Last night at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Sergio "Maravilla" Martinez put on a boxing clinic for 11 rounds against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
He was faster. He was stronger. He was simply better.
Chavez Jr. was taking a huge step up in class, defending his WBC title against the recognized champion and a man most felt he could not beat.
And they were right. Chavez Jr. was inactive for large portions of the fight, content to just follow Martinez around the ring and get counter-punched. The times when he would let his hands go and land what appeared to be a solid shot, Martinez would respond with blazing combinations that would zap his will.
This was the script for every single round—until the 12th. This was the round where one of boxing's most one-sided superfights nearly turned into one of its biggest miracles.
And that's why Sergio Martinez won the fight—but Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. won the night.
There's an old adage in sports that goes, "It's not how you start, it's how you finish." The final round began like each of the 11 before it.
Martinez was on the outside, hands around his waist, toying with the younger Chavez Jr. Chavez Jr., knowing he needed a knockout to win, followed him around again seemingly content to just survive the round. The odds of a knockout for Chavez Jr. seemed astronomical.
The odds were astronomical the same way they were for Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. when he entered the final round against Meldrick Taylor in 1990. Behind on the cards, Chavez Sr. scored a stunning knockdown and knockout to win the fight with less than five seconds left on the clock.
If anything, the odds were longer for Chavez Jr., because Meldrick Taylor is no Sergio Martinez.
With about a minute-and-a-half remaining in the fight, Chavez Jr. forced Martinez onto the ropes and landed a left hook that nearly changed the course of the fight and boxing history.
Martinez went down, and he went down hard. He was very badly hurt, more hurt than he's ever been in a boxing ring.
The crowd let out a collective gasp, as millions of people watching on HBO PPV jumped off their couches in shock—could this really happen, what seemed impossible literally 10 seconds before?
Martinez rose to his feet, bleeding from his eye and obviously hurt. To his credit, he showed nothing but guts. Knowing he was well ahead on the scorecards, he could've simply held on.
But that's not Sergio Martinez. He continued fighting, knowing he was hurt and knowing that a knockout at that stage would be an epic upset.
Chavez Jr. had hurt Martinez in a way that, despite his dominance, Martinez was never able to do to him in the 11 previous rounds.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. threw everything in his arsenal at Martinez for the next full minute, but the time simply ran out. Had this happened a round before or had there been another round, the outcome may well have been very different.
But that's boxing, and yes, it's now how you start, it's how you finish.
Chavez Jr. started slow and finished big. But it wasn't enough.
The final image most people will take away from that fight is that Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. hurt Sergio Martinez. He hurt him badly.
If you had not seen any of the previous 11 rounds and just tuned in for the final one, you would have left with an image of the champion being battered around the ring and having to hold on for dear life against his younger challenger.
For many, then, the question at the end of the fight was not how good is Martinez; the question was, what if Chavez Jr. had started earlier?
And, for that reason, Sergio Martinez may have won the fight, but Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. won the night.
Kevin McRae is a boxing analyst for BleacherReport.com. You can follow him on Twitter @McRaeBoxing
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