Teddy, Sergio, Me and Julio Down by the School Yard
“It was one of the so-called literate magazines that smart people supposedly read, and it had an article by Pete Hamill on Tyson…”
“Before all else, be armed.”—Niccolo Machiavelli
Now that boxing has turned a corner so to speak, is everybody happy? Well, no, everybody is not happy. I’m happy, or at least I think I’m happy, but I pop happy pills throughout the day so that may or may not count. Yet many of those not subject to the marvels of modern medicine are not happy, and the fact the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Sergio Martinez are fighting this weekend is not enough to chase the blues away.
Chavez Jr. vs. Martinez is a fight that is eliciting strong opinions from all sides. Both fighters are accomplished, in their own way and own right. Both fighters would like nothing more than to end the win streak of the other. We have youth vs. age, willpower vs. skill power, pedigree vs. anonymity—all the intangibles that make potentially great fights worth watching.
Although I’m knee-deep in experts, I contacted ESPN’s Teddy Atlas, whose expertise is a given, to get his take on Saturday’s bout. Wanting to set the stage, I said offhandedly that we have a couple of “terrific” fighters who, if they deliver, might just provide us with a terrific fight. I’m not sure, in retrospect, that I shouldn’t have chosen my words with more care.
“I think Martinez might be a terrific fighter,” Atlas told me. “I’m not so sure about Chavez. I think we use those words, or words close to those words, too quickly these days. We just don’t give it enough thought. We’re very impatient. We’re an audience nowadays that has a short attention span and we want quick gratification and we use the word great MUCH TOO FAST. Martinez is a terrific fighter, but Chavez hasn’t fought anybody to tell us that. Let’s be honest here. I think he’s a game guy. I give him a lot of credit. He didn’t have a big amateur career. He’s come a long way, physically, technically. Mentally he’s matured. He’s become a solid pro. And that’s a great compliment—from me it is anyway. But we’re too quick to attach great phrases to people and great adjectives to careers before they’ve really gotten a chance to prove themselves. Maybe it’s because we want to have fighters around we think and we feel are special so we can say they were around during our time. Maybe it’s a little bit of self-gratification. We’re human beings. We do things like that.”
I felt less like I used the wrong word than that I had put my foot in my mouth. I’ve done that before and will no doubt do it again. That’s happiness for you.
“I remember years ago Pete Hamill—you know he’s a helluva writer and he gets credit for being a helluva writer—when we were doing a tour with Michael Moorer getting ready to fight Holyfield for the title, and we were doing this little press tour and we’re going from city to city in a few days and when you’re stopping in hotels for a few minutes you’re reading something. So I remember one of the guys with the crew who was traveling around with us wanted me to look at this magazine. It was one of the better written magazines, one of the so-called literate magazines that smart people supposedly read, and it had an article by Pete Hamill on Tyson, who I think at that time was in jail. And it was talking about how brilliant Tyson was, how brilliant he is, how he’s reading Tolstoy, how he’s reading Machiavelli. He’s reading all these authors and oh how brilliant, what a genius—and they want me to read this article. I look at the article and as I’m reading the article there’s a USA Today there. And it was just a funny coincidence. I read the article about his brilliance, his genius, all this stuff, and I read the USA Today article and it tells me Tyson failed his GED test while in prison. So I turned to them and said, ‘I guess Tolstoy wasn’t on the GED.’ Everyone just looked at me like ‘yeah,’ and then they just walked back into their little cubicles, their little rooms. I mean please. And then somebody came out of their room afterward and said, ‘You know what? That’s a good point Ted. Most people wouldn’t point that out but you’re right.’ And why do you think a guy like Pete Hamill would get caught up writing something like that, and going on how genius he is when it’s pretty apparent he’s not such a genius? It’s because he can be a witness to it. He can say he was a witness to it; that he recognized that; that he was around during the time that this great prodigy, whatever you want to call him, this great genius talent, this great misunderstood talent was around. That’s why. I think we attach these great terms to people without putting the understanding into it as to whether or not they deserve it and whether or not they’ve actually gotten there.”
I suddenly didn’t feel so bad, having been lumped together, however unfavorably, with Pete Hamill. But it’s like they always say, if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen. And the kitchen where Atlas performs his culinary magic can get awfully hot at times. I’m not sure what’s baking in the oven or what those simmering pots atop the stove contain, but Teddy as usual is cooking up a storm. And any recipe that calls for a pinch of Tolstoy and dash of Machiavelli, no matter the context, is enough to make my mouth water.
“I think Chavez is a guy who uses his physicality,” said Atlas, getting to the heart of the matter. “I think that he’s not a great puncher. He’s a pretty good body puncher. I don’t know what his personal habits are. It seems like his weight goes up and down, and he’s had a few bumps in the road from a personal standpoint with the DWI and stuff and you wonder if that kind of living is why his weight goes up and down. And if that’s the case and he does have that little bit of shadow in his life, and a little bit of a hidden shadow so to speak, that shadow’s going to show itself once in awhile. He’s young enough maybe to kind of outrun the shadow, which when you’re young youth allows you to outrun such things sometimes. But as you get older that shadow catches up with you a little bit. And if it is a problem in those dimensions of living, of personal life, and of course where it delves into work ethic, bringing his weight up and down, that can affect him physically at some point. But he’s a guy who will do what he does. He’s a guy that wants to out-physical you. He wants to out-gut you. He wants to go to the body. He wants to be like his father.”
Here it seems we have gotten to the crux. Chavez Jr. “wants to be like his father.” I’m not sure if that’s Oedipal or Freudian or Teddy Atlas being Teddy Atlas, but it’s a wrinkle that has not and should not be denied.
“And again I give him a lot of credit for what he’s done,” Atlas continued. “I don’t think he’s been tested in deep waters yet, at any kind of highlands yet. I really don’t think anything about the Lee fight. Everybody said, ‘Oh, what he did with Lee.’ Lee? What are you kidding me? Lee’s been a disappointment since he turned pro. He got knocked out by a guy named Vera on my air. Please. Don’t tell me about Andy Lee. I haven’t seen that guy improve one bit. He looked better as an amateur when I called his fights when he was representing Ireland in the Olympics. He looked better then than he has as a pro. He never improved in any area. He never learned how to use his legs, his height, his southpaw style. He never did anything off his jab. He never improved in any ways defensively. So I wasn’t impressed. Chavez did what he was supposed to do, put it that way, but it didn’t make me say, ‘Wow, this guy is at this place now.’ It didn’t make me think that.”
Others have expressed disappointment in Andy Lee, although perhaps with less vehemence. Lee’s limitations are a given, and Emanuel Steward’s presence, while noteworthy, has not made a world of difference.
Shifting from Chavez Jr. to his opponent Saturday night, Teddy turned his powers of observation to Sergio Martinez.
“With Martinez we look at his hands. He will sometimes put them up when he’s close. Outside he’ll keep them loose and low. He’ll pick his spots and he can counterpunch. He can time you. He can control the outside a little bit. If he has to be in close quarters he can do that too. He’s pretty adaptable. We look at the hands because he keeps them low and does a pretty good job of putting them on you. But it’s his feet that impress me. He’s got pretty good feet. He’s got good legs. The question about him is his age. His shadows that could show itself are the shadows of time, the shadows of age. You wonder when that shadow is going to show up. You’re not responsible if you’re not cognizant of that. He’s 37 years old, so you have to wonder about that. But it’s his legs that literally drive him because they allow his timing, his talent, his mindset, his temperament of being calm—all the things that allow him to be successful in the ring—to be in a position to be effective. He’ll change distance on you. He’ll get angles on you. He’ll put himself in position to do things that he’s able to do with the other talents.”
As Atlas described the two fighters and inadvertently the fight, it sounded like he was leaning, not unreasonably, in the direction of the older, wiser, faster and more highly skilled Maravilla.
“I think a lot of people really want to make a case about this fight being competitive,” Teddy said, “and they want to make a case about it being competitive on the side of Chavez. They’re going to talk about the youth. I understand that. They’re going to say he’s the bigger guy. By the time he gets into the ring I’m sure he will be the bigger guy. But I don’t know if that’s going to serve him. Everybody’s going to look at that and say that’s going to serve him. I’m going to stand on the other side of it and say the advantage is going to be the legs and quickness of Martinez and not the size of Chavez. It’s going to be the experience, the steadiness, the accuracy of Martinez that he’s going to take advantage of a bigger guy, a slower guy, and a predictable guy. I give Chavez credit for becoming a steady pro and pretty solid pro, but he’s steady and solid in what he does and that’s all he does. And that’s good enough sometimes. But he does it in a very set, predictable manner. He’s right in front of you. He’s not the hardest guy in the world to find. And when you’re quicker and a little sharper you can find him more often, and Martinez being quicker and sharper is going to find him fairly often. Yeah, Chavez is bigger, but he’s going to be a bigger target, a slower target, and he’s going to be a steady target all night long and right in front of Martinez. I think he’s going to use the uppercut. I think he’s going to use his southpaw positions. I see Martinez picking him apart a little bit. It’s going to take some rounds to get past the youth, to get past the size and the toughness of Chavez. But as the rounds go by I think he will. I think he’ll turn it into his fight by the eighth round or so. Maybe the youth and maybe the size of Chavez will start to wear down Martinez, because of the age, because of dealing with a young, strong guy. I’m going to say no. The experience of Martinez, the quickness of Martinez, and the damage he’ll be able to do in the middle rounds will make it his fight.”