By Jake Donovan, photo by Rafael Soto
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. overcame a slow start to batter Andy Lee into submission in the seventh round of their middleweight title fight Saturday evening at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.
The official time was 2:23 of round seven in their HBO-televised main event. All three judges had Lee ahead 58-56 on the official scorecards at the time of the stoppage.
There are several traits that the second generation fighter picked up from his father, the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. One in particular is his penchant for slow starts, which was what transpired in this particular bout. Chavez Jr. stalked in the early rounds, but didn’t let his hands go enough as Lee was able to control the action largely on the strength of his jab from the southpaw stance.
Chavez Jr. began to close the gap in round three, scoring with uppercuts and body shots. Lee was still effective with the jab, but would soon find out that boxing alone wasn’t enough to get the job done.
“My punches had no effect on him,” Lee admitted after the fight. “He just walked through my shots. He’s a big middleweight. It was hard to move him with my shots.”
The inability to hurt his opponent was thrown in Lee’s face as Chavez Jr. began dancing and clowning in the fifth. The tactics were in part his exuding confidence that he was in full control of the fight, even if Lee was the busier fighter. There is also the theory that Chavez Jr. was trying to save up for something spectacular while fighting through leg cramps which developed in the opening round.
“From the first round, my legs were bothering me,” Chavez Jr. stated after what is arguably the biggest win of his young career. “I could’ve knocked him out any time I liked, but I couldn’t early because my legs were cramping.”
The fight shifted in Chavez Jr’s favor as early as the third round, but he remained in control by the end of the fifth round. Lee had his moments in the frame, but they were overshadowed by Chavez Jr’s wicked body attack, along with left hooks landed upstairs.
By the sixth round, it was clear that Lee was being taken into deep waters sans a life preserver. This fact was not lost on Chavez Jr, who continued to have fun as he was fully confident that the night would end with his racking up a third successful title defense.
“I wanted to see if he had any power. When I saw he couldn’t hurt me, that is when I came on.”
The defending titlist came on big in the seventh round, at which point Lee was outgunned and quite frankly all out of answers.
Chavez Jr. saw that his opponent was hurt and moved in with knockout on his mind. The 26-year old ultimately hit paydirt, unloading to the body while Lee covered up along the ropes without throwing back. Referee Laurence Cole saw that the bout wasn’t about to change gears and decided to move in to rescue Lee from absorbing any more punishment.
The win was the third successful title defense for Chavez Jr, who improves to 46-0-1 (32KO). His entire middleweight title reign has taken place on HBO, winning the belt just over a year ago with a majority decision over Sebastian Zbik. Each of his title defenses have taken place in Texas, scoring wins in Houston, San Antonio and now El Paso.
Saturday night’s win over Lee ranks among Chavez Jr’s most convincing performance to date, perhaps a rare occasion where even most critics couldn’t take issue with the opponent or the conclusion.
“I’m very happy to carry the name,” Chavez Jr stated. “I’m going to make history in the world of boxing. Every day I’m getting better.”
The same can’t be said for Lee, who falls to 28-2 (20KO). The loss was his first in more than four years, but something changed in the career of the Irish southpaw from that March ’08 night. A 13-fight win-streak followed, but also marked a stretch where the one-time boxer puncher became far more boxer than puncher.
On this particular night, it didn’t serve him very well, despite the slight lead on the scorecards.
“I have no excuses, he’s a good fighter,” Lee admitted afterward. He’s a champion for a reason. He’s a big fighter, big heart and a good chin.”
All of those same attributes once accompanied Chavez Sr., though of course carrying the same traits as his famous father doesn’t put Chavez Jr. in the same class.
Living up to his father’s Hall of Fame career was never the primary goal, however.
That said, a fight awaits that could either go a long way towards validating his own credentials – or perhaps leave the remaining critics snickering that he’ll never measure up.
For the past several months, a rumored showdown with lineal middleweight king Sergio Martinez has continued to gain legs. Most – including Martinez himself and promoter Lou DiBella – carry a “see it to believe it” approach when discussion of such a fight surfaces.
Promoter Bob Arum has insisted for the past few weeks that plans are in motion for a September 15 pay-per-view headliner, to coincide with Mexican Independence Day. Those plans were repeated again during the post-fight presser, though for the moment remains at a verbal agreement between camps.
Martinez has chased Chavez Jr. from the moment the unbeaten Mexican star picked up his old alphabet title that he was forced to vacant last year. Chavez Jr’s camp has played cat-and-mouse while taking on other optional defenses.
Now that he’s been able to gain more experience under his belt, Chavez Jr. has no issue with accepting such a dangerous assignment.
“With my legs right, I’m going to knock him out and shut his mouth,” Chavez Jr. vowed.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox