Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. retained his WBC middleweight title with a spirited stoppage win over Irish contender Andy Lee at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas on Saturday night.
Chavez Jr. (46-0-1, 32 KOs), 26, started slowly against the classy, 28-year-old Lee (28-2, 20 KOs), a 2004 Irish Olympian whose amateur pedigree and experience was evident as he cleanly out-boxed Chavez Jr. over the first two rounds.
The tide, however, began to gradually shift in the third round, and Chavez Jr. blamed his slow start on leg cramps and the need to figure out his crafty southpaw opponent. Chavez Jr. did solve the puzzle Lee presented, and the emphatic TKO was the product of Junior imposing his will on an opponent who was physically forced to abandon his game plan.
In paving the way for a fight against recognized middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, the question that begs asking is: Does Chavez Jr. actually have a chance of winning?
The answer, it would seem, is not the emphatic “no” most people would readily assume.
In disposing of Lee, Chavez Jr. waxed a credible opponent and skilled boxer. For the first two rounds of Saturday’s fight, Lee used his stiff southpaw jab and movement to control the fight’s tempo and keep Chavez Jr. at bay. In mixing in right hooks off his jab and his crisp, straight left hand, Lee was in control.
Once Chavez Jr. realized he could walk through Lee’s punches, the fight’s ring geography and pace changed. Lee’s movement dissipated, and the Irish challenger negated his own boxing ability by fighting off the ropes and obliging Chavez Jr.’s desire for a slugfest.
To say that Chavez Jr.’s victory was simply the result of Lee abandoning his game plan, however, would be unfair to Junior. One of the most impressive aspects of Chavez Jr.’s performance against Lee was his ability to counter-punch. Chavez Jr. easily landed his straight right hand, as well as a stinging left hook over Lee’s southpaw jab.
In the fifth round, Chavez Jr. openly mocked Lee’s power and started to take the fight into the trenches. Here, Chavez Jr. was able to unload his body hooks (especially his left), and this determined work effectively sapped Lee’s leg movement, forcing the challenger to dig in and fight. While this in-fighting made for an entertaining clash, the disparity in power was evident, and it was clear that Chavez Jr. was hurting Lee.
Emanuel Steward, Lee’s trainer, begged his charge to box and control the center of the ring, and had Lee been able to sustain this game plan, he likely would have won the fight—at the time of the stoppage, Lee had landed more punches than Chavez Jr.
Lee was unable to control the center of the ring because Chavez Jr. was too strong. In the seventh round, Chavez Jr. landed a devastating uppercut, and his follow up barrage was clinical. Lee’s credibility is not in question, which makes Chavez Jr.’s performance even more impressive.
That said, Sergio Martinez (49-2-2, 28 KOs) is a different breed of fighter. As an elite pound-for-pound talent, Martinez combines swift movement with an awkward southpaw style. Martinez, who can evade punches with his hands at his waist, fires combinations from unconventional angles, and his left hand is devastating, as are his variety of hooks.
While Chavez Jr. does seem to have a granite chin, Martinez, at this point, seems too skilled and fluid for the young Mexican. Lee, while a quality boxer, has a classic style and can, at times, be somewhat mechanical. Martinez is the opposite of this.
Chavez Jr. was able to walk through Lee’s punches and smother the Irishman. Martinez, on the other hand, is adept at returning fire with hard and fast combinations after retreating or moving laterally. The fluidity of Martinez’s combinations could also bother Chavez Jr., and the Argentine’s overall athleticism will present Chavez Jr. with angles he hasn’t seen before.
Is Chavez Jr. ready for Martinez?
Furthermore, Martinez is a stronger puncher than Lee. Against Lee, Chavez Jr. was able to disregard his jab due to his ability to walk through the Irishman’s punches. Martinez, however, possesses one-punch knockout power, and Chavez Jr. will have a much more difficult time closing distance to land his body punches.
Given Martinez’s savvy and condition, it is hard to fathom a scenario where Chavez Jr. takes control of the fight’s first half. Martinez will force Chavez Jr. to fight three hard minutes every round, and Martinez also happens to be the sport’s most devastating late-round knockout artist. It seems plausible that Martinez could score a late-round stoppage after systematically dismantling the steadily improving Mexican.
A fight between Chavez Jr. and Martinez, at this juncture, seems legitimate. Chavez Jr. has shown the chin to take such a fight a respectable distance, and Junior’s vastly improved counter-punching could even make this bout intriguing. Also, it is impossible to discount Chavez Jr.’s body attack, and he might just have enough firepower to keep Martinez honest, if not on his toes.
Sergio Martinez is clearly a class above Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. That said, a proposed fight between them promises to be exciting, and Martinez’s somewhat reckless style, combined with Chavez Jr.’s propensity for getting hit flush, promises to make a thrilling action fight—for as long as it lasts.