Big Time: Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. Vs. Andy Lee Preview And Prediction

Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., who fights on HBO Saturday against Andy Lee, is an oversized figure in boxing, and that’s not exclusively a pun about the giant middleweight’s battle with the scales. It’s about him being among the handful of the most popular boxers in North America; it’s about that big name, the one his father gave him, and the big expectations that accompany it; it’s about how he cleaves the boxing world in twain, from those who think he’s a hype job — overblown, they might say — and those who believe he’s unfairly maligned; it’s about the drama that accompanies him outside the ring, from DUIs to steroid suspicions to the aforementioned weight problems; and it’s definitely about the big action he supplies in the boxing ring with a come-forward style and willingness to mix it up.

Lee knows from a few of those things himself. He, too, has supplied his share of action in the ring, as a big-punching middleweight who usually gets hit plenty back. As Chavez is a Mexican idol, Lee is the closest thing the United States has to an Irish ticket seller. And it wasn’t Lee’s father, but his father figure/trainer Emanuel Steward who bestowed big expectations on him, comparing Lee early on to the best fighter ever, Sugar Ray Robinson.

Whatever you think of either man’s ability — my view is that Chavez is a legit top five middleweight, with Lee somewhere on the periphery of the top 10, although some would rank Chavez lower and Lee higher — it’s highly likely this will be a vigorous donnybrook. The winner is lined up to fight true division champ Sergio Martinez, or not, depending on how much you buy into the politics behind the notion of Martinez-Chavez, for instance. Whatever comes next, this one stands nicely on its own.

Chavez, too, stands on his own, whatever head start he inherited from his name. Let’s be clear: He is no world-beater, at least not yet, and may or may not get there with trainer Freddie Roach in his corner and an apparently renewed dedication to training. Chavez made weight with less trouble this time than the last couple, and instead of driving drunk before this fight he was hanging out at children’s hospitals. If such things are the start of a trend, I’m not sure what his upside is, but it’s higher than before. The only distraction this time was the on again/off again experience for this camp with strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza. Well, until the weigh-in, when glove weight rather than Chavez’ weight was at issue.

Chavez will still have size going for him, even if he likely won’t rehydrate up to 181 pounds this time like he did against Marco Antonio Rubio. That Rubio win, in conjunction with wins over another top-10ish midldeweight Sebastian Zbik, along with a variety of victories over fringe contenders like Peter Manfredo and John Duddy, has given him one of the better resumes in a shallow divsion. He’s done it with a size advantage — he has proven unmovable and unhurtable, a tank doing combat with Ford Escorts — but also volume, good-to-very good power, pressure and improving boxing skills. He’s always had the left hook to the body, but he’s also shown of late he can fight as a counterpuncher when he feels like it, and has flashed the ability to use his size and length to control distance rather than merely setting up shop on the inside.

Where he’s not so hot is with his speed — that’s the disadvantage of being a tank — and defense. Even if he could muster some decent defense, and he doesn’t move his head one iota, he might not practice it. In the Manfredo fight, he showed some willingness to box and counter, but before long the urge to duke it out overcame him.

Lee’s willingness to duke it out led to his first defeat, to Brian Vera in 2008. Vera was the first guy to really stand up to Lee’s power, so Lee just kept chopping and chopping, figuring he’d go down eventually, where instead Lee got tired and Vera did his own chopping. The road to recovery was a long one, but by 2011, he was ready to take on quality competition again, nearly losing to Craig McEwan in the process before rallying to score a knockout in the final round. Lee appeared unchanged as a boxer, still far too hittable, but he showed toughness.

By the Vera rematch that same year, Lee was nearly transformed. He still had his southpaw offense, that long jab, left cross and right hook, but he was fighting like a more aggressive mini-Wladimir Klitschko, Steward’s prized pupil. He used his surprisingly lively legs to stay out of harm’s way and wasn’t above holding in close, and he didn’t get caught with much of substance as a result. He dialed back the knockout intentions of each punch slightly, but was still walloping Vera with big periodic big shots. Vera was completely outclassed.

Lee won’t have the bulk advantage in this fight, but he is a bit taller at 6’2″ to Chavez’ 6′. He’ll be faster and his individual punches will be harder. But he won’t be able to do to Chavez what he did to Vera in the second fight, with Chavez a bigger, stronger, more active and overall better boxer. Lee might be able to outbox Chavez, but sustaining it under Chavez’ pressure doesn’t sound like a fun night for Lee. More like it, Lee will have to establish that he can hurt Chavez, so as to ease Chavez’ pressure. I thought Rubio hurt Chavez late in their fight, but that assessment isn’t commonly held. Anyway, I think Lee punches harder than anyone Chavez has fought, so Lee hurting Chavez isn’t out of the question, especially with him showing off an uppercut against Vera, a punch that will come in handy on the inside against Chavez. Nor has Chavez faced many southpaws, which should throw him off from both the standpoint of Lee’s boxing and Lee’s ability to do damage with punches that Chavez doesn’t anticipate.

Part of me wants to pick Lee by upset. And I can see Lee really taking it to Chavez early. But I’m pretty convinced that he won’t be able to keep it up for 12 rounds, and he’ll have to try to box his way out of Chavez’ pressure, and that he won’t be able to do it. From there, it’ll be a race to the scorecards, with Chavez turning it on late and maybe leaving Lee beat up and exhausted by the end of the bell. With the fight being held in Texas, a state friendly to Chavez, I anticipate Chavez getting a debatable decision but one that is legitimately close. If Lee snags the W, though, look for Martinez-Lee next, with both men promoted by Lou DiBella and Lee coming off a career-best victory that makes him the best available contender to the champ. If Chavez wins? Roach is now talking about him moving up a division to 168 pounds. Best to enjoy this one on its own merits.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.