by Matthew Quigley
Boxing is full of surprises. They define our sport. Take comebacks, for instance. Every sport has room for “The Comeback,” but boxing is different. Boxing is always in overtime, and it’s always “sudden death.” When Marciano backed Jersey Joe Wolcott into the ropes and drilled him with his “Suzie Q”in the 13th round of their 1952 bout, Wolcott was ahead on all three scorecards. But boxing’s very nature means that no fight is ever more than 10 seconds from being over.
No need to tell “Irish” Andy Lee this. Lee (34-3, 24 KOs) built his career on comeback victories behind the strength of his southpaw right hook, his chin, and his determination. Through the first half of this decade the Limerick native made a name for himself as a fighter who should never be written off, no matter what the scorecards said or how many times he hit the canvas.
Lee won thrilling comeback victories over Craig McEwan, John Jackson, and Matt Korobov, the latter earning him the vacant WBO Middleweight title in 2014. In addition to a killer right hook, it appeared that Lee had the Luck of the Irish. But lady luck is fickle. As Sinatra sang, “They call you lady luck, but there is room for doubt. At times you have a very un-lady-like way of running out.”
She finally ran out when Lee lost a split decision – and his belt- to Billy Joe Saunders in December of 2015. Lee hit the deck twice in the third round and never could quite figure Saunders out, or land the big right hook he was looking for.
Andy Lee returns to the ring March 18thon the undercard of Golovkin-Jacobs at Madison Square Garden. When he steps through the ropes to face Keandrae Leatherwood (19-3, 12 KOs) it will have been 15 months since he lost his belt to Saunders. That is a long layoff for a fighter who had averaged three fights per year since 2008. The bout will be an 8-round affair, something that could work against a man who has a reputation for being a slow starter.
Lee has openly stated that the lead-up to the Saunders fight – the two delays, the months-long training camp, and the perceived antics of Saunders – soured him on boxing. Disgusted, he retreated to his home in mid-west Ireland to rest, analyze his situation, and craft a plan.
His plan involves beating Leatherwood later this month, following it up with a top contender during the summer, and finishing the year with a possible title bout. That could be Golovkin, provided the unified champion defeats Daniel Jacobs at the Garden and whomever during the summer. If that “whomever” turns out to be Billy Joe Saunders, then Lee’s shot at the title would likely wait for the Undisputed Middleweight Champion – the first since Jermain Taylor in 2005 – to face the winner of Canelo-Chavez Jr.in September.
Hopefully Lee forgives me for quoting a Scot, but “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.”
His dream of regaining a title in 2017 could go directly through Saunders, but both men find themselves under the tutelage of trainer Adam Booth,and a rematch, by Lee’s own admission, seems unlikely. It’s a shame. Saunders has not been a good steward of the WBO title, defending it only once in 2016.
Chalking Lee’s success up to luck is little more than a cheap trick by this hack boxing writer to connect the Irishman with a national stereotype in the days leading up to St. Patrick’s Day, and is a gross underestimation of Lee’s qualities as a fighter. He has gritty toughness, elite recuperative powers, and the patience and ring IQ to remain dangerous throughout the fight.
His last four opponents – John Jackson, Matt Korobov, Peter Quillin, and Billy Joe Saunders – were a combined 95-1 when they stood opposite Lee’s lanky, almost awkward frame, and heard the same exasperated refrain from their trainers: “For god’s sake, keep your left hand up!”
We are going to have an idea of what Lee has left in the tank after March 18th. If his skills and his matchmaking shine, then Lee could give us another example of a boxing comeback: the resuscitation of a career.