By Graham Houston
Matthew Macklin was, predictably, in over his head against Sergio Martinez, but another Irish-ancestry middleweight, Andy Lee, stands a much better chance of becoming a world champion when he challenges Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. for the WBC title in El Paso, TX tonight (HBO). Lee, billed from Limerick but based in Detroit for the last six years, is the underdog but faces a fighter who is considered the most beatable of all the 160lbs champions. Emanuel Steward, who manages and trains Lee, has long maintained that the tall southpaw was a world champion in waiting. Now, Lee gets his big opportunity.
“I think it’s a very intriguing fight and the first unprotected fight, so to say, that Chavez has had in his career,” Steward told me. “Andy has improved greatly the last year, he finally became a seasoned fighter.”
Chavez has made two successful title defences in Texas and the Mexican-American crowd outdoors at the Sun Bowl will be solidly behind the popular son of perhaps Mexico’s most revered champion. Also, Chavez has had a functional weight advantage over everyone he’s fought in middleweight title bouts and is likely to be several pounds heavier than Lee on fight night.
Chavez’s in-ring weight was an astonishing 181lbs, according to HBO’s unofficial scales, when he outpointed Marco Antonio Rubio in February. He was just too big and too strong for Rubio, who was leading on one judge’s card and level on another card after six rounds but just couldn’t hold off Chavez down the stretch.
Apart from being bigger and stronger than most of his opponents, Chavez has also improved technically under the direction of trainer Freddie Roach. He has shown a big heart and mental and physical toughness. Chavez gritted out a hard-earned win over Sebastian Zbik to become champion but we saw him go to a boxing and moving style in his win over Peter Manfredo, so he isn’t strictly a slugger. Usually, though, Chavez will press forward and seek to wear down and overpower his opponents.
Lee has a height advantage and he is a southpaw, and I think he might be able to score effectively with the jab and left hand on the outside. I would class Lee as clearly the more experienced man even though Chavez has had more professional bouts. Chavez has developed into a good fighter but he had hardly any amateur experience whereas Lee had a world-class career as an amateur that included boxing in the Olympics and world championships and winning a European championships bronze medal. Steward believes that Lee’s vast amateur background, and “being in training camp for many years with all of my top fighters — he gave Wladimir Klitschko more problems than anyone [in sparring]” will be important factors.
Chavez is unbeaten but he hasn’t fought anyone with Lee’s length, and Lee might be the best puncher that Chavez has faced. Also, Lee’s southpaw style has to be taken into the equation: Chavez hasn’t boxed a southpaw since his eighth-round win over Jose Celaya four years ago.
However I have been told that Chavez has “tearing up” southpaw sparring partners, including fellow-Mexican David Lopez, who is a tall boxer like Lee.
If Lee can stand up to Chavez’s strength and aggression and get his jab and left hand to work, he can get into the fight. Doubts hover, however, over Lee’s durability. It is difficult to overlook the way that the tough but crude Brian Vera overpowered Lee in the Irish boxer’s only defeat, although Lee won the rematch comfortably on points. I recall Lee having a rocky last round in his win over Affif Belghecham.
Additionally, it was worrying how ordinary Lee looked in his desperate struggle against Craig McEwan in March 2011 although he showed a fighter’s heart and found a way to win on a bad night.
Still, Lee is gritty and proud, he can move and box and he hits hard enough to get respect — and he will have one of the game’s all-time great trainers in his corner in Emanuel Steward. This isn’t a pushover for Junior.
If Lee boxes the fight of his life he could spring the upset, but I think the most likely outcome is that Chavez will force his way into control of the fight with pressure and body punching and perhaps break Lee down for a late-rounds stoppage victory. Lee will, I think, start to blast back if he finds himself getting hit and hurt, and I can see this bout developing into the sort of exciting give-and-take fight that should favour the stronger fighter with the better chin, which I believe to be Chavez.
This preview is essentially as wrtten for Boxing Monthly, with some updating. A more wager-specific preview, plus previews of Adamek-Chambers, Rabchenko-Rhodes; Munroe-Quigg and Spada-Cendrowski are available for subscribers. Visit fightwriter.com