I'm not quite as ignorant of boxing as the late Leslie Nielsen. For example, I've watched most of the heavyweight title bouts (of the various sanctioning bodies) since the 1980s, and seen all six Rocky movies.
I'm also familiar with the name Julio César Chávez. Though to be fair, Chávez is recognizable even to those unfamiliar with the sport. Chávez won six titles and retired with a record of 107-6-2 (89 by KO), and is widely regarded as one of the greatest fighters in history. He's been retired for several years, but his son Julio César Chávez Jr., was in town to defend his WBC Middleweight crown Saturday night at Reliant Arena. The pride of Culiacán, Mexico, took the ring against Peter Manfredo Jr., the current IBO and NABF Middleweight champion. Manfredo is a paesan hailing from Providence, Rhode Island. And looking at the guy, you'd be wise to keep your Jersey Shore jokes to a minimum.
The thing that escapes a lot of people who peripherally follow boxing is how blue collar the audience usually is. You'll see everybody from Kanye to LeBron to Ashton Kutcher in Vegas for a marquee bout, but the crowd at Reliant was considerably more dressed down. Except for the women, who ran the fashion gamut from Pam Anderson in Barb Wire to Peggy Bundy. I don't think I've ever been to a sporting event where actual arena staff catcalled female passers-by.
There was a full undercard on hand to entertain those who relish the sweet science, though I only arrived in time for the last two. In the first, Wale "Lucky Boy" Omotoso defeated Lanardo Tyner in an eight-round decision. Omotoso, a good-natured fellow from Nigeria, repeatedly provoked Tyner with comedic dance moves, but proved himself a better technical fighter in the long run. Tyner, for his part, should probably see anger management counseling.
The warm-up bout saw Larry Smith dropping a rather dull decision to Jose Pinzon. I say "dull" to contrast with Pinzon's albatross-fu style and disconcertingly short shorts.
Finally it was time for the Main Event. Boxing luminaries from Floyd Mayweather Sr. to the elder Chávez to Juan "Baby Bull" Diaz to Roy Jones Jr. (lot of "Seniors" and "Juniors" in boxing, it appears), who was providing commentary for HBO's Boxing After Dark, were on hand for the bout, which proved to be more exciting -- if much more abrupt -- than either of the previous fights.
The younger Chávez has his detractors: He lacks power, he doesn't have the same intensity as his old man, he hasn't fought any quality opponents. His recent matches have also tended to be uninspired, decisions won after a lengthy and lackluster contest. Going into Saturday, Chávez hadn't won by knockout, technical or otherwise, since '09.
You could write a decent movie script out of the background to the match. Chávez is boxing royalty who's had a clear path to title bouts thanks to star power and pedigree. Manfredo is a working-class dude who grew up watching his father train fighters in his Pawtucket gym. Chávez would likely still be slogging his way up the middleweight ladder if not for his surname, while Manfredo needed a break on the boxing reality show The Contender to get his foot in the door. Looking at it that way, it's not hard to tell who the screenwriter favorite would be.
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Manfredo felt the crowd's hostility even before he made it to the ring, and to say that 99 percent of the Reliant Arena crowd was pulling for Chávez might be underestimating it, but he put in four solid rounds, likely winning the 4th, on effective jabs and a few serious shots that landed with obvious impact.
But he was ultimately no match for the man HBO's Hamilton Nolan has referred to as the "Justin Bieber of Mexican boxing." Chávez looked more muscular than his recent publicity shots, and his footwork and actual "boxing" have improved of late, which is of probable credit to trainer Freddie Roach. He controlled the early rounds, only taking serious hits in the 4th, resulting in a bloody nose. In the 5th, however, he staggered Manfredo with a right and then swarmed the Rhode Islander, sending Manfredo against the ropes and causing referee Laurence Cole to stop the fight at 1:52.
It was a good showing for Chávez, and a disappointment for Manfredo, who appears to be following through on his promise to retire if he lost. Chávez now faces the prospect of moving up to a big fight (Saul Alvarez, perhaps), while Manfredo will now have to, as he put it in the post-fight press conference, "go out and get a real job."
In this economy? Good luck, brother.