Tonight features a fascinating middleweight showdown in El Paso, Texas between Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (45-0-1), the son of the Mexican legend, and Andy Lee (28-1), an Emanuel Steward prodigy and former Irish Olympian. For both fighters, tonight's opponent will be the best of their respective careers. Read below for the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the piece.
1. Lee's conditioning vs. Chavez's chin.
Chavez is a merciless body puncher. His left hook to the body is his money shot. Lee must avoid those punishing blows by throwing quick combinations and getting out of the pocket. Movement for him will be key. Chavez will try to invest in Lee's body early in the fight to create a more stationary target in the bout's championship rounds. Lee is not an athlete who is a prime physical specimen. If his conditioning is not 100%, Chavez will exert his will in the fight.
In addition, Chavez uses his forearms and head to further break down his opponents; he rests them on his foes' shoulders and head. Usually, he comes into fights with a significant weight advantage, which helps him absorb blows and further wear down his opponents. In inside wars, Chavez expertly uses his physicality to gain an edge.
To this point in his career, Chavez has acquired the reputation as having a very solid chin. However, by looking at his record in championship fights, it's tough to say that he has an excellent set of whiskers. True, he ate a lot of shots from Sebastian Zbik and Marco Antonio Rubio, but neither was an excellent power puncher. Zbik was feather-fisted; Rubio, who does have solid power, more often wears opponents down over the course of a fight. However, Chavez's significant advantages in weight and boxing ability were able to negate Rubio's effectiveness. In Chavez's other title fight, he was rocked once by Peter Manfredo, a boxer who has only average punching power at best. Lee has two, true knockout weapons with his straight left hand and right hook. Tonight will be a real test of Chavez's chin.
2. Battle of the Hookers.
Both fighters feature hooks as their best punches. For Chavez, his left hook to the body can be pulverizing. Although the rest of Chavez's offensive arsenal can be spotty, his hook is a world-class punch. For Lee, who has had stamina and conditioning problems in the past, his body must hold up to get the victory.
Lee, a southpaw, throws a hard and very accurate right hook. It stops opponents in their tracks and provides him with the opportunity to land his straight left hand.
3. Southpaw angles.
Chavez does not have experience against top southpaws. Although Chavez's defense has improved under Freddie Roach, Lee should have the ability to land his right hook and straight left hand with ease. It's up to Lee to put his punches together in combination and keep Chavez guessing.
El Paso is supposed to be 84 degrees Fahrenheit/29 degrees Celsius at fight time. Lee has never fought an important professional match in these conditions. Although it will be relatively low humidity tonight, the high temperatures can certainly cause cramping, dehydration and a reduction in energy. On the surface, the edge in tonight's weather conditions should favor Chavez, who is more used to warmer climates than Lee is. Chavez has also fought several times in outdoor stadiums in Mexico.
5. It's Texas. Who knows what can happen?
To guess which potential scandal could happen in Texas is a fool's errand. In the last year, we have seen terrible decisions, the failure to drug test (in that case it was Chavez) and horrible judgment calls by referees. Tonight's ref is Laurence Cole, a shaky official (and son of the head of the Texas Commission of Licensing and Regulation) who has missed knockdowns, told specific boxers they were winning during bouts and provided preferential treatment for house fighters. If you get the feeling that I'm not necessarily confident in his abilities, you're right.
The judges for tonight's action are John Keane, Jesse Reyes and Rey Danseco. Keane is an excellent judge from the U.K. and has worked scores of world title fights. He is a fair judge and to use the old John Wooden line, he never mistakes activity for achievement.
Reyes, from Texas, has judged for a long time in his home state and Mexico, but he has received very few high-profile assignments. He was selected for Alvarez-Mosley earlier in the year, although not much effort was required to judge that one-sided fight. He's a wildcard tonight.
Danseco is a relatively young judge from the Philippines who has become one of the WBC's go-to officials. In the last few years, they have sent him to Japan, Mexico and Canada for their title fights. He did correctly have Hopkins beating Pascal in their second fight. However, Danseco has not amassed a large body of work.
It should be noted that Chavez is the reigning WBC middleweight champion. Jose Sulaiman, the president of the WBC and a fellow Mexican, has showered Chavez with praise in the past and has permitted the fighter to avoid the true lineal middleweight champion, Sergio Martinez.
I see Lee having early success in the fight with his straight left hand and right hook. His slight hand speed advantage and sharper punches will hurt Chavez in the early rounds. He will use his boxing skills and movement to build an early cushion in the fight.
However, the three factors of Chavez's body blows, the warm weather and Lee's conditioning will conspire to swing the fight in the Mexican's favor. As the match progresses, Lee's legs won't permit him to move around the ring and it will become a fight in the trenches. I think that Lee wilts down the stretch. I see Chavez wearing him down in the final third of the fight.