On this morning 28 years ago, the legendary trainer Emanuel Steward was celebrating arguably the greatest win recorded by his most famous fighter, Tommy ‘Hitman’ Hearns. Tonight he will hoping to roll back the years after another epic victory from his current protégé.
Limerick’s Andy Lee will tonight attempt to become a world champion, stepping into the extended backyard of WBC world middleweight champion Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, who is expected to have a rampant Mexican crowd behind him in the border setting of El Paso, Texas.
Supporting him in his mountainous task will be legendary trainer Steward, one day after the anniversary of Hearns’ thunderous knockout of another South American – Panamanian great Roberto Duran.
While Lee has replaced the legendary Hearns as Steward’s closest fighter, living in the home of the Detroit native, the Duran connection is not the only relevant Latino link to the famous Kronk trainer.
“Emanuel trained Chavez Senior too and he has a lot of respect for him too. Now that he’s training me it will be something to think about,” said Lee, suggestively earlier this week, speaking of his opponent’s famous father.
While Chavez Sr, a Mexican legend trained his son at the beginning of his career and still monitors his fitness training, the reins have been picked up by America’s current master trainer, Freddie Roach, setting up another intriguing side battle in the corners
“They’re up against each other as well,” continued Lee, “not that they’re rivals but they’re seen as the two best trainers in boxing and they’ll both want to win the fight to say they’ve won. Emanuel has a good record against Freddie Roach.”
The Limerick native was so relaxed speaking earlier this week, you would swear that the burning El Paso sun hasn’t even provoked one bead of sweat from his brow, let alone the thought of the biggest fight of his life – while Lee also dismissed the theory that an Irishman would inevitably melt in the Texas heat.
“It doesn’t feel any different [from other fights],” he explained. “I have a routine, me and the team. We usually hang out together before fights so everyone knows their jobs and their roles from the day I turned pro, which was over six years now, we stick to the routine as much as possible.
“It’s hot here now, but when I’ve been going out at the night time around nine o’clock [Texas time], which is the time I’ll fight, it’s a nice temperature.”
“If Andy catches him clean, he has the power to take him out”
However, Lee’s team have prepared him for the climate, putting him through his paces at the notoriously heated Kronk gym in Detroit, while he has acclimatised through some light training since arriving in Texas earlier in the week.
The heat of the crowd is also a factor the 28-year-old must contend with, as explained by the last Irish man to step into a Texas ring with Chavez.
“It’s not even the lion’s den; this is the devil’s fucking play pen! The first time I was ever booed as a pro was in San Antonio,’ explained New York-based Derry fighter John Duddy, whose own world-title hopes ended after a points loss to Chavez two years ago.
“Andy’s got a big crowd against him, but his two hands can take care of it and he’s proven before that he’s got the quality.”
Chavez has in the past been under suspicion having been previously been banned from the ring for testing positive for furosemide, which can aid a boxer’s weight loss and also disguise other drug use.
An additional concern is that a ridiculous judging decision like last week’s Tim Bradley robbery of Manny Pacquaio could hit Lee if the fight goes the distance. The bout is in Chavez territory and staged by his promoter, Bob Arum’s Top Rank.
“If Andy goes out and boxes his head in for 12 rounds, I honestly believe he’ll not get it [the decision], but I don’t believe that Andy should go out there and try to knock him out as early as possible,’ said Duddy, who believes Lee can get a knockout. ‘Andy’s great when he’s up right and he’s boxing. Chavez is going to be coming forward and Andy should let the punches come.”
Lee’s domestic rival Matthew Macklin agrees with such an analysis.
The world-title challenger is wary of the judges’ eyes being fixed on just one of the two bright lights in the Lone Star State ring, but claims his compatriot can stop Chavez.
“Chavez is good on the inside but he’s not too hard to hit. Andy’s a live underdog with a good chance,” said Macklin. “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 [on points]. But if Andy catches him clean, he definitely has the power to take him out.”
From an Irish perspective there is also the tantalising possibility that Lee could defend his title in a green showdown at home. Lee is contracted to face Sergio Martinez if he is victorious, but with all three fighters promoted by Lou DiBella there may be room for manoeuvre.
“I’d like Andy to win anyway, he’s Irish and even though we are kind of rivals, there’s never really been any animosity there,” explained Macklin. “But from a selfish career-point-of-view, obviously it’s much better for me if Andy wins because both we’re signed by Lou Di Bella.”
The New York promoter has also been wary of what shadows may be cast over the Sun Bowl ring tonight when it comes to judging.
“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 DiBella this week.
Meanwhile, there was a further ruckus at yesterday’s weigh-in when Chavez’s team – including Roach – and the Texas Commission refused a request from Team Lee to weigh the Mexican’s gloves to prove that they are regulation 10oz.
It is hopefully not a sign of a shady night to come.
While Chavez has admirably improved as a fighter since first turning pro, and in bouts such as his clash with Duddy he has proven his durability, the above insight provided by the likes of Duddy and Macklin is worth noting.
If Lee can be patient, the better boxer should out-box Chavez. Once he stays fresh, a knockout opportunity may arrive. On the other hand, he could try to finish a little earlier – although maybe not as early as his Kronk predecessor Hearns did in that famous battle.
If his chance for a finish does not arrive, many understandably fear a Chavez points win, no matter how the fight goes.
Chavez v Lee, June 16 – Ireland/UK: BoxNation (Sky 456), 2am / US TV: HBO WCB, 10pm ET/PT
Ciarán Gallagher’s Mail Box column appears every Friday in the Irish Daily Mail