SI.com's boxing experts predict Saturday's middleweight title fight between Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Sergio Martinez (9 p.m. ET, HBO PPV). Share your prediction in the comments below.
A year ago this fight was a mismatch, back when Martinez was peaking and Chavez was still learning the craft. Yet time has slowed the 37-year-old Martinez -- the early success of Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin in Martinez's last two fights attests to that -- while Chavez has grown into his 6-foot frame and, with the help of Freddie Roach, into his natural skill.
That preamble is to illustrate why this will be a closer fight than if it took place a year ago; but the outcome will be the same. Martinez has been victimized by slow starts lately but Chavez has his own habit of poor early rounds to deal with. Chavez will score with his body work but Martinez's clean, precise punching should produce obvious points. I'm wary of a bad decision here: On Mexican Independence Day, Chavez will have a lot of fans in the building and Nevada judges have been shaky recently. But I'm still taking Martinez because in the later rounds, his talent will shine. Martinez by split decision.
I can’t decide if an uncharacteristically angry Martinez (“It is personal …. I will break his face a thousand times”) poses an extra danger for Chavez, or whether that impressive vitriol is a sign that the usually easy-going and respectful Argentine is feeling a bit of a threat and may be vulnerable. Chavez, at 26, is 11 years younger than Martinez, and appears to be maturing into a more complete fighter than it seemed he would ever become. He is also a very big (six-foot, and likely to come into the ring 10 to 15 pounds over the 160-pound limit) and very powerful middleweight. In his recent outings, against Peter Manfredo Jr., Marco Antonio Rubio and, especially Andy Lee, the son of the legendary JCC (the greatest Mexican fighter of all time) has displayed a more fluid and multi-dimensional style, seemingly finally stepping up his learning curve. Certainly he’s a very dangerous customer.
That said, I have to think that Martinez, though 37, is still very much in his prime and has far more tools than Chavez. He’s still faster than Chavez and a far more skilled boxer, and he’s an exceptional finisher. I see Martinez dominating the early rounds. Chavez may very well mount an attack in the middle of the bout – those boy shots will get through – but I see Martinez weathering it and then his superior skill, fitness (we know Chavez Jr. has blown off more than a few sessions with Freddie Roach) experience – and maybe even his righteous anger -- should come together to batter Chavez down the stretch. One danger: If it’s at all close round-by-round, look for the judges to give an edge to Chavez.
Still, I am looking for Martinez on points. Martinez by unanimous decision.
BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM
The late-blooming Martinez has spent most of the past three years near the top of the pound-for-pound charts, generally considered the best fighter in the sport not named Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao. Chavez spent the same period regarded by many as the coddled son of a legend, more sizzle than substance. Junior's impressive knockout of Andy Lee may have tempered that perception, underscoring a key fact: this is the biggest, strongest and perhaps most agressive opponent Martinez has faced. And, yes, the cagey Argentine puncher has showed signs of slippage in recent outings. Still, no one can deny it's a major step up in class for Chavez. Expect the wiser, more accurate and more intelligent Maravilla to make the most of his long-awaited moment in the spotlight, taking the fight to Chavez from the opening bell, creating angles the young Mexican has never seen before and -- of no small significance -- trying above all to keep it out of the judges' hands. Look for boxing's most impressive closer to make it five straight knockouts somewhere in the middle rounds. Martinez by sixth-round KO.