Middleweight Andy Lee (28-1, 20 KOs) will fight Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. (45-0-1, 31 KOs) for the latter's WBC title at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas on June 16.
The deal was made last Tuesday, and now Limerick native Lee has the opportunity he has craved since moving to Detroit over six years ago – a shot at a world title.
Not only that, but a potential sweetener to the deal is that the winner of the fight on June 16 might fight Sergio Martinez in September. The Lee/Chavez fight will be televised on HBO.
Lee was twice in the running a title fight earlier this year, but both times he lost out. It was third time a charm when the fighters’ promoters -- Top Rank for the champion and Lou DiBella for the challenger -- were able to thrash out an agreement.
The Irish Voice caught up with a delighted Lee in Detroit on Sunday to get his reaction.
“I am very happy with the deal,” he said. “This will be the longest training camp for the most important fight of my career.
Lee will train out of the Kronk Gym in the Motor City, and he has started work on strength and conditioning before he starts serious contact work, though he was going to spar a few rounds with Ronald Hearns this week.
“Emanuel (Steward, Lee’s trainer) is going to work to look for sparring partners. He is going to look for a few light heavyweights and is looking for Hispanic fighters with the same style,” said Lee.
“Chavez is a very physical fighter who tries to get on the inside, so he is looking for guys who will be like him."
Lee said that he and DiBella spoke a few weeks back about his options.
“He was saying that the he felt that my future was tied to Martinez,” said Lee, adding that his promoter felt if Chavez was seriously thinking about fighting Martinez, then he would fight another southpaw first.
Though Lee and DiBella have had their ups and downs in recent months -- Lee pulled out of the Macklin/Martinez March 17 undercard because he could not find a suitable opponent -- the promoter has come up trumps for the 2004 Olympian with this deal.
"He has delivered two HBO fights and now he has delivered a world title shot," said Lee.
Lee was last in action on March 10 when he defeated Saul Duran in a mismatch by TKO in round two. Though Lee was not extended in any way, he believes that the fight was of huge benefit to him.
"I think the Duran fight was great because I went through the ritual of making weight and having camp and dealing with all the pre-fight duties," he said, adding that that experience would stand to him as he prepares for the summer showdown with Chavez.
Lee is also confident that his team is ready to handle the extra pressure of a world title fight. Steward and Sugar Hill will work with Lee as he prepares for his date with destiny.
Lee's brother Roger is in Limerick working with some youth boxers from Our Lady of Lourdes Boxing Club at the All-Ireland finals and will join the camp when those national championships are over.
Chavez has said in recent weeks that he would like to fight Lee in preparation for a fight with Martinez, but Lee feels that their contest will be a very tight affair.
"I think it is a 50-50 fight. We have conflicting styles and both of us have strengths and weaknesses. Whoever forces his will on the other will win the fight," said Lee.
Lee has said in the past that he need to holds Chavez off, keep him at a distance and outbox him if he is to prevail and fulfill his dream of winning a world title.
And not just any world title, the WBC middleweight belt has special significance to the Kronk Gym (Thomas Hearns is a former holder of the belt) and to Lee's trainer.
“Emanuel (Steward) has trained more WBC champions than anyone else," said Lee. "For me and my family and for everyone here and at home, a win will put us back on the map."
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