Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. isn’t just popular with Mexicans because Mexicans loved his dad — he fights in as macho a style as you can, and Mexicans love macho. All of that machismo was Hemingwaying up the joint Saturday night on HBO, when Chavez, in all his massive middleweight slendor, let Andy Lee’s usually powerful punches bounce off him as harmlessly as ping pong balls, then forced referee Laurence Cole to step in during the 7th when he had Lee hurt along the ropes.
This being a Chavez fight, it can’t go untarnished by some controversy. Some, including myself, thought the stoppage a tiny bit early, although Lee was undoubtedly in trouble. And at one point, HBO’s Larry Merchant said Chavez wasn’t able to produce a urine specimen before the fight for drug testing purposes, and with Chavez having once tested positive for a banned substance and with various jurisdictions failing to test him in Texas in his last fight, Saturday’s lack of Texas drug testing twice in a row is becoming a hallmark of Texas/Chavez.
And Chavez didn’t dominate by any stretch. Through six rounds, it was all even, or pretty close to it. Chavez at times wasn’t punching enough, and Lee was outboxing him from range, throwing enough hard punches all the while that he wasn’t beating him with pattycake. When Chavez threw and landed, his shots were far heavier. When he kept the pressure on Lee, Lee was fairly hopeless. After the fight, Lee said that he caught Chavez with punches that would have hurt most middleweights — which I think is true — but none of them hurt Chavez. If you can’t keep Chavez off you, you’re going to be in trouble, and Chavez was even complaining between rounds of leg cramps (what’s with Freddie Roach-trained, Alex Ariza-strength coached boxers, first Manny Pacquiao and now Chavez, having leg cramps)?
So, with Lee unable to keep Chavez off him, trouble was just around the corner. Chavez was wearing down Lee before the 7th, getting on the inside at will, and toward the end of that round he thunked home a huge right hook that had Lee wobbling. Cole stepped in. Although there were some questions about the stoppage, most of the instant Internet reaction was that it was the correct call.
Lee said afterward as well that Chavez would give a hard fight to true middleweight champ Sergio Martinez. Chavez said he’d love to shut Martinez’ mouth, with Martinez complaining about Chavez ducking him and holding the belt he wants. Let’s not overestimate Lee; he’s a solid midlevel fighter who ran into a massive 160-pounder and couldn’t do anything with him, not that I entirely discount his future. But his brain seemed to be working well enough in that post-fight interview, however much this performance says about Chavez against this level of opponent. The possibility of Chavez beating Martinez has been slowly creeping into boxing fans’ minds with performances like this, but for the first time, I personally see how Chavez very well could beat Martinez. Martinez won’t be as hittable as Lee was; he’ll be faster and hit harder; he’s just plain better by a good margin. But how does Martinez keep this monster off him for 12 rounds? I don’t know the answer. And now, Martinez-Chavez sounds like one of the best available fights in the sport, period. Stick around at 160 pounds, and don’t move to 168 as Roach said you might, big ol’ Chavez. This one is worth sticking around for.