by Eric Raskin
When fans turn on their televisions this Saturday night to catch the replay of the Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. middleweight championship fight, whether they watched the fight live last weekend or are seeing it for the first time, they’ll be tuning in primarily to see one round: the 12th. For 11 rounds, Martinez painted a masterpiece on Chavez’s face. Then Chavez, to the shock of pretty much everyone, broke up the no-hitter and nearly ended Martinez’s title reign.
It was a near-miracle. And it left everyone asking themselves, “What the heck just happened?” The short answer is: Chavez threw the hook.
For 11 rounds, Chavez never landed a telling left hook. He didn’t land much of anything, frankly, but what he did land came mostly in the form of long right hands at distance and bodyshots in close. Against the fleet-footed southpaw Martinez, Chavez couldn’t get into a position where he was comfortable letting any hooks go. And the problem with his right-hand-heavy attack was that the punch was too looping and predictable and “Maravilla” saw it coming every time.
So ineffective was Chavez that his exasperated trainer Freddie Roach, when interviewed by Max Kellerman during the 11th round, could only offer generic thoughts on how Chavez might knock out the Argentine: “He’s gotta punch with him. He’s gotta exchange with him. He’s gotta let his hands go. He’s walking in with his head first and not really letting his hands go.”
Not much changed in the first minute of the 12th, as Martinez jabbed and circled and Chavez was still clearly looking to land a fight-changing right hand. With 1:46 remaining on the clock, he finally did. Sort of. Martinez had his head in Chavez’s chest and then stepped back with his hands down—a classic mistake, but one Martinez’s reflexes usually allow him to get away with it—and Junior landed a looping right. Martinez was mildly buzzed, stood still, and absorbed a few more shots as the younger man let his hands go, but nothing major landed, and Martinez still appeared to be in complete control of the fight as he got back to flicking jabs and circling away just a few seconds later.
Then, with 1:29 on the clock, Chavez landed a straight right along the ropes. It was a clean shot, but it did no damage. Two seconds later, however, damage most definitely was done. Martinez was bent forward, just inches from Chavez, and as he popped out of his crouch to throw a jab, his eyes focused squarely on his opponent’s right hand, Chavez dropped in a quick left hook that beat the jab, and Martinez never saw it. It crashed into his jaw and sent him careening sideways, where the ropes held him up. Chavez let his hands go, landed two more flush left hooks, and down went Martinez.
We all know what happened from there: Martinez got up at the count of four, refused to clinch or run and instead got himself clocked several more times but survived the final minute without suffering another official knockdown and took the unanimous decision.
But let’s focus on the punch that created all of that late drama. Was Martinez tiring? Maybe a little, but his 108-punch output in Round 11 and general tendency to finish strongly suggest that wasn’t a big factor. Did he get sloppy? Not really. His hands weren’t any lower than usual — if anything, they were higher than usual. Did Chavez suddenly step it up? Perhaps a little bit. He seemed to be slightly more aggressive in the 12th, knowing there were no remaining rounds to save his energy for.
The best explanation seems to be that Chavez threw the right punch at the right time, that he’d lulled Martinez into not worrying about his left hook then picked the perfect moment to finally unleash it. It wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t a lucky punch. It was just the kind of punch that Chavez wasn’t likely to use until he was desperate enough to stop worrying about being in perfect position and to stop worrying about getting hit in return. It was the kind of punch that lands when you start taking chances and start letting both hands go.