NEW YORK — Boxer Mike Lee is just 24 years old with a mark of seven victories against no losses and four knockouts.
But he's a marketing dream, having graduated at the age of 22 from Notre Dame with a 3.8 grade point average and a degree in finance, and turned down potential jobs at Fortune 500 companies and law school to go and punch guys in the mouth, beat them viciously about the head and ears and deliver body blows for a living.
In his last fight in September, Lee scored a unanimous decision over the course of four rounds against capable Jacob Stiers (5-2, 3 KOs), who had won four consecutive fights, two of them by knockout before facing Lee in the Purcell Pavillion at The Joyce Center in the first-ever boxing event to take place on the campus of his alma mater.
Proceeds from Lee-Stiers went toward a major cancer charity, and the clash was contested before a crowd that included Regis Philbin and former Notre Dame, Northwestern and Miami coach and Ara Parseghian.
The event was preceeded by a large promotional final press conference replete with dignitaries such as Parseghian, ex-Fighting Irish basketball coach Digger Phelps and others from the famous university, according to Top Rank Inc. Vice President Carl Moretti.
"There was Digger Phelps, it was Ara Parseghian and there were other officials from the school, as well as officials with the various foundations that Mike was donating the money to. They were there to thank Mike from the Robinson School for kids, and Brian Kelly foundation," said Moretti, a diehard Notre Dame football fan.
"At one point, I said, 'I've been on boxing for more than 25 years, and you rarely come up with a first like this. But this is the first time that I've shared a dais with Digger Phelps and Ara Parseghian. As a matter of fact, that's probably the first and only time I'll do that."
Lee will accomplish another milestone on Dec. 3, when he participates against an opponent to be determined in his first-ever fight at New York's Madision Square Garden on the undercard for the HBO Pay Per View televised rematch between WBA junior middleweight titleholder Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito.
"This feels great to be fighting at The Garden. I get goose bumps just thinking about it. I can't wait to walk out to the ring with a big smile on my face and the music comes on and I feel like that's where I belong. It's a dream come true," said Lee, who already is featured in a Subway Restaurant commercial along with former NFL star Michael Strahan, New York Giants' defensive end Justin Tuck and Major League Baseball's Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Philliies.
"I have a great team around me, and I guess that sounds cliche, but that's how I balance all of this. Guys like Carl Moretti at Top Rank they obviously keep me grounded. I realize that I'm very early in my pro career, so for anybody to say that I'm a top guy, they're crazy. I've only been pro for a year and a half, so I know that it's a long process and I'm willing to take my time. But I'm willing to go through those wars to get to that belt one day. That's my ultimate goal."
Lee and Moretti made their comments during a press conference that preceded Saturday night's bout during which WBO/WBC bantamweight beltholder Nonito Donaire won a unanimous decision over WBO junior bantamweight titleholder Omar Narvaez before 4,425 at the WaMu Theater inside Madison Square Garden.
After having gone 16-0, with 10 knockouts as an amateur boxer, winning a Chicago Golden Gloves crown along the way, Lee made his professional debut with a four-round unanimous decision over Emmitt Woods at Chicago's UIC Pavillion in May of last year — an event that was shown on Fox.
From there, Lee reeled off knockouts in the second-, first-, and first-round, respectively, before grinding out a majority decision over Gilbert Gastelum in May.
"The people who are attending Mike Lee's fights are hopefully turning into boxing fans, so you hope that it's a great thing for cross-over. The sport can never have enough of that. So Mike is an important figure in the sport right now, but you don't want to mix his development in the ring with that," said Moretti.
"You still have to base his development in the ring with his performances in the ring. That's what we'll continue to do. This is his first six-rounder, and when he's done with he's done with six-rounders, we'll go to eight, but there is no timetable or any rush with that."