If history is a window to the future, Saturday's middleweight title tussle between champion Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and challenger Andy Lee should be one to remember. They boast a combined 73-1-2 (51) record, plus their similar physical assets (6-2 for Lee, 6-0 for Chavez Jr.) and aggressive mindsets should make for compelling action.
But is all everything that it seems? Their recent CompuBox pasts may indicate that something unexpected may be in store. Here's how:
The Problem: A common complaint against both fighters is porous defense -- and there's plenty of ammunition to back that up. For instance, Sebastian Zbik connected on 46.9 % of his total punches and 53.8% of his hooks, uppercuts and crosses against Chavez, who also was out-landed 391-256 (total), 56-14 (jabs) and 335-242 (power). Nevertheless, Chavez won a majority decision because his lesser number of connects did so with much more impact.
As for Lee, Craig McEwan was within a few minutes of scoring a giant upset because of his huge edges in raw numbers (311-181 total, 83-55 jabs, 228-126 power) and marksmanship (44%-31.3% overall, 40.1%-22.3% jabs, 45.6%-38.1% power). Only a sudden burst of power in round nine that carried over into the 10th saved Lee from disaster.
Their defensive woes weren't isolated incidents, but long-term problems. In Chavez's first four fights at 160 (Troy Rowland, John Duddy, Billy Lyell and Zbik), Chavez dished out plenty -- a combined 62.2 punches and 45.5 power shots per round that landed 43.7% and 46.4% of the time respectively -- but also paid a high price (33.9% total, 45.1% power).
As for Lee, his last three CompuBox-tracked contests against McEwan, Michael Walker and Mamadou Thiam saw Lee land 29% overall, 16.6 % jabs and 39.8% power but his opponents landed 39.5% overall, 36.4% jabs and 40.6% power. While both went a combined 7-for-7, the wider view wasn't encouraging.
Achieving Balance: Hall of Famers Freddie Roach and Emanuel Steward had a most difficult tightrope to navigate -- tighten their charges' defense without sacrificing their offensive prowess. If each man's last two fights are any indicator, they've succeeded.
Against Peter Manfredo Jr. and Marco Antonio Rubio, Chavez is throwing fewer punches per round (a combined 45.9 from 62.2) but landing a similar percentage of overall punches (42.9 now, 43.7 then) and a higher rate of power punches (46.4 then, 49.5 now).
By throwing fewer, Chavez is taking less punishment, for his opponents' connect rates fell from 33.9% to 21.5%, their jab success declined from 18.6% to 17.1% and, most impressively, their power punch success from 45.1 % to 24.1%. Rubio -- deemed beforehand as Chavez's most dangerous and experienced opponent -- landed just 20.9% overall, 14.2% of his jabs and 24% of his power shots while Chavez connected on 42.3% overall, 21.4 % jabs and 48.7% power.
Lee's success in his last two CompuBox-tracked outings against Brian Vera and Alex Bunema is equally noteworthy. Lee's offensive numbers have improved across the board in terms of output (54.2 then, 59.6 now; 29% overall accuracy then, 31.5% now; 39.8% power then, 50.9% now) and defense (39.5% overall then, 25.2% now, 36.6% jabs then, 14.9% now; 40.6 % power then, 32.8 % now).
In other words -- to paraphrase former vice president Al Gore -- what should be up is up and what should be down is down.
Prediction: For all their technical improvements, Chavez and Lee are still fighters at heart -- and they will fight. Chavez, a 3 ½-1 favorite, will be the aggressor while Lee will initially try to apply the Klitschko blueprint of frequent jabs and selective power shots, a plan he applied flawlessly in out-pointing Bunema (73% jabs, 27% power but connect leads of 140-33 total, 68-12 jabs and 72-21 power).
But when push comes to shove -- and Chavez will do plenty of both -- Lee will fight back. That will trigger his downfall. Chavez by late-round TKO.