By Nat Gottlieb
Patient, careful matchmaking by promoter Top Rank has enabled Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. to arrive at stardom with an unbeaten record, but one (45-0-1, 31 KOs) that does not include a major challenge. Andy Lee, a tall, highly-skilled boxer-puncher and southpaw, will present the most significant test yet for Chavez. How Chavez deals with Lee in their June 16 clash in El Paso, Texas, will go a long way toward predicting if and when he will finally crawl out from the long shadow cast by his father, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., one of the greatest boxers in history.
Make no mistake about it. Lee (28-1, 20 KOs) is a definite step up for Chavez. So much so that some have wondered why Top Rank would even take this fight. "I don't think they had much choice," says Emanuel Steward, the Hall of Fame trainer who has conditioned Lee in Detroit's famed Kronk gym since he turned pro. "Chavez has been well protected, but they ran out of fighters. They must feel he has made enough progress to face Andy. Also, the middleweight division is not all that deep."
The biggest name in the middleweight division right now is Sergio Martinez, and there are some indications that the Argentinean might fight the winner of this bout. That the southpaw Martinez waits in the wings may partially explain why Top Rank chose to fight Lee, says his promoter, Lou DiBella. "They know that if Chavez is ever going to fight Martinez, he needs the experience," says DiBella, who also promotes Martinez. "Andy is one of the top lefty middleweights in the world."