Everybody knows Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. isn’t half the fighter his old man was, but it’s time to give the son of the Mexican legend credit for being a world-class middleweight – one who might be big and strong and tough enough to give RING champ Sergio Martinez a real fight.
A year ago, fans considered a fight with Martinez, a dynamic southpaw that most rate right behind Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, pound for pound, to be a joke.
Chavez was thought of as nothing more than a Top Rank creation; a gutsy kid with a famous last name and a WBC belt he barely earned from unheralded Sebastian Zbik. He had no chance against a fighter as talented and experienced as Martinez.
However, since his title-winning effort one year ago, Chavez has improved with each outing leading into his impressive seventh-round stoppage of Andy Lee in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday.
In Lee, Chavez (46-0-1, 32 knockouts) faced a former amateur star with comparable size and considerable power. The London-born Irishman is a 6-foot-2 southpaw who carried a 13-bout win streak that included eight stoppages into his HBO-televised challenge to Chavez.
Lee (28-2, 20 KOs), his hall-of-fame trainer Emanuel Steward, and more than a few fans and boxing pundits were confident that Chavez lacked the ability to compete.
They were wrong.
Chavez doesn’t have the amateur background that Lee, an Irish Olympian, had. (In fact, the 26-year-old pressure fighter didn’t have any amateur bouts.) Chavez isn’t as quick or rangy or mobile and ring savvy as Lee is.
He didn’t need to be. Chavez, who has drastically improved under Freddie Roach’s guidance, had enough of his father’s physical attributes to overwhelm the left-handed boxer-puncher.
Lee’s superior speed and athleticism was evident in the first three rounds as the southpaw outboxed, outlanded and outmaneuvered the crowd favorite, often pot-shotting Chavez with straight lefts, right hooks and uppercuts. However, Chavez confidently stalked the rangy challenger, and beginning in the fourth round, he began to impose his will and style – which is uncannily similar to his father’s – on Lee.
How did he do it? The same way Chavez Sr. did in the 1980s and 1990s – by cutting the ring off, timing accurate hooks and rights over his opponent’s jab, forcing him to the ropes and attacking the body, all while absorbing the best shots the other guy has to offer.
Chavez knows how to walk a man down. He blocks and parries a lot of shots as he does so. And he can take anything that gets through his defense.
Lee landed a monster left uppercut late in the fourth round. It didn’t’ budge Chavez, who answered by jumping into Lee’s chest. Chavez smiled at Lee when the Irish lefty landed shots early in the fifth round. Then he went on the attack, punishing Lee’s body whenever he forced the challenger to the ropes.
The fight was practically over by this point, and Lee knew it.
“My punches had no effect on him,” Lee said during his post-fight interview. “I couldn’t hold him off. A lot of punches I threw in there could have hurt a lot of people but he just walked through them.”
Chavez outworked a visibly tiring and less mobile Lee in round six and continued to do so in the seventh. All Lee could do was cover up along the ropes as Chavez pressed him with head-and-body combinations. With less than a minute left in the round, Chavez backed Lee into a corner and snapped his head back with a left uppercut. He followed that shot with a right cross that buckled Lee’s legs and left him helpless against Chavez’s onslaught of wild crosses and hooks, forcing referee Laurence Cole to step in and halt the fight at 2:21 the round.
Apart from the slow start – which was another trait of his famous father – it was a brilliant performance.
“I wanted to see if he had any power (in the early rounds),” Chavez said during his post-fight interview. “He didn’t have anything, that’s when I came on.
“In the first round maybe I was a little cold, but I put my face out for him to hit me but he never hurt me.”
Chavez said he’s proud to carry his father’s name and wants to “make history” like his old man did. He’ll never accomplish as much as Chavez Sr. but he can earn universal respect and own a small piece of boxing history if he can beat Martinez.
Chavez’s promoter, Bob Arum, and Martinez’s promoter, Lou DiBella, have verbally agreed to match their middleweight stars in the fall.
Chavez seemed to welcome the showdown during his post-fight interview.
“I’m going to knock him out and shut his mouth,” he said.
A year ago, the boxing world would have laughed at that statement. Not as many are doing so now, especially after Martinez’s less-than-stellar victories over Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin, and the form (and chin) Chavez showed in El Paso.
Lee certainly won’t count Chavez out.
“I think it’s a tough fight for Sergio, just because of the size,” he said of the anticipated matchup. “(Chavez is) a lot better than people give him credit for. He’s a big fighter; he’s got a big heart and a good chin.”
Maybe that’s all he needs.
Photos / Chris Farina-TOP RANK