Photos by Sumio Yamada
JULIO CESAR CHAVEZ Jr. W12 (maj.) SEBASTIAN ZBIK
No one’s pretending that Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is the best middleweight in the world, but the son of Mexico’s most celebrated fighter showed guts, determination and stamina in his hard-working and deserved majority decision win over Sebastian Zbik to capture the WBC middleweight title on Saturday night in Los Angeles.
It was a fight that saw Zbik having success in the early rounds while Chavez finished strongly. Some of the middle rounds were open to debate, but rounds 10, 11 and 12 were all Chavez.
Chavez showed improvement under trainer Freddie Roach. The Chavez of pre-Roach days might have blown the fight, but Junior dug in and showed the heart and desire of a real fighter. He threw combinations more impressively than I have ever seen him throw them, letting his hands go in a way that impresses the judges.
It is true that Chavez has been matched protectively, and there is no way that he will be risked against the speedy and sharp-shooting Sergio Martinez, who is clearly the world’s best 160-pounder. Chavez, though, showed that he can fight a bit and that he can battle through adversity. Zbik was always considered the most beatable of the middleweight champions, but the German boxer had an undefeated record and he had beaten some useful — though unexceptional — fighters. He had come to win, having prepared for a month in Los Angeles, and he wasn’t a pushover.
Beating Zbik doesn’t make Chavez a genuine world-beater, but it does make him a world top 15, maybe even top 10, fighter by today’s standards. You can say that Chavez was manouevred into a title fight and you wouldn’t be wrong, but when the chips were down he had to fight — and fight hard — to win the belt. Chavez clearly paid his dues in the gym. The way he came on in the late rounds showed a high degree of fitness. His body punching evoked memories of his father — no, Junior can never be the fighter his dad was, but the left hook downstairs is a punishing weapon.
Zbik had a sturdy look, but the body battering had drained his resources by the 10th round.
Obviously, Chavez is hittable, and against a seriously hard hitter he would surely have been in trouble on Saturday night, but the matchmakers at Top Rank know what they are doing. There are certain fighters who might be allowed in the same room as Chavez but never in the same ring.
Chavez is highly marketable, and boxing is a business. His fights are fun to watch, although Saturday’s gruelling bout wasn’t much fun for either boxer. Both men suffered in the fight.
The scoring of the two California judges was fair, 114-114 on one card, 115-113 in Chavez’s favour on the other. British judge John Keane had it wider at 116-112. (Although Keane’s score was announced as 116-112, I understand that he scored the last round 10-10 but I have been unable to confirm this).
Chavez’s physical strength surprised me. When his fight-night weight was revealed as 180 pounds I knew that Zbik, outweighed by 15 pounds, would need a monumental effort to eke out the win, and he didn’t quite have it in him. I know that Chavez has his detractors, but the Mexican fans love him, and why not? The young man comes to fight. I thought Chavez earned the win — close but clear, 115-113 — with his heavier blows. In Germany, the decision would likely have gone the other way and I wouldn’t have had a problem with that because it came down to whether a judge liked one man’s more powerful blows or his opponent’s higher punch-volume. For me, though, the winner won.
The fans and boxing observers who criticise Chavez have a right to their opinion, but it reminds me of a dispute years ago in London between the late, great boxing writer Reg Gutteridge and the boxing manager Paddy Byrne. It was Reg’s opinion that Young John McCormack, a tough but technically limited light-heavyweight managed by Byrne, was undeserving of a world ranking bestowed by a boxing publication. Reg’s criticism was taken by Byrne as an attack on the fighter, and angry words were exchanged. “It isn’t John’s fault that he was given a world rating,” an aggrieved Byrne said to me. I see something similar here: It isn’t Chavez’s fault that he is recognised as a world champion — he simply does the fighting and lets his manager and promoter make the matches, and that, in reality, is the way of the boxing world.
In Saturday’s other big fight, on Showtime, Carl Froch gave a disciplined and intelligent performance to defeat Glen Johnson and advance to the final of the Super Six tournament while retaining his WBC 168-pound belt. Froch did just what he said he was going to do, which was to box and move and not get involved in a physical fight. He did, though, punch back vigorously whenever Johnson looked like taking over. It was an entertaining bout, and while I thought Johnson looked a bit weary in the 10th round and, indeed, almost vulnerable, Froch was content to box his way home. The 114-114 score by the Japanese judge Nobuaki Uratani confirmed that one never knows how judges are seeing a fight. Interestingly, though, Uratani was “off” in only one round: In 11 of the 12 rounds, Uratani’s score matched that of at least one of the other judges.