LAS VEGAS -- The dueling cards at the MGM Grand and the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday night provided plenty of drama and talking points. Here are five takeaways:
1. The show isn't over until the big man from Mexico punches
For 11 rounds, Sergio Martinez wasn't just beating Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., he was embarrassing him, taunting him and openly mocking him. Chavez had absolutely no response to his opponent's speed, movement and style; his sole plan appeared to be to get Martinez on the ropes or in the corner and then start ripping him with hooks and uppercuts. But this is boxing, where a seemingly unassailable lead can be erased with one mighty blow, and just as it looked as if Chavez would need to emulate the feat of his father, when he came from behind to stop Meldrick Taylor with two seconds remaining in March 1990, he nearly did exactly that. Nearly.
2. One punch doesn't always win a fight. But it saved a reputation.
Going into that final round, the thought occurred that everything Chavez had done over the years to improve his reputation, to change the perception of him from a pampered kid who couldn't fight to that of a real ring warrior, was being flushed down the drain. It's one thing to lose. It's another thing entirely to lose while following your opponent around the ring like a lugubrious Great Dane.
Then came those left hooks, and the nail-biting final 90 seconds, and at the end of the bout -- at least in its immediate, adrenaline-soaked aftermath -- it was almost as if the first 11 rounds were forgotten and a new narrative was being written: "If only we still had 15-round fights. If only he'd started a round earlier. No way Martinez could hold him off in a rematch."
The very fact that the R word was being seriously bandied about was remarkable, given how the first 11½ frames had unfolded, and it was testament to how, with one punch, Chavez had salvaged his image among his fans.
3. Seriously. Greatest. Sport. Ever.
The atmosphere in the Thomas & Mack was shaping up to be one of the all-time great ones, with almost 20,000 fans chanting and singing for their fighters. The Argentines in the crowd sang along to their national anthem; the Mexicans belted out theirs. Then, slowly and surely, the air began to be sucked out of one half of the arena as the bout turned ridiculously one-sided. The Argentine fans were singing, but the Mexican fans were reduced to cheering more with hope than genuine belief whenever Chavez landed.
But then came those left hooks and the final half of the final round. At once, the volume level blew from zero to waaaay past 11, and the roof threatened to lift off into the Nevada night. Even some in media row stood up in involuntary disbelief; next to me, Juan Manuel Marquez started screaming, exhorting his countryman to finish the job.
That is why there is no sport that can match the drama and tumult of boxing, and why there is no place better to be on a Saturday night than ringside at a big fight. It was exciting, it was fun and it was a privilege.
4. The action was on the undercards
Forgotten somewhat in the drama of the main event at the Thomas & Mack was that the undercards at both venues treated fans to some classics. The Martinez-Chavez co-main event between Rocky Martinez and Miguel Beltran was a hard-hitting, give-no-quarter, closely-contested fight of the year candidate, in which it was entirely possible to favor either man by several points, depending on whether you preferred Martinez's volume of punches or Beltran's heavier blows. It screams for a rematch.
Over at the MGM Grand, Marcos Maidana and Jesus Soto Karass kept referee Kenny Bayless busy, and the fans screaming, with a momentum-shifting war. And then back at the Thomas & Mack, Matthew Macklin annihilated Joachim Alcine to put himself right back in the middleweight mix.
Had the two Las Vegas cards been combined into one, it would have been the card of the year. But they weren't. Which brings us to
5. It was a great night of boxing. Let's not do it again
Being part of ESPN's Cover It Live coverage of the two cards had a real manic excitement about it, as we switched from one fight to the other and back again. The ringside media section buzzed as we updated each other on the action from the other venue. Judging from Twitter, others who were flipping back and forth between the two on TV were feeding off the energy of the parallel cards, as well. And however much some might quibble over how at least one of Saturday night's promoters got there, both venues were effectively sellouts -- more than 33,000 people were watching live boxing on Tropicana Avenue on Saturday night.
But those at the MGM Grand missed the drama of the final round at the Thomas & Mack; those at the Thomas & Mack were oblivious to the Maidana-Soto Karass impersonation of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots. This is hardly without precedent, of course. Televised shows occur simultaneously on different networks plenty of times. But although both promoters had their legitimate reasons for wanting to proceed with their events, the ugliness and venom that had characterized the buildup to the night diminished many of those who were involved. It marked a new low in a boxing cold war whose temperatures are plummeting to ever lower levels.
We're not asking Bob Arum and Richard Schaeffer to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya." Nor is anyone suggesting that they shouldn't be pursuing their own business interests. But two fights on the same night in the same city, with both sides sniping back and forth, was an unedifying manifestation of why boxing has shot too many holes in its own feet for anyone to count. It was, at the end of the day, a tale of ego and selfishness. Saturday night showed anew that boxing fans are deeply passionate about their sport, and that boxers are unparalleled in their ability to lay body and spirit on the line. They deserve better. It's time for the cold war to at least thaw a little, for their sake.