“I have no excuses, my punches had no effect on him. My punches have hurt a lot of people, but he was able to take them,” said Lee, who is now 28-2, 20 KOs, after the fight.
The fact that Lee was ahead by two rounds on all three of the judges’ scorecards when the end came will be all the more painful for the Limerick man, who abandoned his plan of fighting on the outside to trade with the champion.
The night started out so differently. Though there were only a handful of Irish fans in the 13,467 crowd, they made their presence felt.
Security at the Sun Bowl was tight — the fight was initially cancelled over concerns members of Mexican drug cartels would turn up at the event. It was later reinstated, but law enforcement officials were everywhere, fight fans were searched and police helicopters patrolled the sky.
Lee entered the arena looking extremely calm and focused. In the first few rounds he was confusing the champion by waiting for Chavez to make the first move and then counter-punching and moving out of danger.
In rounds three and four, Lee continued to box well, but when Lee’s shots landed, Chavez was unmoved. When the opposite occurred Lee felt the power of the Mexican fighter. At the end of the fourth round the two brawled it out and Chavez hurt Lee just as the bell rang.
In the fifth, Chavez sensed the shift in momentum, dropped his guard and taunted Lee to hit him. The 28-year-old Irishman duly obliged, but again his combinations didn’t make a dent in the champion’s armor.
The two were exchanging punches much more frequently as the fight wore on, and though Lee landed as many, or more, shots, it was Chavez who was causing the damage.
The same theme continued in the sixth. Lee did enough to win the round on two of the three judges’ scorecard, but his swollen and bloodied face and the welts on his body told a different story. When the bell went, Lee looked shattered.
He might have been fatigued, but judges Jesse Reyes, John Keane and Rey Danseco all had the Irishman 58-56 ahead on the scorecard.
Midway through the seventh, Chavez caught Lee in the neutral corner and landed another left hook to the body. Seeing the Limerick man was winded, he threw a barrage of punches and connected with a huge right and a right uppercut that had Lee bent over. As Chavez landed more blows to Lee’s head, referee Laurence Cole jumped between the fighters and called a halt.
“Julio fought a smart fight. He is very strong. He passed the test,” said Lee’s trainer Emanuel Steward after the fight. “We told Andy to box Chavez, but he tried to slug it with him. You saw what happened.”
After the fight, Chavez revealed he had some issues with leg cramps that caused him problems during the fight and prevented him from getting an earlier knockout. The 26-year-old added he spent the early part of the fight studying his opponent, and when the opportunity came, he “dove in”.
“Andy fought well when he fought from a distance, and I had him up 4-2 like all the judges did,” said Lee’s promoter Lou DiBella afterwards.
“But I’ve always said this, and I said this before the fight, sometimes Andy’s problem is that his heart overcomes his brain and he wants to stand there and trade, and he traded with a much bigger and stronger guy.
DiBella said there are still plenty of fights for his man in the middleweight division, while Chavez moves on to Las Vegas for a showdown with Sergio Martinez on September 15.