Not often does a boxing match with a definitive and resounding conclusion result in a rematch. There’s a reason why Mike Tyson never fought Michael Spinks twice. Ditto for Manny Pacquaio and Ricky Hatton. Fights with such violent endings leave no doubt as to who is the better man. However, sometimes, the badly beaten pugilist rebounds successfully. Learning from past mistakes, the conquered fighter makes necessary adjustments that fuel a run of victories. And that was the case for Roger “Black Mamba” Mayweather after his knockout loss at the hands of Julio Cesar Chavez, “The Lion of Culiacán.”
Their first meeting took place on July 7, 1985 at the Riviera Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Chavez making the second defense of his WBC junior lightweight title. And while Mayweather connected with sharp jabs and long right hands in the opening frame, his success was fleeting. In the second, Chavez landed an overhand right that buckled Roger’s legs, followed by another right that sent Mayweather to the canvas. Roger got up quickly but another right hand dropped Mayweather again and the match was all but over. After a third knockdown, referee Richard Steele stopped the contest. And a rematch was unthinkable.
The fighters went their separate ways. Mayweather won his next two bouts before being stunningly knocked out by ultimate journeyman, Freddie Pendleton. He rebounded by winning three consecutive fights but was then matched with undefeated prospect, Pernell Whitaker. He lacked the skills to cope with the ultra-talented “Sweet Pea” and surrendered a unanimous decision.
But that would be Roger’s last defeat for some time as he went on to win the WBC junior welterweight belt and then notch four successful defenses. At the same time Chavez had continued his march of dominance, including huge wins over lightweight champions Edwin Rosario and Jose Luis Ramirez. Mayweather had racked up eight straight victories and with six of those coming against Mexican pugilists, “The Black Mamba” was now also known as “The Mexican Assassin.” His new title belt and new moniker made Roger an attractive opponent for Julio and thus, in a development that no one would have predicted four years earlier, Chavez vs Mayweather II was on.
Mayweather had set himself up for a chance at redemption against perhaps the greatest Mexican fighter of them all and he was ready to make it count. He moved his training camp from Las Vegas to his manager’s sprawling estate in Augusta, Georgia, an isolated environment that allowed him to focus entirely on the preparation needed to beat such a remarkable fighter. Meanwhile, for Chavez the rematch represented not just another opportunity to further his legacy, but a chance to win titles in three divisions, one of the most prestigious feats in boxing.
The second act took place at the Forum in Inglewood, California and the manner in which it unfolded was in stark contrast to their first encounter. This time, from the opening bell Mayweather was determined to keep his distance, throwing out a bevy of jabs while mixing in the odd right hand and working to keep the dangerous Chavez on the end of his punches. Quick on his feet, he used constant lateral movement to prevent Chavez from setting himself. Neither fighter landed any damaging blows, but it was Mayweather who was more effective in round one as he controlled the ring and avoided inside exchanges.
The same rhythm continued in round two, until Chavez landed a series of solid left hooks. Roger reclaimed the center of the ring, where he threw a flurry of his own and to end the round he landed a couple of straight rights that got Chavez’s attention. The action heated up in round three with neither fighter willing to give ground. Mayweather didn’t want to trade on the inside, but he gave as good as he got in close. Near the end of the fourth, the champion spun Chavez around in the corner, and delivered two hard rights followed by a flurry. When the bell rang to end the round, the fighters stood and glared at each other, neither willing to step away. They were two proud warriors and neither was backing down.
The next couple of rounds were fought at a slower pace, which benefited Mayweather. Roger made sure to tie Chavez up whenever he got close, which was met with a chorus of boos from the pro-Chavez crowd. However, during the last thirty seconds of round six, Chavez took control, getting into Mayweather’s chest and avoiding the clinch. He threw effective combinations to both head and body and put Roger on the defensive.
Chavez continued his bullying inside attack in round seven. Roger was clearly beginning to tire, a fact evidenced by his decreased movement. That, in combination with Chavez’s pressure, caused the bout to take place at close range, and while Mayweather continued to counter well and land solid punches, Chavez was simply more accustomed to trench-style warfare. As the rounds passed, the fatigued look in Mayweather’s eyes told the story of the fight.
In round ten, Roger kept moving away from Chavez, trying to box like he had in the early rounds and change the course of the fight. He was in fact having some success in keeping Chavez at bay, which made the ending of the fight even more sudden and shocking. After the tenth, Mayweather told his corner he had had enough and the champion retired on his stool. He was physically and mentally exhausted to the point that he had nothing left. It was as though Mayweather’s effort to avoid punishment in the tenth was his last stand, and he knew he could not win.
Ultimately what this match came down to, as is often the case with battles between highly skilled fighters, is who wanted it more. Chavez showed it was he who possessed the greater desire, affirming that to the crowd in his post-fight celebration as he stood on the ring apron and gestured to his “cajones.” Even if it took Chavez longer than usual to impose his gameplan, his relentless pursuit eventually paid dividends. Constant pressure exhausted “The Mexican Assassin” and forced him to surrender, and while Mayweather gave his rival a much stiffer challenge the second time around, it was evident, once again, that “The Lion Of Culiacán” was the better man. — Jamie Rebner