It’s one of those weeks when newspapers columns and the airwaves are jam-packed with coverage of Ireland’s soccer escapades. But we are focusing on a different Irish challenge to a reigning world champion – hopefully a more successful one, and not as much of a hiding – as tomorrow night Limerick’s own Andy Lee faces the biggest fight of his life.
The Castleconnell native will fight in front of around 20,ooo fans, most of whom are cheering for his opponent, at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. Lee is taking on Julio Cesar Chavez Jr – the WBC world middleweight champion, undefeated in 47 fights (one draw, one no contest) and the son of a Mexican legend, who is considered to be one of boxing’s greatest.
Sounds like the champion carries quite a resume and some genes laced with greatness, doesn’t it? But Chavez has plenty more baggage to bring to Texas than that and Lee faces a shady mountain to climb.
Having only taken up the sport at 17, the now 26-year-old did not immediately follow in his father’s colossal footsteps. After making his debut in 2003, Chavez was for the most part guided through a series of ‘easy’ fights with one of his few tough early bouts coming against Dubliner Oisin Fagan in Las Vegas. The Mexican was afforded a questionable four-round win.
“He’s certainly come on since, he was only really a kid when I fought him. It was his first big fight [in Vegas] and I made him look very ordinary,” Fagan told me. “After the fight he looked battered.
“The cameras were on his dad and somebody obviously asked him how he thought it went and he just shrugged his shoulders [in disappointment]. They pulled out the result somehow.”
Last weekend, boxing took yet another low blow in the form of Tim Bradley’s stolen victory over WBO welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao, with two blind judges scoring the bout to the latter despite the PacMan’s obvious dominance.
The brains behind that fight night was Bob Arum of Top Rank promotions, with widespread – but unproven – speculation that the wily promoter may have had a hand in the result. Now many fear a similar outcome for Lee.
“The greatest hope of Team Lee and [DiBella promotions] is that the fighter who truly wins on Saturday night gets his just rewards and not simply the consolation of a public that knows the truth,” said Lee’s own promoter, Lou DiBella, this week.
However, while Chavez is essentially fighting in his extended backyard, with a partisan Mexican crowd expected, there are other concerns.
“What it suggests is that Chavez can put on and off weight as he pleases without any of the expected energy-sapping effects which would be experienced by a non-juiced human”
In March 2010, the then 24-year-old was suspended for seven months and fined $10,000 by the Nevada Athletic Commission having tested positive for furosemide after a dull points win over American Troy Rowland four months earlier. The substance in question is a diuretic which is banned as is can illegally aid a boxer’s weight loss and be used as masking agent for other drugs.
John Duddy became the second Irish man to lose a points decision to Chavez in his first bout back in June 2010 as his ban was back-dated. The gutsy Derry native was diplomatic when speaking about his defeat to me about his defeat, complementing master trainer Freddie Roach.
“I wasn’t giving up and he did his job against me and was better on the night. What experience he’s got working with Freddie has been amazing for the kid. Whether there is something going on behind closed doors remains to be seen. If there is, it will never be found in Texas!”
Ahead of his last outing in February – a 12-round points win over fellow tough Mexican Marco Antonio Rubio – Chavez weighed in at 159-and-a-half pounds, just under the middleweight limit, the day before the fight; by fight time, he weighed 181, just under 22 pounds heavier.
For the simpletons among us – including myself, as I had to look this up on what may be one of the most bizarre sites I’ve recently visited – that is the equivalent in weight of eating an average car tyre or an obese cat.
“There was no testing done, and in a championship fight, testing needs to be done,” said Rubio afterwards. “There was no weigh-ins done the days or weeks before the fight, and I feel that he was very well-protected.”
What it suggests is that Chavez can put on and off weight as he pleases without any of the expected energy-sapping effects which would be experienced by a non-juiced human.
While the world will be watching, DiBella hopes that the Lone Star State will be fair: “We are confident that the athletic commission in Texas, the judges and the referee are fully aware and agree that the sport of boxing cannot take and does not deserve more unnecessary controversy.”
Irish fans were also relieved to hear that subscription channel BoxNation will screen the bout at home; the station is not available through UPC but can be viewed on Sky (channel 456).
At a press conference on Thursday a bigger Lee towered over Chavez, with the Limerick man having clearly worked on his bulk in the build-up. But which Chavez will enter the ring?
Meanwhile, boxing fans can only hope that last week’s robbery of Pacquiao may discourage any poor judging tomorrow night.
I consulted three men in the know for their view on the fight.
John Duddy, former Chavez foe amd ex-domestic rival of Lee
“Andy’s climbing Mount Everest but he’s got his two hands to help make that decision for them [judges]. When Andy lands, he’s got some power. He’s shown that before. If he sticks to his boxing it will come. I really think he can do it.”
Oisin Fagan, former Chavez foe & Irish champion
“I think Andy has the power to knock him out but unless he does, I think it will be very hard for him to get a decision over there. It’s definitely a fight that Andy can win well and I don’t think his southpaw style will suit Chavez.”
Matthew Macklin, world-title challenger & domestic rival of Lee
“Chavez is good on the inside but he’s not too hard to hit. Andy’s a live underdog with a good chance. Chavez will be looking to pile the pressure on as the rounds go on. If it’s close Andy’s probably not going to get it. But if Andy catches him clean, he definitely has the power to take him out.”
*Ciarán Gallagher’s ‘Mail Box’ column appears every Friday in the Irish Daily Mail, follow on Twitter: @gallagherbox