Andy Lee is a throwback fighter, and the 2004 Irish Olympian has earned his WBC middleweight title shot against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. the hard way.
Chavez Jr. (45-0-1, 31 KOs), who was fed his absurd world title with a silver spoon, has largely benefited from nepotism by riding the coattails of his famous father, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.—a three-division world champion and arguably the greatest Mexican boxer of all-time.
Lee (28-1, 20 KOs), despite being touted as a blue-chip prospect since he turned pro, struggled to land a significant fight after his upset TKO loss to Brian Vera in 2008. Instead of rushing into a rematch, Lee’s team carefully crafted his comeback, and the Irishman has gone on to win 13 consecutive fights.
In that span, the 28-year-old Lee clearly avenged his loss against Vera and scored quality wins against the likes of Willie Gibbs, Craig McEwan and Alex Bunema. Having taken an arduous odyssey towards redemption, Lee has finally been rewarded with a title shot against Chavez Jr. in a competitive but winnable fight.
Because the fight is being held in El Paso where Chavez Jr. is immensely popular, Lee’s promoter Lou DiBella has publicly called for fairness in determining a winner, in light of the recent controversies that have plagued boxing (not need to go into details; everyone knows what this refers to).
While DiBella has been diplomatic in his pleas, the reality is that Lee will likely need a stoppage or dominant performance to score a victory over Chavez Jr. in Texas.
With that said, let’s look at Lee's three keys for leaving El Paso with the WBC title and a fall date to tangle with the lineal middleweight champion, Sergio Martinez.
Establish Distance with Southpaw Jab
While Chavez Jr. has improved as a boxer since he began working with Freddie Roach, he is still most effective when he smothers his opponents and rips hooks to the body. Luckily for Lee, Chavez Jr. only sporadically uses his jab and offers little head movement when advancing.
Lee possesses quality power in both fists, and his southpaw jab is an extremely effective punch. In terms of pure boxing ability, Lee holds the advantage over Chavez Jr., and it would behoove Lee to stay on the outside where he can use his height and reach.
By consistently using a stiff jab, Lee will stifle Chavez Jr.’s advances and keep him out of range for body attacks. Lee’s tall and wide stance could be exposed if the fight goes into the trenches, so it is imperative that the Irishman jabs with purpose and doubles the punch.
Doubling the jab will keep Chavez Jr. on his toes and prevent him from planting to get maximum power behind his punches. If Lee jabs while circling to his right, he will also avoid Chavez Jr.’s straight right hand, which is one of the Mexican’s most effective head shots.
Time Chavez Jr.’s Advances with Combinations off the Jab
At 6’2", Lee is a tall middleweight, and it seems natural that Chavez Jr. will try to bull his way inside to negate Lee’s power by closing his range. To prevent this, Lee must ensure that Chavez Jr. remains at the ends of his punches where maximum damage can be dealt.
Chavez Jr. can often be a sitting duck due to his lack of head movement. Still, Chavez Jr. has thus far exhibited a quality chin, and it will be important for Lee to fight in flurries to frustrate his stubborn opponent.
Lee does not want to get drawn into a slugfest, and the best way to avoid a war of attrition is to counter Chavez Jr.’s forward movement. When Chavez Jr. advances in an attempt to land his body shots on the inside, Lee needs to work off his jab and fire crisp combinations.
Lee possesses a devastating straight left, and the punch should be open—Chavez Jr. does not advance with an abundance of lateral movement. Still, Lee will need more than a conventional one-two to deter Chavez Jr.
This is where Lee will need to vary his attack by hooking off his southpaw jab. Lee’s right hook is effective and accurate, and combining this punch with his jab and straight left hand should be his bread and butter throughout the fight.
Also, if Lee combines well-timed step-back maneuvers with a right or left uppercut, he could catch Chavez Jr.—who has a tendency to duck forward—on the way in.
Control the Center of the Ring
Chavez Jr. will have the best chance of unleashing his grueling body attack if he is able to back Lee up and pin him in a corner or against the ropes.
To avoid this, Lee wants to make sure he always has options. By controlling the center of the ring, Lee will be able to work off his jab while maintaining space to retreat, move laterally or advance with intelligent combinations.
It is important that when Lee retreats it is only to re-establish range so that he can plant his feet and fire a combination to stall Chavez Jr.’s forward progress. If Lee finds himself backed up against the ropes, he would be advised to clinch or turn Chavez Jr.
In Lee’s only professional defeat against Brian Vera, the Irishman’s stamina failed him. Thus, Lee will want to avoid absorbing excessive body punches while Chavez Jr. leans on him.
Though preventing this will require sustained movement, Lee can maintain his energy if he combines consistent movement with well-placed combinations.
If the fight becomes a reckless slugfest, Lee might be in trouble. That said, Lee has all the tools to dethrone Chavez Jr., and I expect Emanuel Steward will have crafted a sound game plan that Lee will execute in a decisive unanimous decision victory.