By Keith Idec
Mike Lee always wanted to bring the biggest fights of his career to Chicago.
The undefeated light heavyweight contender’s handlers intend to do just that by having him face Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in the United States’ third-largest city later this year. Lee grew up in Wheaton, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in finance and proved he can sell tickets in his home area when he fought three times in Chicago and twice in nearby Rosemont.
The enigmatic Chavez is a son of Mexico’s most revered boxer and Chicago has a large Mexican population. Lee also views his fight against Chavez as an event that can rejuvenate boxing in Chicago, which was the site of several huge fights in its heyday.
“Chicago has a great sports fan base and I think this would really get people excited – not just boxing fans, but general sports fans in the Chicagoland area,” Lee told BoxingScene.com.
“I’ve had fights there and brought bigger crowds. Obviously, the Chavez name is legendary in boxing and there are a lot of Mexican-Americans in the Chicago area. I think this is a fight we both want to put on for the fans, and I especially want it in Chicago.
“I know we can sell out Wintrust [Arena], United Center or wherever it is. That’s what I look forward to. The bigger the stage, the better I perform, and this is something that just gets me excited. I’m 21 fights in, so it’s go time for me. I want the bigger, better fights. I know that I’m more than ready for it, so I’m really, really excited.”
The 32-year-old Chavez (50-3-1, 32 KOs, 1 NC) hasn’t fought since countryman Canelo Alvarez dominated him in their 12-round, super middleweight match 15 months ago at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
“My understanding is his side, they want this fight, as do we,” Lee said. “Now it’s just a matter of working out the details.”
His long layoff aside, Chavez would be the most accomplished opponent for Lee since he turned pro in May 2010. The 31-year-old Lee (21-0, 11 KOs) overcame a rib injury to out-box Jose Hernandez (19-4-1, 9 KOs) in his last fight, a 10-rounder he won by unanimous decision June 8 at Allstate Arena in Rosemont.
Lee is confident a victory over Chavez would lead him to the light heavyweight title shot he covets. He is ranked No. 3 by the WBO, No. 8 by the WBA and No. 13 by the IBF.
“It’d be extremely important,” Lee said of the impact beating Chavez would have on his career. “I’m for sure gonna put it all out there, giving it everything I have, because it’s been a long road. But these are the kinds of fights you work years and years and years for. I’m just hungry. I feel like I’m in the prime of my career. I’m 31 and I have enough experience now.
“I’ve had some 10-rounders and fought on some big stages, and this is really exciting for me. I think a big win like this puts me right there for a title shot, and that’s what the ultimate goal is. Putting on big fights is great, but I wanna retire one day known as a champion. I wanna go to bed at night knowing I did everything I could to go for it.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.