Boxing: Holligan awaits the 'Superstar' treatment: An unfancied British challenger squares up to his idol tonight. Jonathan Rendall reports from Mexico City

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The Independent Online
ANDREW HOLLIGAN, of Liverpool, faces one of the most daunting challenges of any British boxer in history when he meets the great Julio Cesar Chavez, Mexico's triple world champion, for his World Boxing Council light welterweight crown in the ring in Puebla tonight.

Although Chavez, 30, had some of the sheen knocked off his reputation in his last title contest, when he could only scramble a fortunate draw with the American Purnell Whitaker, he still holds the most formidable record in boxing of 88 wins from 89 bouts.

Holligan, 25, has won 21 consecutive fights and holds the British and Commonwealth titles, but is an unknown on the world stage and is rated a 100-1 outsider by the local bookmakers.

If the Liverpudlian were to beat Chavez it would rank as one of the biggest upsets of all time. The match has been compared to John H Stracey's 1975 challenge in the Mexico City bull ring to another Mexican folk hero, the transplanted Cuban Jose 'Mantequilla' Napoles; a match Stracey won against similarly huge odds after climbing up from a first round knockdown. But if anything Holligan's task is the harder. Napoles had taken a beating from the middleweight champion Carlos Monzon, and was suspected to be living on borrowed time.

Chavez's poor showing against Whitaker has been put down by most to a clash of styles - the American is an elusive, befuddling southpaw - rather than taken as evidence of terminal slippage in 'El Gran Campeon'. Nor will Chavez have to go looking for Holligan, as he did Whitaker. The Briton is a pressure fighter like the champion. Indeed Holligan admits that Chavez is one of his idols and that to an extent he has modelled his style on that of the man who describes himself as 'J C Superstar'.

Of that there is no doubt. Chavez is Mexico's biggest sporting draw card. Thousands turn up just to watch him train and earlier this year he attracted a record crowd of more than 135,000 to the Aztec stadium capital for a defence against the American Greg Haugen.

Around 70,000 are expected in Puebla, an industrial city 100 miles east of Mexico City with a bloody history of repelling Europeans, including the French in 1862 in a battle commemorated in virtually every Mexico city in the form of a street named 'May 5th'. What is less commemorated is the fact that the French took Puebla back a year later, so at least Holligan knows it can be done.

The challenger will receive pounds 100,000 for the fight, with Chavez reported to be earning in excess of dollars 1m. Holligan's chances are regarded with barely concealed contempt by the Chavez camp and local experts, most of whom predict an early knockout. Chavez and his promoter, Don King, have already signed for a lucrative series of title bouts in Las Vegas next year.

It was King's close relationship with Frank Warren, Holligan's British promoter, that enabled the match to be made. According to Warren, Holligan did not have to be persuaded to accept it. 'He told me he fancied it,' Warren said. However, others have questioned the wisdom accepting the fight instead of an easier, if less lucrative, European title match, since Holligan is still young.

As one fight insider, who knows Holligan, said: 'I know that when Andy went over to Mexico he genuinely believed he could do it. But when he gets in the ring and sees the crowd and hositility, and when Chavez comes in, he'll never have experienced anything like it. That's when he'll know if he fancies it.'

Holligan and his Liverpudlian trainer, Chris Moorcroft, came to Mexico City three weeks ago to acclimatise, only travelling to Puebla two days before the fight. Although Holligan is brave and has certain statistical advantages such as youth, reach and perhaps even raw strength, there is no escaping the conclusion that the final part of his long journey is likely to be painful in the extreme.