of the most beloved Mexican fighter of all time didn’t hurt him. He was developed slowly (meaning, he was fed more tomato cans), but then surprisingly, he got better and better as the quality of his opposition gradually increased. This time last year, the idea of Chavez, Jr. being competitive in a fight against Sergio Martinez would have been laughable. Now, even though he is still the underdog, no one is putting it past him to pull off the upset.
Make no mistake about it: Martinez is the favorite here. He is more technically skilled, more experienced, and has more power (I mean, just look at this vicious one punch KO of the aforementioned Paul Williams). Chavez is a relentless body puncher who has gotten better mixing in punches at top, but Martinez has the skills to catch and counter him as Chavez comes in for those body punches. Martinez, even at 37, still displays the hunger of the child who grew up barefoot in poverty, training relentlessly for this fight. In another study of contrasts, Chavez – who grew up wealthy – has always had questionable training habits. He has improved on that, but as the latest 24/7 series has shown us, he’s still prone to blowing off training sessions and almost doing things on the fly sometimes. That might have worked against lesser opponents, but that’s a questionable tactic against one of the top fighters in the world.
Not to say Chavez, Jr. won’t have any advantages coming in. He has several. He is younger, only 26 compared to 37 for Martinez. While Martinez has not shown any decline in his last fights, age is a funny thing in combat sports. It has a nasty habit of showing itself out of the blue, reminding people that combat sports is mostly the domain of young men.
Chavez, Jr. is also a lot bigger than Martinez. Hell, he’s a lot bigger for Middleweight period, as he looks like he is usually more at cruiserweight or light heavyweight size by fight night. If he can wear down Martinez (which is a lot easier said than done), then he could win.
But the biggest advantage of all might be all the Mexican fans who will be there to cheer him on. And there will be TONS of them. Not only is it Mexican Independence Day, but the son of the legend is fighting. Add those two factors to the fact that Mexican fight fans are very passionate, and all of a sudden, a Mexican vs. Argentinian fight could be as blood boiling for them as the great Mexico vs. Puerto Rico wars, or Mexico vs. Philippines (meaning, Pacquiao) battles.
If Martinez wins, I would like to see him fight Gennadiy Golovkin next. Another former Olympic medalist, Golovkin is a seek-and-destroy finisher, with 21 KO’s accounting for 24 of his wins. He made his American debut on HBO this past Labor Day weekend and was truly impressive, destroying a talented fighter in Grzegorz Proksa via 5th round TKO.
As for Chavez, Jr., unless he thoroughly gets schooled by Martinez, he should benefit whether he wins or loses. If he wins, then he’s not the manufactured champion people think he was, as he beat one of the best in the world. If he loses respectably, then it confirms the level of improvement he has shown was not an illusion at all; there is no shame in losing to the best.
Ideally, he would face Canelo next win or lose.
At the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, which can fit over 100,000 people.
And it will sell out, no doubt about it.
However, this is where we go back to the worst of boxing part again – Canelo is promoted by Golden Boy, while Chavez, Jr. is promoted by Top Rank. It will be the Mayweather, Jr.-Pacquiao situation again, just the light version.
But let’s not worry about that now. Let’s go ahead and enjoy the fights this weekend.