Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012 | 2:05 a.m.
Promoters for Saturday’s boxing middleweight championship fight between Sergio Martinez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. opened a press conference Wednesday at the Wynn with a simple message about the state of their sport: Boxing is not dying. It’s alive and well.
At the Thomas & Mack Center, where the two popular Latin fighters square off in the main event, proof of their argument will be obvious with the record amount of people in attendance. There have been 19,186 tickets sold, for a paid gate of more than $3 million, making it the highest-attended boxing match in the near 30-year history of the arena.
The previous record was 19,151 tickets sold in 1999 for the heavyweight championship rematch between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., Chavez Jr.’s father, has the fourth-best gate in facility history with 17,972 tickets sold for his 1992 fight against Hector Camacho.
“What happens when the best fighters fight the best? You sell 19,186 tickets,” Lou DiBella, Martinez’s promoter, said.
Chavez (46-0-1, 32 knockouts) and Martinez (49-2-2, 28 knockouts) took turns during the rest of the press conference delivering verbal jabs. Naturally, their trainers and managers got involved, too.
Although they disagreed on virtually everything, there was little argument about the magnitude of Saturday’s event. It's not only occurring in Las Vegas, the undisputed boxing capital of the world, but it's on the Saturday of Mexican Independence Day weekend.
Chavez, who with his father is one of the sport’s legendary and most respected fighters, spent a good portion of his childhood at the center of the madness that is a major fight week. He walked with his father from the locker room to the ring on several occasions, taking in the roar of the crowd and getting invaluable training for what eventually became his career.
Speak with those in Chavez’s camp and they say that’s one of several reasons why their fighter is at an advantage. Martinez is nearly a 2-to-1 betting favorite at the Wynn sports book, but Chavez won’t be intimidated by the bright lights on fight night.
One of the largest crowds Martinez, a legend in his native Argentina, has fought in front of is 5,000 fans this year at the Madison Square Garden theater. The 37-year-old Martinez was a relative unknown until winning the title against Kelly Pavlik in 2010, and although he looked equally impressive in winning defense fights against Paul Williams, Sergey Dzinziruk, Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin in his most recent appearances, he still hasn’t fought in a marquee setting.
“His father put 130,000 people in Azteca Stadium (in Mexico City), and Julio Cesar Chavez was there,” said Fernando Beltran, one of Chavez’s promoters with Top Rank. “Someone who needs to worry is Sergio Martinez because he fights in small casinos and he always fights in front of 1,000 people.”
Martinez repeatedly spoke about how Chavez doesn’t respect the sport. During the HBO 24/7 documentary that follows Chavez on his training, the Mexican fighter and WBC champ frequently was late for training sessions or simply was a no-show.
“He never respects the sport,” Martinez said. “It will not be an easy knockout. I’m going to punish him a lot, then knock him out. He will suffer a lot.”
Chavez countered by calling Martinez a liar and pointing out that Martinez has been the victim of being knocked down in past fights. Macklin, for instance, knocked him down in the seventh round last March.
“He is running, running and running in the ring, and not fighting for the people, and not fighting for the sport,” Chavez said.