Gritty Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. may finally be ready for Sergio Martinez after beating Andy Lee

Kevin Iole

Athletically, there is no comparison between Sergio Martinez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Martinez is far quicker, significantly more agile and clearly better conditioned.

As hard as it may be to believe for those who have watched Chavez for years, though, Martinez is no guarantee to beat him when – or rather, if – they meet for middleweight supremacy this fall in Las Vegas. Chavez may not be an athlete, but what he is, as he proved on Saturday, is a fighter.

Chavez bludgeoned Andy Lee and stopped the former Olympian in the seventh round of a surprisingly entertaining fight at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, to retain the World Boxing Council middleweight belt.

The fight was the latest bit of evidence of Chavez's maturation from a sideshow attraction treading off his famous father's name into a legitimate, and entertaining, championship-caliber fighter.

Lee, an Irish Olympian in 2004, tried to exchange with Chavez and it proved to be his undoing. Chavez is a massive middleweight who bulled Lee into the corners and then ripped him with punishing shots, primarily to the body.

Lee trains with Martinez, who is No. 3 in the Yahoo! Sports rankings, and he sounded a word of caution for those who believe Martinez will roll if the fight with Chavez actually takes place. The sides have a signed letter of intent for the bout to occur on Sept. 15 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

"It's a tough fight for Sergio just because of the size difference," Lee said. "[Chavez] is better than people give him credit for. That's a hard fight for Sergio. He's a big fighter with a big heart and a good chin."

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That Chavez would be able to get anywhere near a boxing ring with the No. 3-ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the world without a ticket is somewhat stunning to those who witnessed his formative years. Chavez himself didn't seem committed, and that wasn't all that much of a shock.

He was a rich kid who didn't have to box, who did it almost as an afterthought. But Top Rank's Hall of Fame matchmaker Bruce Trampler insisted that Chavez had the ability to eventually become a serious fighter.

On Saturday, he matured into just that, breaking down and then breaking the will of a quality, hard-nosed opponent.

"[Trampler] said it from the beginning, that the kid had loads of talent," promoter Bob Arum said. "He was green as hell and he was undeveloped, but Bruce told us from the get-go the kid could fight. I can market a fighter as well as anyone, but when it comes to assessing talent and projecting and determining whether a guy can fight, I leave that up to Bruce."

Lee threw 420 punches to just 252 for Chavez, but Lee only had a 121-116 edge in connects, according to statistics from CompuBox. That was a problem for Lee, because Chavez's shots were like sledgehammer blows.

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Chavez went hard to the midsection and it paid off. He rattled Lee repeatedly with good, hard shots, though Lee didn't roll over and accept defeat meekly. He fought back, but he was outgunned by a boxer who had, against all odds, matured into one of the toughest on the block.

He showed a bit of the Chavez bravado after the fact, which had to endear him to the Mexican and Mexican-American fans who revered his Hall of Fame father.

"I could have knocked him out earlier if it were not for my legs cramping," Chavez said.

His biggest issue as a middleweight will be making the weight. He hasn't been 100 percent committed to his training, even in recent months, and struggled to make the weight in February for his bout with Marco Antonio Rubio.

He did the work to prepare for Lee, though, and it figures that with a carrot in front of him like Martinez, he'll be as good as he can be on Sept. 15.

Just six months ago, it was lunacy to consider that Chavez belonged in the ring with Martinez. Now, though, it's a different story.

And it's not even lunacy to suggest he might win.

"He's the best middleweight in the world," a victorious Arum exclaimed afterward.

He's not – not yet at least. But it's not out of the question that he might awaken in a Las Vegas hotel room on Sept. 16 and everyone will be referring to him that way.

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