Everything you need to know about this weekend's big fight.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (left) and Sergio Martinez will fight for middleweight supremacy on Saturday. (AP)
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is defending his WBC middleweight title against Sergio Martinez, the fighter regarded by many (including Ring magazine) as the division's recognized champion, at the sold-out Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. (9 p.m. ET, HBO PPV, $49.95).
The 26-year-old Chavez Jr., the son of one of boxing's most legendary champions, holds the WBC title belt that was stripped from Martinez last year, lending a measure of acrimony to Saturday's fight.
Martinez's backstory is extraordinary even by fistic standards. A product of one of Argentina's toughest barrios, he was a natural athlete who spurned a contract offer to play soccer, later mulling careers in tennis and cycling. He didn't take up boxing until after his 20th birthday -- a remarkably advanced age for a future champion -- and came up the hard way. He finally broke through at 35, outpointing Pavlik for the middleweight title and making four defenses, all by knockout. For most of the past three years, he's been considered the best fighter in the sport not named Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao, a crusader against bullying with a penchant for highlight-reel knockouts.
Chavez, who turned pro at 17 after a practically non-existent amateur career, was a mostly unimpressive prospect whom many wrote off as a product of nepotism. But he's improved steadily under decorated trainer Freddie Roach and looked more and more impressive in recent fights, most notably a seventh-round knockout of Andy Lee in June.
The shifty politics of boxing lend fascinating subtext to Saturday's fight. Although Martinez is widely recognized as the best middleweight in the sport, the Argentine no longer holds any of the four alphabelt titles. Chavez Jr. will be defending the WBC championship belt that was stripped from Martinez when HBO refused to approve interim titleholder Sebastian Zbik for a telecast in March 2011. Interestingly, the network later approved Zbik for Chavez's HBO debut three months later, a fight that Chavez won by decision to claim Martinez's old belt.
That's prompted some uncommon behavior from Martinez, who normally treats opponents with overwhelming respect. "It is personal," Martinez said this week through a translator. "He won't be eating solid food with the few teeth remaining after I get through with him."
Official weights announced at Friday's final weigh-in.
Battling comparisons to his famous father from the start, Chavez has put together a few impressive wins on his way to an alphabet title.
Without the backing of one of boxing's titantic promoters, Martinez has emerged as one of the most exciting fighters in the sport.
Chavez is a heavy-handed, straightforward fighter with a granite chin and a considerable size advantage: most expect he'll enter the ring at nearly 180 pounds on Saturday night, while Martinez is relatively small for a middleweight. Roach has tried to get Chavez to make the most of his size, though he often reverts to a brawler, looping punishing body shots at his opponents. He's shown more fluidity in recent outings, incremental progress that seems to have closed the talent gap between the two.
Martinez has advantages in experience, conditioning, hand speed, footwork and punching power, much of which derives from his pinpoint accuracy. He holds his hands at his sides, almost daring his opponents to engage so he can counter with combinations from unusual angles. He's been pushed by mid-tier contenders Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin in his two most recent outings, even tasting the canvas against Macklin, but rebounded to end both fights inside the distance.
Chavez will likely try to press his natural size advantage by coming straight ahead and bullying Martinez as much as possible, levying his relentless body attack to try and slow his opponent. The Mexican has a great chin and underappreciated self-belief, but he's there to be hit -- and the Argentine hits awfully hard. He's tailor-made for Martinez's counterpunching, which could result in cuts that lead to an early stoppage.
Another factor to consider is Chavez's popularity. If the fight goes the distance and it's reasonably close, the groundswell of support for Chavez -- certain to be in full throat on Mexican Independence Day weekend -- could influence the judges.
Oddsmaker William Hill lists Martinez as a 2-to-1 favorite, and Chavez as a slight 13-to-8 underdog.
This fight was a mismatch a year-and-a-half ago, when Martinez started clamoring for Chavez after losing his belt under dubious circumstances. Since then, Martinez has shown signs of slippage despite knockout wins in his last two fights, while Chavez's steady improvement paid dividends in high-profile fashion with his seventh-round knockout of Lee. But it's still a massive step up in class for Chavez, who is younger and stronger, but going against an opponent who is more accurate, versatile and intelligent. Martinez will make the most of his first opportunity in the pay-per-view spotlight, frustrating the young Mexican with his awkward, squirrely style and showing him angles he's never seen. Styles make fights, and Chavez is a perfect matchup for the Argentine. Martinez by sixth-round knockout.
Julio Cesar Chavez celebrates his 50th birthday at a media event ahead of Chavez Jr.-Martinez. (AP)
The Tweet Beat
Join the conversation about Chavez Jr.-Martinez on Twitter. Track the hashtag #ChavezMartinez to see who's tweeting what about Saturday's fight.
· Rocky Martinez vs. Miguel Beltran, 12 rounds, for vacant WBO junior lightweight title
· Guillermo Rigondeaux vs. Robert Marroquin, 12 rounds, for Rigondeaux's WBA junior featherweight title
· Matthew Macklin vs. Joachim Alcine, 10 rounds, middleweights
· Non-PPV bouts: Mike Lee vs. Paul Harness, 6 rounds, light heavyweights; Willie Nelson vs. John Jackson, 10 rounds, junior middleweights; Wale Omotoso vs. Daniel Sostre, 8 rounds, welterweights; Michael Medina vs. James Winchester, 8 rounds, junior middleweights
· HBO's Jim Lampley, Emanuel Steward, Max Kellerman and Harold Lederman will be ringside for the main event and undercard.
· The referee assigned to the main event is Tony Weeks. The judges are Adalaide Byrd, Dave Moretti, Stanley Christodoulou.
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.