"I tried to knock him out, but he kept holding on," Julio Cesar… (Julie Jacobson / Associated…)
LAS VEGAS — After the 10th round of what would be Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.'s first loss, boxing's power brokers briefly huddled.
The big question for the honchos: How are we going to rehabilitate this guy's reputation?
Chavez took care of that himself.
By producing a stirring, promising rally that revealed his fighting heart like never before, Chavez knocked down Sergio Martinez in the 12th round and appeared one more big blow away from victory when the bell rang, clinching Martinez's unanimous-decision triumph in the World Boxing Council middleweight championship bout.
Two judges awarded Martinez the first 11 rounds, but the final three minutes were such a great finish that it left many wanting more.
"It was 11 rounds of a clinic and one round of this kid doing everything I was afraid of the last three months," Martinez promoter Lou DiBella said of Chavez, 26, son of the iconic Mexican champion.
Enthused by the breakthrough of the final round, Chavez promoter Bob Arum said he has been assured that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wants to hold a Martinez-Chavez rematch at Cowboys Stadium in Texas in the early spring.
And although Martinez could also steer toward Floyd Mayweather Jr., DiBella said, "Boxing deserves a rematch. My philosophy is when you have lightning in a bottle, don't let it go. A rematch probably sells out Cowboys Stadium."
Martinez had no reason to be anywhere within the reach of the previously unbeaten Chavez in the 12th round, but he said he had the resolve to "keep fighting like the warrior I am."
DiBella said his "stomach did somersaults" while watching Chavez rally with a left-right-left combination that dropped Martinez, and then battered him more with a flurry of rights for which a reeling Martinez had no answer while barely remaining upright.
Martinez went to a hospital to treat a broken left hand and injured right knee.
"Sergio wasn't going to run in circles and rest on his laurels," DiBella said. "He's an entertainer. He wanted to try and knock Chavez out. He got knocked down, he got back up throwing punches. Epic round.
"Bad boxing decision, but it might be the best economic decision of his career."
DiBella made a point of announcing that the financial terms of the rematch will be made more favorable to Martinez.
"People said Sergio would come out of this fight with no alternatives," DiBella said. "This crowd was sold out, the pay-per-view doubled its projections. So now you have Sergio Martinez, a superstar."
Across town Saturday, WBC super-welterweight champion Saul "Canelo" Alvarez of Mexico won a lopsided fifth-round technical knockout over Riverside's Josesito Lopez and will decide whether he wants to fight in December.
Alvarez's most lucrative prospects are in 2013, when possibly the unbeaten Mayweather or former super-welterweight champion Miguel Cotto await after fighting for a belt Dec. 1.
The 21-year-old may opt to remain active, however, against a lesser opponent.
"We do what Canelo wants," Alvarez promoter Richard Schaefer said, eschewing concern over available dates with Cotto-Austin Trout on Dec. 1 and the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez fight scheduled for Dec. 8. "If he wants to fight in December, we'll fight in December. This is Canelo, he's a superstar."
Lopez said he will move back to welterweight, and his promoters Ken Thompson and Dan Goossen said possible opponents include a rematch with Victor Ortiz in Southern California, Saturday winner Marcos Maidana or the winner of the Oct. 20 Danny Garcia-Erik Morales fight.