No time like present for Chavez
More than ever, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is ready to face Sergio Martinez. And that's great news -- for the fighter and boxing fans alike. Aside from the remote and devalued possibility of a Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao blockbuster bout, Chavez-Martinez is one of the few alternative megafights capable of piquing interest at this point.
A Martinez matchup would end the furor over Chavez's worthiness as middleweight titlist, leaving no further debate. Martinez isn't an opponent created out of thin air in order to keep a belt wrapped around the waist of an undeserving champion. Chavez would put his title up against the lineal champ from whom it was stripped (wrongfully so, according to many). For that reason, all should be grateful that the fight will happen.
Additionally, though, Martinez-Chavez has an all-important selling point: doubt. So many unanswered questions make any predictions about the fight all but impossible.
Would Chavez be able to impose his strength and will on an older opponent who has nevertheless exhibited superb physical condition? Would Martinez accept Chavez's implicit toe-to-toe proposition, as Andy Lee did? Could Martinez possibly outslug such a rugged opponent who has proved he can take big punches? Would he shorten the distance and risk it all in a phone-booth war? What will Chavez's strategy be against a fast, elusive opponent who rewrites his playbook so often, driving his opponent through the ring and punching him from all angles while avoiding counterpunches? Would Chavez imitate the European style of Darren Barker, a former Martinez challenger who kept his distance behind a closed defense and who worked effectively behind his jab despite a lack of power? Would Chavez have a normal training camp, without any surprises or problems such as those he had before facing Marco Antonio Rubio? Are the leg cramps he suffered against Lee a bad omen?
Pablo Sarmiento, Martinez's trainer, indicated that his fighter will punch often and hurt his opponent profoundly. Would Chavez radically change his style, emphasizing defense, given all the implied risks?
The fight will answer a fundamental question -- does Chavez deserve his current standing? -- but first raises more questions. And that's a good thing. Uncertainty is boxing's bread and butter. It refreshes interest in a sport that deserves great rivalries. Right up to Sept. 15, the matchup will help to spin a buzzing roulette of bets and forecasts.
So then, how do we answer the greatest uncertainty, the question at hand: Is Chavez up for this? The fact that Junior's side -- after a long, slow buildup of its fighter -- has seemingly accepted Martinez's challenge, and the fact that we're engaging in a reasonable debate on the subject at all, proves that he is ready. Or as ready as he'll ever be.
Can't match speed, experience
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.'s middleweight title defense against Andy Lee cleared up many doubts about certain Chavez virtues that had been considered suspect. His good chin and great punching power, already present in previous fights, were joined on that list by some obscured assets that emerged against Lee, such as Chavez's ability to focus and choose the right time to strike, his management of the pace of the fight and his controlled killer instinct.
But the question of whether Chavez is ready to face and defeat an opponent of the superb quality of Sergio Martinez remains unanswered.
We'll get a clear answer when both men, as planned, step into the ring together Sept. 15, ending a bitter feud that saw each challenge the other and generate pages and pages of volleyed insults and taunts. But the fact is, all signs point to a negative prognosis for the paper champ, who lacks experience against the sort of fast, agile fighter -- one who will puzzle Chavez with countless angles -- that Martinez represents so well.
Martinez is the complete package, with dozens of varied offensive options and a boxing vocabulary that few fighters in the world today possess. He's widely considered one of the top pound-for-pound fighters today, and with good reason.
And even though Lee was indeed Chavez's best opponent to date, it's also true that the former Irish Olympian isn't remotely a proper measuring stick to evaluate how Chavez might fare against a resourceful guy such as Martinez. The main difference between the fighters continues to be speed, and a simple side-by-side video comparison of the two drives home the point decisively.
With his peculiar style and low guard, Martinez is always closer to his opponent and more ready to connect, and he does land effectively and accurately. Meanwhile, Chavez relies heavily on his slower body attack from a static position on the canvas, which turns him into the perfect target for the Argentine fighter.
Their styles are so different that it's possible one will greatly upstage the other, giving the superior fighter a clear advantage and allowing the better man to win by a big margin. But in reviewing the evidence, it seems clear who that man is. Chavez will face a puzzle he'll be unable to solve, and Martinez will finally recover the belt that he never lost in the ring, restoring the continuity he deserved as the linear middleweight champion of the world.
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