Tonight in Mexico City, two Mexican fighters fought not only for a vacant 140 pound world title, but for the admiration of the Mexican population. Could Julio Cesar Chavez turn back the clock and compete against the top of the division? Could Miguel Angel Gonzalez live up to the promise he showed in a loss last year to Oscar DelaHoya? The only place to find out was in the ring.
Before 50,000 fight fans (judging by the number of fights in the stands) one of the more anticipated, if not delayed, matchups of 1998 was held. Coming into the fight, both men often spoke of the motivation the matchup provided. Yet rumors had long been swirling that both fighters had ballooned in weight since their last bouts on the Holyfield-Tyson undercard. As they met at center ring for the final instructions, both men looked lean and trim. Chavez, especially, looked to be in fine condition having lost the blubber that distorted his frame in a earlier bout with Tony Martin. It wouldn't take long before one was wondering if the weight had come off in the gym or in the steam room.
The fight began with Miguel Angel Gonzalez using a firm jab, lead left hook, and right hand to set the tempo. Chavez, who barely threw a punch in the first half of the opener, seemed to be looking for an opening that never showed up. He shot power punches through what holes he could find, and while he occasionally found his target, Gonzalez was scoring through consistent output. And so went the fight.
For 12 rounds, Gonzalez threw and Chavez picked his punches. At times the momentum seemed to be with Gonzalez, who showed flashes of brilliance when he threw combinations and moved. At other times the fight seemed to turn to Chavez, who was able to land a number of hard power punches and stun Miguel Angel, but never close the deal. Most of the time, however, the fighters were seeking a rest.
In the clinches (where a number of fouls were committed), in the exchanges where both fighters threw one punch apiece, and in the lack of aggression that at times threatened to lull the rabid crowd to sleep, both fighters seemed ill prepared for a long grueling battle at high altitude. Chavez began breathing through a gaping mouth at the end of the 2nd, Gonzalez looking winded a round later. The fighters coasted in such long stretches that it seemed every toe to toe exchange finally erupted with 20 seconds left in the round.
Once the pace of the fight was established, it was clear that the fight would go the full 12. Gonzalez displayed too little power in his quick hands to chip the granite chin Julio sports. Chavez snapped Gonzalez's head with numerous left hooks, but none as devastating or frequent as the left hooks Gonzalez survived in his bout with DelaHoya. The WBC judges would get their say this night, and that can only mean controversy.
Controversy is a staple of boxing. So much so that everyone involved in tonight's bout...from the television announcers, to the pay-per-view buying pundits, to the participants themselves knew that there was no way to beat Julio Cesar Chavez in Mexico City with three WBC assigned judges and WBC Godfather Jose Suliaman at ringside, unless you knocked him out. And as it became clear the Gonzalez was not going to knock out Chavez, it was not a question of whether he would be robbed, but by how much.
If you liked his punch output, his aggression in the middle of each round, and his combinations, you saw a fight where Gonzalez won 8 rounds or more. If you felt that Chavez's occasional power shots made up the difference or that he was able to steal rounds with last minute flurries (some of the best of which landed after the bell), then you might have been able to give Chavez a close fight.
When the decision was read as a draw, it was hardly a shock. But as I reflect on the bout tonight, it seems a particularly fitting, if not totally fair, result. Did either fighter deserve a world title tonight?
Chavez, for his part, survived. But did he really perform any better than he did in his last two tune-up fiascos? Like so many fighters past their primes, Julio was unable to pull the trigger when he needed to. Unable to follow up on the opportunities he created, Chavez had to settle for home run swings. He may not be shot, but he is in the chamber and the gun is cocked.
Gonzalez also underachieved. Unable to capitalize on the fading veteran before him, Gonzalez showed us only that he has a great chin. We can thank his poor defense for this.
Neither fighter won. Not the title, not the admiration of the Mexican fans (who pelted the ring with everything they could possibly throw), and not the future payday with Oscar DelaHoya (who, at ringside, was pelted with almost as many objects as the ring).
After the fight, immediate talk of a rematch was circulating in the ring. And why not? The WBC still has a super-lightweight title to fill, and Chavez and Gonzalez will presumably keep their #1 and #2 rankings. But should we be excited? After tonight's disappointing display, perhaps not...