No matter what happens, Andy Lee can still come home and headline in Detroit.
The Irish-bred middleweight contender has been settled in the Motor City for six years now, and even though he was originally slated to fight next weekend at Madison Square Garden, he knows he’ll be truly appreciated up the road from his abode when he faces veteran Saul Duran in Novi, Michigan on Saturday.
“It’s a keep-busy fight really until something bigger comes along,” admits Lee. “I know it’s a smaller card, but at least I’m headlining my own show. I’m not playing second fiddle to anybody.”
Lee (27-1, 19 knockouts) was all but set to be on the undercard of RING middleweight champion Sergio Martinez’s title defense against Matthew Macklin in New York City next Saturday. It was fitting to have a popular Irishman fighting on the card on St. Patrick’s Day in the middle of perhaps its largest celebration outside of Ireland.
In late January however, he was dangled the chance to fight WBA titleholder Felix Sturm in Germany, which ultimately fell through. Instead of returning to the MSG show, and a probable HBO showcase, he decided to go his own way.
“I’ve had two fights beneath Sergio now, and I felt it should have been me fighting him, not Matthew Macklin,” Lee told RingTV.com. “And then they want to put me on the undercard. I didn’t feel like being the big ticket seller and letting them get all the headlines and the (publicity), so I said go ahead and have your own show, and when you want to call me down to headlines, I’ll be ready to fight Sergio or Macklin, whoever wins.”
According to his manager and trainer Emanuel Steward, he’s also ready to fight Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. later this year.
Steward says Bob Arum, Top Rank CEO and Chavez’s promoter, enquired about Lee’s availability to fight his charge. He assumed a meeting would soon be set up, but it never was.
“He’s the biggest top middleweight I’ve ever seen in my life. Then he’s left handed, and he has the great amateur background, and in addition to all of that, he can punch a little bit. So I can see why a guy wouldn’t want to fight us,” said Steward, who believes it was Chavez’s father, Julio Sr., who advised his son against taking the bout.
Luckily, Steward was able to find a willing opponent, Duran (40-19-2, 33 KOs), in a pinch, to match Lee against on Saturday’s card which he is also promoting. The former title challenger at super featherweight has since packed on a few pounds at the age of 39 and become a trialhorse for up and comers at 154 and 160 pounds.
That Lee is expected to stop him isn’t exactly a secret. Steward admits it (and he’s promoting the show!), and so does his fighter. But when and how he does it will be analyzed and compared to how other contenders managed to finish him. Demetrius Andrade stopped Duran in three rounds, and Fernando Guerrero closed the show in four. Lee hopes to top them “for his own sake,” but doesn’t feel comparing performances against common opponents is a proper way of evaluating talent.
“That’s what people tend to do to measure fighters, but it’s never the same circumstance. Like, when I fought Craig McEwan, he was so fired up for that fight, so amped up that he fought one of the best fights of his life against me and I struggled. But then when he came back and fought Kid Chocolate, you could see he wasn’t the same fighter inside,” said Lee.
Despite earning victories in both, Lee cites his bout with McEwan and rematch with Bryan Vera to be two of his worst performances, even though they were unfortunately his most widely viewed, having been broadcast on HBO undercards.
So even though he’s not fighting on St. Patrick’s Day on premium cable this time, he thinks it will look a little bit more like the pubs in Ireland next weekend, and less like his last two TV appearances.
“There’s some rough ones in Ireland, and I’m sure there will be this year. But I think this’ll be a good brawl too,” said Lee.
Corey Erdman is also the host of RingTV Radio. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman