Saturday night, from El Paso, Texas, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (45-0-1, 31 KOs) looks to strengthen his claim on the title of best middleweight not named Sergio Martinez. Chavez faces Andy Lee (28-1, 20 KOs), who is on a 13-fight winning streak that includes avenging his lone loss as a pro (a knockout defeat to Brian Vera in 2008).
The knock on Chavez has always been that he is more about his father’s famous name and riding the coattails thereof than being a champion in his own right. His WBC middleweight strap around his waist is essentially stolen property, fenced via Jose Sulaiman after the heist that removed it from Sergio Martinez.
Even with that, however, you still have to clobber the guys in front of you, and Chavez has defended the belt twice since winning it from Sebastian Zbik last year, first against Peter Manfredo Jr. and then against Marco Antonio Rubio in his last fight. While those guys are not exactly Bernard Hopkins and Carlos Monzon in terms of level of opposition at 160 pounds, they are professional fighters who would have beaten Chavez if in fact the Mexican were the puffed-up tomato can that his critics often paint him as.
Lee is another guy who’s more Zbik than he is Sugar Ray Robinson. His lone loss, a seventh-round stoppage on cuts at the hands of Brian Vera in 2008, could easily have gone his way had his blood decided to stay inside his body. Lee dropped Vera in the first round and led handily on all three judges’ scorecards; indeed, had the fight continued Vera would have needed to knock Lee out to get the decision, and had Lee not had the red mist descend over his eyes in decidedly non-berserker-like fashion, the result seemed pre-ordained.
Which is to say that with a little luck, Lee would be undefeated. As if that weren’t enough, Lee is a southpaw; the most recent southpaw Chavez faced, which was 12 fights ago, was Ray Sanchez, who jumped ahead on the scorecards before the Mexican disposed of him in the sixth round. A steady diet of orthodox fighters may very well have left Chavez vulnerable and ill-prepared for his next battle with a left-hander who has a lot more pop than does Sanchez.
Lee has genuine knockout power and a ton of heart (his stoppage of Craig McEwen displayed both in spades). Chavez has enough boxing ability to frustrate an opponent to go with fierce fists of his own. This fight would, on paper, seem thoroughly unlikely to go the distance, so keep the beer on ice and don’t get up to raid the refrigerator unless you want to see a coup de grace on replay.
The Chavez-Lee card airs on HBO as part of its World Championship Boxing series Saturday night at 10 p.m. ET and PT.