It was supposed to be so easy for Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. last September: Return from a 13-month layoff and his only career loss to Sergio Martinez with an impressive showing against Bryan Vera, who also happened to be the number-one contender in one of the sanctioning bodies. A victory would put Chavez in line for an immediate title shot and, at least for the time being, all would be well.
The troubles began when Chavez suffered a cut on his right eyelid during sparring, which pushed the fight back three weeks. Despite the extra training time Chavez still had major problems making the contracted 162-pound weight limit. Through negotiations the standard was raised to 168 but just days before the fight Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. declared the limit had been raised to 173. That prompted a scramble of epic proportions but after deals were struck Chavez scaled 171 1/4 to Vera's 172 1/2 and the fight went forward.
Once the bell sounded, Chavez's problems multiplied as Vera's hustle appeared to be enough to secure the upset. But Chavez was saved by the judges, who saw him as a unanimous decision winner. The subsequent uproar prompted this rematch at the Alamodome, which is friendly territory for both men. Will Vera summon another inspired performance or will Chavez "make things right" and move forward?
Statistical factors that may influence the outcome include:
The First Act: Statistically Vera was by far the dominant fighter. He averaged more than twice as many punches per round (73.4 vs. 32.8) and out-landed Chavez in eight out of the 10 rounds en route to connect advantages of 176-125 overall, 67-27 jabs and 109-98 power. Here's one further illustration of their activity gap: Chavez's highest output in the fight -- 43 in round three -- matched Vera's lowest in round one.
Chavez's saving grace -- besides the judges and his star status -- was his superior accuracy. The gaps were large (38%-24% overall, 19%-17% jabs, 53%-32% power) and Chavez found Vera an easy target for his hooks, crosses and uppercuts. In the round-by-round breakdowns Chavez landed 50% or more of his power shots eight times and soared past 60% three times, peaking at 67% in round six. Vera's volume attack placed prolific numbers above precision, for only once did Vera land more than 40% of his power shots (48% in round two) and in five rounds he was mired in the 20s. This dramatic gulf in effectiveness may partially explain why Chavez won so many of the perceived close rounds.
Like Father, Like Son: One of the few knocks against Chavez's father was his propensity to start slowly and that malady has crept into the son's game. Chavez never got out of the gate against Vera as he remained in the 20s and 30s in nine of the 10 rounds and he was stuck in the mud for the first 10 rounds against Martinez (27.9 per round during that stretch). The first three rounds against Andy Lee saw Chavez average just 20 punches per round before the engine finally got running.
But when Chavez is working at full steam, he can be a monstrous offensive force. In rounds four through seven against Lee he out-landed the Irishman 96-79 overall and 95-65 power, landing 50% of his overall punches and 58% of his power shots. In the final two rounds against Martinez, Chavez landed 51% of his total punches and 58% of his power shots, including 61% in the final round. Those are numbers that usually produce knockouts and in the Lee fight it did just that. The Martinez surge was a case of a combination of too little-too late and what-might-have-been.
The Blue Collar Worker: The cornerstone of Vera's revival -- many believe the Chavez fight should have been Vera's fifth straight win -- has been extreme volume. Against Chavez he averaged 73.4 punches per round, and that was his lowest figure in his last four fights. Against Sergio Mora (the second time around), Serhiy Dzinziruk (KO 10) and Donatas Bondas (KO 7), Vera's average per-round outputs were 105.4, 88.7 and 88.3 -- way above the 54.2 super middleweight average. Like most volume punchers, Vera's accuracy suffered because in his last four fights he landed a combined 23% overall, 15% jabs and 31% power, below the division norms of 31%, 22% and 38% respectively.
One unusual aspect of Vera's attack is its balance. Most volume punchers throw many power shots than jabs but in Vera's case he averaged a combined 43.7 jabs and 46.2 power punches among his 89.8 punches per round -- a 51-49 tilt in favor of power shots. Despite his extreme aggression against Chavez, Vera actually threw more jabs (391) than power shots (343). This diverse attack makes Vera unpredictable and that may well be an asset that will serve Vera well in this rematch.
Prediction: Vera fought one of the best fights of his career against Chavez and to win he'll have to do it again. As a native Texan, he'll have plenty of support. On the other hand, Chavez is capable of fighting much better and the guess here is that he will. He knows that another sub-par effort, much less a loss, against someone whose come-forward style is seemingly tailor-made for him, will be fatal. Thus, he'll fight like a man with his back against the wall and win a solid decision.