Who can forget the days when Emanuel Steward used to hype Andy Lee as a future heavyweight champion? Lee, 28, takes his first step toward that unlikely goal tonight when he faces mucho-maligned Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, for the Sweet-N-Kickin BBQ Sauce middleweight title.
The winner of this bout—by decree of a WBC contract—is supposed to face Sergio Martinez. That slip of paper, however, is probably worth as much as a Confederate dollar. Only a Lee victory, it seems, will make that proviso a reality.
Having been blamed for everything from cow mutilations to the Rockefeller Drug Laws to the current plight of the Euro Zone, Chavez, 26, returns to the ring and to the jibes of those who like to see pound-for-pound stalwarts pound 15-1 longshots into gory submission. This preference, in 2012, makes you an expert, a hardcore fan, or a dyslexic Comments Creature. Often, it is a combination of all three.
After establishing a solid reputation as a dilly-dallier and a gadfly, Chavez, who did not get a seat on the HBO gravy train until his 45th fight, claims to have gotten down to business in training for Lee. If so, then the Sun Bowl may be host to a solid scrap.
This fight, despite the baying of the usual hounds, is not a walkover. It will—gasp!—likely have action, which is a good thing, since thousands will be in attendance, and a crowd of that size usually gathers to be entertained. And Chavez is nearly always entertaining. Maybe Nielsen ratings prove it: according to Kevin Iole, Chavez has averaged 1.63 million viewers for HBO over his last three fights. (Sergio Martinez, on the other hand, has averaged 1.09 million over his last three fights. Still, try getting some to admit that Martinez is not a “star.” Before you know it, they will tear themselves away from their LCD monitors and hurl themselves onto their beds, where they will bury their begrimed noses in the matted fur of oversized P-4-P teddy bears.) Finally, Chavez, 45-0-1-1 (31), will be making his fifth start in less than a year-and-a-half. In other words, Chavez—and this bout—is everything the hardcore fan seems to abhor. Instead, it is a perverse badge of honor to endure the bore and snore routine of Andre Ward and Chad Dawson.
In the meantime, while Chavez remains busy as the hardest-working fraud in the beak-busting business, Gennady Golovkin and Dmirty Pirog will soon swap punches. Felix Sturm and Daniel Geale are planning to do the same. Through it all, Sergio Martinez sits on his crooked throne, beneath his schlock crown, raving like a mad Roman emperor during his last reigning days—Elagabalus, maybe, or Domitian. And Chavez, his beleaguered nemesis? Lee will be his third competent opponent in a year, a trio—also featuring veteran banger Marco Antonio Rubio and former amateur standout Sebastian Zbik—similar in class to recent Martinez victims. Not better than or equal to, but of a similar class. After all, Dzinziruk was a career junior middleweight who had only one fight in over two years before facing “Maravilla;” Darren Barker was undisputed king of York Hall, perhaps; and Matthew Macklin, in a frightening scene, was removed from the ring on a stretcher after being pole-axed by Jamie Moore, a fighter who had never even vied for one of a half-dozen world titles available in the modern boxing 99¢ Belt Bazaar.
If you think this immortal crew is light years ahead of Rubio, Zbik, and Lee, then you probably think a prerequisite for being a world-class fighter is to get stretched in the late rounds by Sergio Martinez. All of the aforementioned fighters reside within the same solid journeyman-fringe contender-anonymous titleholder range, separated, naturally, by varying degrees of talent, connections, and luck. But to hear the Martinez contingent babble, Dzinziruk, Barker, and Macklin were all members of The Forever People at one time or another.
Of course, Martinez did spectacularly flatten the once most-feared welterweight in the world—Paul Williams—and he did score a clean decision over Kelly Pavlik, whose minor league team penny pinched on a cutman and allowed Pavlik to become the Hobgoblin of hemoglobin over twelve rounds in Atlantic City. From press row, Pavlik, with his sallow skin and wide eyes, resembled a statue of the Virgin Mary weeping blood. And it is true that the Chavez braintrust is avoiding Martinez. But since Chavez is a walking phony, who cares?
Lee, 28-1 (20), may not be Marvin Hagler—hell, he may not even be Tony Sibson—but he has as good a shot as anyone does to topple Chavez, Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico, from his silver-plated plinth. Junior is simply not good enough for any outing to be considered a mismatch. Even Peter Manfredo, Jr., was getting to Chavez before the Prodigal Son finally lowered the boom in the fifth round. Chavez is fair game for just about any top-20 middleweight, Lee included.
Although Lee has not improved markedly over the last few years, he no longer carries his right by his thigh as often as he used to; this, no doubt, was a lesson taught to him by Brian Vera in 2008. Nor does he make those strange semaphores any longer; Lee used to wave his right hand around like a warlock conjuring up some imp of the perverse. Still, keeping his right up did not stop Craig McEwan from pummeling Lee at will at Foxwoods last year. Lee rallied to stop McEwan in the tenth, but looked more like a drunk stevedore than a boxer with an Olympic pedigree in the process. Because of his pylon-straight style and his wayward right, Lee gets hit often and he gets hit hard. But he does have some counterpunching skill and he is particularly adept at whipping left uppercuts at an onrushing target. In addition, Lee, fighting out of Detroit, Michigan, also possesses a crack straight left, one he often tries getting opponents to walk into.
At 6’2” Lee also has slight pulls in both reach and height over Chavez. Nor will Chavez have the comical weight advantage he had on Marco Antonio Rubio a few months ago, when JCC entered the ring as a cruiserweight; Lee is a big middleweight and will likely rehydrate to within 10 pounds of his opponent come fight time.
For his part, Chavez, who showed some boxing ability against a weathered Peter Manfredo, Jr., should be looking to crowd Lee and bang to the body in close quarters as he did against Rubio. Like many fighters today, Lee is as helpless as a foal in the trenches. Grinding it out will also help neutralize the portside advantage Lee holds. In 2007 Chavez was farcically slapped around by the best southpaw he ever faced, talented but brittle Jose Celaya. A few months later, Ray Sanchez bounced shots off of his head with the regularity of a tennis ball machine. Clearly, lefties are not his best friends. Even so, unless Lee can drop the hammer on Chavez in the early-to-middle rounds, he runs the risk of fading down the stretch.
In that case, go with the chalk, and look for Chavez and Lee to mix it up freely, with Chavez getting enough of an edge to earn a unanimous decision. Of course, since the fight is being held in Texas, anything and everything can happen. Regardless of the outcome, however, expect Sergio Martinez to pop up somewhere soon, shouting commands and making demands of his many serfs. Everyone else, it seems, is just working for a good dollar.