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Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr and Andy Lee hit the proving ground

(L) Chavez 159 lb, (R) Lee 159.25lb - Photo © Chris Farina / Top Rank
(L) Chavez 159 lb, (R) Lee 159.25lb - Photo © Chris Farina / Top Rank

Saturday’s WBC middleweight title fight between the heir apparent to the throne of Mexican boxing Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr (45-0-1 with 31 KOs) and the pride of Limerick, Ireland and king of the Kronk Andy Lee (28-1 with 20 Knockouts) has just about everything you need for a great fight. Both men are at the precipice of something more. Both love to come forward in aggressive fashion and between Chavez’ rugged nature and Lee’s punching power, HBO audiences and fight fans who will be dry as bone in the beerless Sun Bowl in El Paso, TX are in for a treat.


For Chavez, it’s about fulfilling his son of a legend superstar promise. Before he heads up in weight, his over 6’ frame bursting at the seams, Chavez must take out a young contender with power. It’s the final test in a series of increasingly sterner contests. Sebastian Zbik, whom he won his title from in what was essentially a vacant belt box-off for real middleweight champion Sergio Martinez’ WBC slice of the championship pie, was a technical test. Zbik had no power but possessed tenacity and technique that troubled Chavez early on until the Mexican prince’s size and volume punching took over.

Marco Antonio Rubio was an aging veteran with real power who tested Chavez chin while being slow and small enough to be overwhelmed physically. Chavez endured the pop of Rubio and secured a decision.


Sandwiched in between was a stay busy fight with Peter Manfredo, Jr. that ended early.


Enter Andy Lee, a once beaten fighter with technical skills and loads of talent who has yet to fully live up to his advertised potential.


“This is the biggest fight of my life” Lee told assembled press at the press conference for the fight. “I’ve dreamed of this for six years as a professional. I always dreamt of wearing the WBC green belt. A lot of great champions wore that green. I grew up watching great fighters like Tommy Hearns and Marvin Hagler hold the middleweight. I am only one fight from getting that. I’ve been training very hard. I expect a very hard fight. Chavez is a worthy champion and a very underrated fighter. It’s going to be tough. I’m ready. I am prepared for a hard fight. But I am going to be victorious. I am going to take that belt. I know a lot of you’re not going to be happy about that. We’re two in there. Two men and bets man win. And it’s going to be me. Don’t worry. He comes to fight. I come to fight. We both can punch. We’re going to lay it all on the line.”


A lanky southpaw with real power and a tenacious streak to go along with his hall of fame trainer Emanuel Steward, Lee is a test unlike any other Chavez has faced.


“I’m taller. Longer reach. I believe a bigger puncher and a southpaw,” Lee told host/correspondent and ringside reporter for Top Rank Crystina Poncher in the lead up to the fight. “He’s never seen all those things in the ring before. He is going to come up against adversity. Not only that. He is fighting in me a fighter who is here to win. Not just some guy who is just happy to be here. I am not in awe of him or his name. His dad is the legend and not him. It’s been handpicked opponents his whole career. Top Rank has done a great job moving him and getting him to the championship. But when they put him in with me they made a mistake. I am taking the title home to Ireland.”


The young champion seems unfazed.


“I’ve never been in the ring with anyone like him?” Chavez mused. “He has been knocked out by Brian Vera. I don’t think I would have. So he hasn’t been in the ring with someone like me.”


Much has been made of Chavez’ weight issues over the last few bouts. He blows up after weighing under the 160 limit to as high as 186 pounds. Friday at the weigh-in, he looked gaunt. Unlike Lee, Chavez has a thick frame to go with his height. Immediately after the weigh-in, his team speculated they would move him to 168 pounds following this bout. The move will essentially kill any hope of a Sergio Martinez match with Chavez which some speculated would be in the fall.


“I am able to eat. Work a little bit. I’ll be ready,” Chavez said before weighing in at 159 pounds. Lee weigh 159.25.


Chavez told Poncher that for this camp, he understood that Lee is another level of fighter. He is young, hungry, has legit power and has avenged his lone loss by decisioning Vera last year. He is a real fighter with a deep desire to win.


“It’s been a 12 week training camp,” said Chavez. “I think it was harder, more focused. I need to be at that level now that I am fighting this level of fighters.”


For Lee, this is about proving himself as well. He understands what he has in front of him. Chavez is not a true middle. He looks more like a cruiserweight on fight night. With a bull rush, body punching pressure style, Chavez is a physical problem. You can’t knock him out and moving too much can tire you out. What you need is a solid game plan, a powerful punch and the toughness to weather whatever storm the Mexican brings.  Lee thinks he has all of the above.  


“I prepared very hard. I sparred with a lot of super middleweights. Bigger guys. Chavez is known to come to the ring heavy. I’ve done countless miles. Countless rounds. I’ve prepared in the heat. I’ve studied everything. I am prepared for him. Emanuel [Steward, his long-time trainer] and I have come up with a game plan and strategy for the fight. I am ready to win,” a confident Lee told Poncher.  


Part of that game plan is using his natural attributes like height and reach. Lee also spoke of something deeper: Most of the young champ’s opponents have gotten blinded in the light of Chavez’ celebrity. But this title shot is Lee’s first. He can be taken in by the moment or he can be guided by the light of trainer Steward’s wisdom. It’s a special moment for both Lee and Steward who first saw him on the amateur circuit in Ireland years ago. He recruited Lee and has stayed with him through thick and thin, traveling throughout the world and the highs and lows of Lee’s professional boxing career.


“I’ve been with Emanuel my whole career,” explained Lee. “I live with him in his house. The knowledge I have picked up is immeasurable from him. We had a great training camp. We were 100% focused. Sugar Hill and my brother, Roger Lee, we all did a good job. Just being around [Steward] you pick you so much about inside as well as the outside of the ropes; The business of boxing. Obviously we are going up against another Hall of Fame trainer [in Freddie Roach, who trains young Chavez]. We have two Hall of Fame trainers. Emanuel takes this very serious. He takes each fight very personally. He wants to win. He takes every fight personal. If I lose, he loses. So we are both coming to win.”


In order to move to the next level, fighting fellow titleholders, Chavez must prove he can beat the Lees of the world.


“I think it is special for both us,” said Chavez. “He has something he wants to show to the fans. I have something I want to show to the fans. We’re the only guys inside of the ring and we will see who can handle it better.”


In order to prove he belongs at the top, Lee must beat Chavez. Title shots are rare. Who knows when this will come again?


“I think there is pressure on both sides,” said Lee. “We both have a lot to prove. He has gotten a lot of criticism for the opponent he has faced. A lot of people don’t consider him the true champion. If he beats me, he will be the true champion. He will have beaten the top contender to his belt.”


Now comes the hard part, winning in front of large Chavez crowd of about 10,000 in El Paso Sun Bowl live on HBO.


“He has the big crowd but with that comes a lot of pressure as well,” said Lee who has fought at home in Limerick numerous times. “There’s a lot of demand on him, he has to make public appearances, take photos. Me and my team are sitting in the hotel room and focusing on the fight. There is good and bad to having the home crowd. I know that from experience.”


Perhaps experience is what the fight will come down to.


“Trouble in Texas already?”


After the weigh-in in El Paso Friday, Andy Lee’s team issued this press release:


Controversy has broke out after the weigh-in of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr and Andy Lee over the Gloves for the Fight


Andy Lee Press Release - June 15, 2012


Controversy has broke out after the weigh-in of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr and Andy Lee world title bout in El Paso, Texas over the gloves for the fight. A representative for the Texas Commission refused a request made by Team Lee to have Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. gloves weighed to ensure they met the 10 oz regulations and conditions for the world title fight. Freddie Roach, Chavez’s trainer also would not agree to Team Lee’s request either. Team Lee were stunned as were many boxing observers and they could not understand what the problem was.


We’ll see what else brokes out in Texas Saturday night, hopefully a great fight with a fair ending.  


“More good news from the front”

Nonito Donaire has agreed to test with the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association year round starting with his next camp. This means 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, seven days a week he will be subjected to a random sample collection and testing by the independent testing group known as VADA. Top Rank founder Bob Arum, Donaire’s promoter, has given the move his blessing and Donaire will be privately sponsored.


Arum has also hinted that he will at least encourage members of his stable to follow suit.


More to come on this groundbreaking news.


“Dead Horse”

On Thursday, this writer was berated by a fellow boxing scribe who also covers mixed martial arts for “Beating a dead horse over and over and over” as well as for my “arrogance” as well for being “an ass” and for behavior he deemed as “disgusting.” Apparently my “ego is all out of whack” as well. What the writer, whom I hold in very high esteem and like personally, was referring to was my constant attack on the performance enhancing drug problem in combat sports and its myriad of offshoot issues such as media apathy which I deem complicity.


“Patience is a virtue.”


On Friday, I broke this story.


Props to’s Ariel Helwani for his crediting me with breaking a story in a sport I don’t even cover.


I appreciate the professional respect.

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