Andy Lee: An unappreciated champion
By Seán Skehan: Andy Lee currently resides in high company. As the WBO middleweight champion, Lee counts Gennady Golovkin and Miguel Cotto among his peers as world title holders in the 160lb’s division. Golovkin or ‘Triple G’ as he is more commonly known has lit up the division with a sequence of twenty consecutive knockout victories. His profile is beginning to transcend that of the division and boxing, as the general sports fan begins to take note of his all action style and likeable public persona.
With HBO featuring him regularly and commentators everywhere clamoring for a catch-weight match-up with pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather, Golovkin seems well placed to continue to cement his position as the heir apparent to Mayweather as the face of boxing after the latter’s expected retirement in September.
Cotto has been an ever present name amongst the elite of the sport for over a decade. The Puerto Rican dethroned former middleweight ruler Sergio Martinez just over a year ago and saw off Daniel Geale, the Australian challenger in his first defence at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York this past Saturday night in a 4th round TKO mismatch. Cotto has shared the ring with many of the sport’s big names, with losses to Mayweather and Pacquiao residing with memorable victories such as the aforementioned Martinez fight and his revenge TKO win over Antonio Margarito on his resume. His recent affiliations with star trainer Freddie Roach and burgeoning Jay Z backed promotional outfit ROCNATION boxing will serve to ensure that his financial and coaching interests will be well served in what is undoubtedly the autumn of his career.
Lee by contrast has yet to receive the status, accolades or financial rewards enjoyed by his contemporaries. A 2004 Olympian, Lee began his professional career under the tutelage of the late Emanuel Steward. Having built up an impressive 15 – 0 record in the early stages of his pro career, Lee’s world title ambitions took a major dent in 2008 when he lost to journeyman Brian Vera via a 7th round TKO. Lee would eventually gain revenge for that defeat by dispatching Vera in their return match three years later. However much of the buzz surrounding Lee as a future division great had quieted by the time he lost for the second time in his career, this time in a world championship clash with Julio Chavez Jr. whom like Vera before him inflicted a 7th round TKO defeat on Lee.
With Lee’s career seemingly at a crossroads in the aftermath of his second loss, his response particularly given the untimely loss of Steward as his trainer and mentor is on par with any of the recent successes of Golovkin or Cotto. He has restyled himself under the watchful eye of Adam Booth, the innovative trainer once responsible for the exploits of former heavyweight champion David Haye and super-middleweight contender George Groves. His new style is much more fan friendly than his previous cautious approach, which was built upon his formidable lead jab. Now, Lee uses that jab and his considerable ring acumen to compliment a newfound offensive artillery and in particular a vicious right hook.
As the accolades flooded in for Miguel Cotto and his new trainer Freddie Roach in the aftermath of their aforementioned systematic destruction of Sergio Martinez just over a year ago, Lee and Booth departed New York having completed their own double act. With Lee behind on the scoreboards and facing the relentless onslaught of John Jackson on the undercard of the Cotto vs. Martinez fight, he summoned a highlight reel worthy knockout via a right hook. It was Lee’s first real return to mainstream notoriety since the Chavez Jr. loss.
It set Lee up with another world title opportunity, this time against former amateur standout and undefeated challenger Matt Korobov. Lee again used his right hook to set the scene for a 6th round TKO victory. Another undercard effort it nevertheless catapulted Lee into the upper echelons of the division. His first defence would be against Peter Quillin, the undefeated former champion who had vacated the WBO belt which Lee had fought Korobov for. The fight ended in a draw, with both fighter’s demonstrated great ability and heart in equal measure.
In any event, Quillin had come in over the 160lb’s limit and would not have dethroned Lee even if he had won. An expected defence against Billy Joe Saunders in his native Ireland has had to be postponed due to injury. Yet while Golovkin’s name is mentioned as a viable opponent for every well known fighter from 147 to 168 and Cotto’s camp seemingly gets ready to restart their protracted negotiations with Saul Alvarez’s for their long awaited match up, Lee has been given scant attention by either fighter.
Cotto’s insistence on hampering his opponents with catch-weights whilst masquerading as the division’s true champion and Golovkin’s inability to get a top-tier middleweight to fight him, would seem to open the door for a unification fight with either for Lee upon his return from injury. Unfortunately however nobody in the media or fan community seems to be hampering for what would surely be a competitive fight whichever one Lee placed with. Here’s hoping that these three champions can began the process of establishing the division’s top dog sooner rather than later and that Andy Lee starts to get the credit and opportunity his recent performances deserve.