Irish boxers don’t back out of fights. It’s not in their makeup.
It was the great John L. Sullivan who used to walk into a tavern or pub and shout, “I can lick any sonofabitch in the house.”
You can’t rise to the top without confidence in yourself and Irish and Irish-American fighters are bred with that belief. From Sullivan to Terry McGovern to Mickey Walker to Wayne McCullough the list of prizefighters who stepped into boxing rings and walked out with world titles remains a testament to their fighting pride.
Andy Lee accepted the challenge to meet undefeated Russian Matt Korobov in December of last year in Las Vegas. The Irish born Lee wasn’t expected to win the fight according to Las Vegas odds-makers but with a single smooth right hook and subsequent flurry he turned Korobov’s reflexes into mush and quickly won the fight and the WBO middleweight title.
Now Lee (34-2, 24 Kos) faces the man Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin (31-0, 22 Kos) on Saturday April 11, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. NBC will televise the middleweight title fight along with Danny Garcia meeting Lamont Peterson in a welterweight match.
When Lee captured the world title the first thing that crossed my mind was the late Emanuel Steward telling me Andy Lee was going to win a world title. He loved Lee’s attitude and commitment and likened his punch to that of Tommy Hearns.
I remember thinking I don’t see that kind of power in Lee. But we’ll see. After all, who could doubt the great trainer Steward?
Steward was the kind of man that if he knew you were a boxing guy then you were a member of a special fraternity. He treated you as a great friend and a boxing family member. He was truthful about what he felt he had in Irish Andy Lee but I just didn’t see it. The power I could see, but the speed I did not.
“He’s getting better all the time,” said Steward on one occasion.
The last time I spoke to Steward in person was at Pechanga Casino. I was finishing up a story and my photographer was waiting for me when the venerable trainer walked to my table to ask me what I thought of his other fighter, Tony Harrison. We chatted about a number of things. When his friends stopped by to take him away to a dinner party he told them he would meet with them later. We talked a little about Wladimir Klitschko but he really wanted to talk about Lee. It was a subject he wanted me to know. A secret he was willing to divulge to me.
Lee had just lost by knockout to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. but it still didn’t deter Steward from thinking the Irish kid would win a world title.
After that night I made it a point to take a better look at Limerick’s Lee, the tall, lean southpaw slugger. And when he met Korobov at the Cosmopolitan it was a chance to see the Irish southpaw against a world class fighter.
Korobov seemed to be the aggressor but Lee was always in his guard, patient, like a cannoneer ready to pull the trigger. When the moment came he opened fired and hit the target before the target could hit him.
Quillin is a different sort of fighter. He’s quick, he’s cunning but can he match the bravado of Irish Andy Lee?
It’s a true test for the Irish fighter.
The late Steward of Kronk Boxing would have loved this moment.
Photo Credit: Angela Cranford/Barclays Center