Chavez vs Lee Preview: Out in the West Texas Town of El Paso, Boxing Fights On

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr has never been respected by hardcore boxing fans, but has become a star anyway. (Photo by Chris Farina/Top Rank)

Believe it or not, sports fans, boxing didn't actually die last Saturday night when Manny Pacquiao lost a controversial decision to Timothy Bradley in Las Vegas. Whether or not Snoop Dogg has gone bacc on that Ultimate Fighting or not, the sweet science carries on, and, well, that's just the way it is, like so many times before.

Boxing needs change. It needs forward progress. It needs some level of reform. In the meantime, we also have fights all over the globe. Saturday night's HBO main event is one of those fights. You can tune in at 10 p.m. EDT and catch the Pacquiao vs Bradley replay, if you still haven't seen the fight like the experts on talk radio have, but it won't end there. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr and Andy Lee will lace up there gloves for a live fight at El Paso's Sun Bowl.

Rex Beastly and The Morning Zoo won't be in attendance and won't be interviewing anyone next Monday through Thursday, nor will any Kardashians likely tune in. After the last week, I say thank God for that.

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr is a peculiarity. He is neither as good as some believe him to be, nor as bad as others believe him to be. He is a spoiled rich kid who has had every advantage someone can have in pro boxing. His father, the great Julio Cesar Chavez, is the icon of Mexican boxing. He has been backed and protected and coddled by the World Boxing Council (WBC), a Mexico-based sanctioning body, arguably the most powerful and prestigious in the sport.

He is very popular in Mexico, and with Mexican-American viewers, the demographic that could be called the backbone of American boxing at this point in time. For years, U.S. boxing networks turned a blind eye to him, however. HBO and Showtime wanted nothing to do with a mediocre fighter being promoted on the strength of his father's name, in matchups that weren't exactly scintillating on paper.

As Chavez (45-0-1, 31 KO) banged through journeymen, washed-up veterans (including Grover Wiley, the club fighter who retired his father), and little-known guys with pretty records who couldn't fight much -- while along the way coming out with a few controversial wins -- Top Rank found an outlet for him in the States: Pay-per-view. The reason they did this is because the major networks didn't want to pay for Chavez, but plenty of boxing fans were willing to do just that. So Chavez headlined minor pay-per-view events for a while, the shows returning more than enough profit to make it viable for his promoters.

Last year, Top Rank shocked the boxing world by taking their No. 1 drawing card Manny Pacquiao to Showtime for a pay-per-view event in May, where he faced Shane Mosley. Though the show wasn't a huge success -- and was a dud in the ring for the main event -- it is cited by many as one of the key reasons that HBO Sports parted ways with embattled chief Ross Greenburg, who had been the President of the division since 2000.

Not long after Manny made the move to Showtime, which ultimately was a one-off event, HBO signed up to bring Julio Cesar Chavez Jr to its airwaves, with a main event fight from Los Angeles against Sebastian Zbik. Zbik was not much different than a lot of past Chavez opponents. He had a shiny record (30-0 coming in), but it was built on wins over mediocre opposition. Those who had actually seen Zbik fight weren't fooled by any of this. Though the vacant WBC middleweight belt was on the line -- which came about by way of a "strange" (read: somewhat shady) turn of events involving HBO and the WBC -- we weren't seeing the best that division had to offer.

Chavez won the fight, a grueling affair that saw him escape with his first major title on scores of 116-112, 115-113, and 114-114, a majority decision. And the real key factor guaranteed his return: He brought viewers to the network, and has done so twice more in wins against Peter Manfredo Jr and Marco Antonio Rubio, main event fights on HBO with less than stellar opposition.

Chavez still is not a special fighter, and never is going to be. It's just not in him to be a great fighter, a true top-tier guy. He's not talented enough. He's not good enough. But he doesn't just make up for that with ratings numbers, he makes up for it with the fact that his fights are entertaining to watch. You're not going to tune in and see some pat-a-cake slapfest with Chavez. You'll see a kid, no matter the shape he's in, a big, strong middleweight, fighting hard on the inside, giving a tough, gritty effort.

He takes shots, and he takes them well. He's got some power. And most nights -- the Rubio fight would be an exception, as Chavez was out of shape by his own admission -- he brings it hard all night.

I've said before that Chavez is also unique in that he has never been respected by the "hardcore" fanbase, the "boxingheads," at least not in large numbers. But while some guys need that, Chavez doesn't. Never has and never will. So long as he's named Julio Cesar Chavez Jr and he's fighting, there will be an audience for him.

Frankly, I've seen audiences flock to worse fighters, to guys who are a hell of a lot more boring, and to many who have achieved their own fanbase without much more by way of achievement than Chavez has. He doesn't offend me. I just don't think he's actually gotten all that much better as a fighter, which it seems some believe to be the case simply because he's on HBO now.

* * * * *

Chavez_vs_lee_poster_medium Andy Lee, to be honest, isn't all that much different than Chavez in some respects. An Irishman born in London, who fights out of Detroit, Lee has trained in the Kronk's art of pugilism under Hall of Famer Emanuel Steward, who has also managed his career.

To be completely fair to both parties, if Chavez's record of opposition deserves to be criticized, then what can you say about Andy Lee's?

Lee (28-1, 20 KO) has been "on the verge" for years now. Back in 2007-08, Lee was considered one of the best prospects at middleweight, a guy right on the cusp of a world title shot.

That's when he was matched with Texas scrapper Brian Vera on ESPN Friday Night Fights. On March 21, 2008, in Connecticut, Andy Lee was stopped by a hard-charging Vera, who was outclassed in skill but doubled Lee up in readiness for an out-and-out brawl. Vera had gone down in round one, but stopped Lee in the seventh, and there was no argument from the losing side.

Lee and Steward hit the reset button after that. He fought a few times overseas, mainly in Ireland where he's popular, and his U.S. appearances were club-level fights.

In 2011, he got busy, and started making occasional statements. He featured on HBO twice during the year, both times beneath another Lou DiBella-promoted fighter, Sergio Martinez. Lee beat Craig McEwan in March, and then topped Vera in an October rematch.

His last fight was a genuine waste of time, on March 10 of this year against a little fat guy in Novi, Michigan.

Some consider Lee a step up for Chavez. But make no mistake about this: Chavez is a step up for Andy Lee, too.

* * * * *

So how does this look on paper? First of all, it should be a good one from a viewer's perspective. There's not much chance this is a truly boring fight, unless something goes wrong in there. and one of them doesn't really want to fight or the like.

At 26 and 28, respectively, Chavez and Lee are both in or close to their peak years athletically. There is some concern about Chavez from a conditioning standpoint, because he's been known to struggle with making the 160-pound limit, and then he puts on about 20 pounds overnight after the weigh-in, making him tough to handle when he's on-point, simply because he is physically a bigger, heavier man than his opponents.

Alex Ariza, the famed strength and conditioning coach, was recently kicked off of Chavez's team. Ariza says it's promoter Bob Arum's doing. Whatever it is, that's the reality right now: Chavez doesn't have Ariza helping him get in peak shape. That could be a problem. It could also mean nothing, as Chavez says that he's rededicated himself to the sport and made it "his everything." Don't forget that before his sluggish last outing, he had been popped on a DUI charge in California.

The biggest worry I would have as a Chavez supporter would be the simple fact that whether it's the fighter, trainer Freddie Roach, Arum, Top Rank's matchmakers, or someone else, the fact is that Team Chavez did not want this fight with Andy Lee. They didn't want it last year, when Lee was a rumored November opponent, a spot that went to Manfredo.

They didn't want it this year, when the fight first came up. Top Rank wanted to bring England's Martin Murray over for this fight, but Murray couldn't get his work visa sorted. Lee's southpaw stance has them worried. He was flat-out turned down because he's a southpaw, or at least that's what was reported.

But Lee's here, whether they like it or not. There just weren't many other options, and Julio needed to fight.

Chavez_workout_120612_001a_medium
(Photo by Chris Farina/Top Rank)

Talent-wise, I don't think there's a real gulf between the two. If it turns out that there is, and that Chavez is at the disadvantage, one has to figure right now that the southpaw stance will be the main reason for that. Maybe Julio just can't fight southpaws. This will be a chance to find out.

Neither fighter is what you would call a defensive specialist. Actually, let's be real here: Neither fighter is what you would call any good at defensive boxing. Chavez gets by, usually these days, on workrate. Lee gets by because he does have good power, does throw crisp punches when he's at his best, and has a good offensive skill-set.

You can point to more that Lee does well, I think, but I'm not sure he does it all well enough to be truly better than Chavez.

It's a tough fight to call. I think those who favor one guy over the other are seeing something that really gives their pick a major advantage, and I'm not sure that's there. If Chavez isn't plain befuddled by Andy Lee standing with the other foot forward, I think this is a 50-50 fight.

* * * * *

Texas. As loathe as I am to mess with Texas -- I love the state, but its athletic commission and officials leave much to be desired -- I have to. This is a state commission that has the worst reputation of all the major commissions in the United States, and we're talking about competition from the recently-lambasted Nevada commission and California being in that discussion.

The referee will be Laurence Cole, who has taken his knocks from boxing fans and writers over the years. He's the son of Dicky Cole, who has run the commission with a smug grin for years, sort of an American version of the WBC's Jose Sulaiman, but without the ridiculous, phony retirements that Sulaiman threatens every time he pretends to be deeply offended or outraged.

Personally, and I say this while being someone who has called Cole out for some bad nights as the third man, I think Laurence's level of crappiness does get overstated sometimes. Most of the time, he's pretty easy to ignore.

The judges are neutral here, at least on paper: Jesse Reyes of Texas, Rey Danseco of the Philippines, and John Keane of the United Kingdom.

Keane last worked in the States when he was chosen for the three-man crew in New Jersey in December, when Andre Ward beat Carl Froch. Ward won two cards on scores of 115-113 over the Englishman Froch, but it was Keane who had the 118-110 card it seemed was closer to what many saw on TV.

Keane is the most experienced of the three in major fights. He also scored the Chavez-Zbik fight last year, and had it wider than the other two judges, at 116-112 for JCC. Other recent notable fights which went the distance: DeGale vs Groves (115-114 Groves), Pascal vs Dawson (106-103 Dawson), Aydin vs Dan I (116-111 Dan, a fight that went to Aydin and most felt was a robbery), Pongsaklek vs Kameda (116-112 Pongaklek), and Diaconu vs Pascal I (116-112 Diaconu).

Reyes doesn't have a lot of big fight experience, but I'm waaaaay beyond considering that to be a negative, personally. He scored the Canelo vs Mosley fight last month in Nevada, and had it 119-109 for Canelo. Danseco will be judging in the States for the first time, but he did make the trip to Quebec last year for Pascal vs Hopkins II, and had it 116-112 for Hopkins. He's worked notable fights in the Philippines, Thailand, Mexico, and Japan, too.

On paper, the officials don't look suspect in the slightest. But you just always have that gnawing feeling with a Texas fight. Here's hoping it's nothing more than a feeling.

* * * * *

Chavez_workout_120612_003a_medium
(Photo by Chris Farina/Top Rank)

OK, so let's just get to the prediction here, and I'll make it short and sweet: I think Julio Cesar Chavez Jr will outhustle Andy Lee in this one. Again, unless he's really just clueless as to how to fight a southpaw, or he's badly out of shape, I think he wins this on the style matchup. His work-work-work approach when he's on his game is tough to handle, and I don't think Andy Lee has the defensive ability to work past that.

Lee will make a fight of this, though, and does have the power to even things up and possibly back down the Mexican brawler. If Lee can hurt Chavez, then this could be his fight. The lack of defensive prowess on both sides begs for an action contest, as does both fighters' willingness to throw punches. If we see a chin checked, I expect it to be Chavez's. But if we see a war of attrition, I expect Chavez to be able to break Lee down and finish this fight strong. I'll go with Chavez by decision, and possibly some debate about the scores after the fight. It could be close.

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