Facing him would be Craig McEwan, an undefeated southpaw who had left his native Scotland to live in Hollywood and train at the famous Wild Card gym with Freddie Roach. One of his 19 wins was a 10-round unanimous decision against Vera in May of 2009 — two fights after he had beaten Lee.
In addition, Lee would be fighting without trainer Manny Steward, who, on the same night, was working the corner of WBA junior middleweight beltholder Miguel Cotto (36-2, 29 KOs) in what would be a 12th-round stoppage of Ricardo Mayorga.
“I knew that Andy was in a tough situation, even though he had had a number of good, rough, tough fights since losing to Vera,” said Steward, whose nephew, Javan Hill, worked Lee’s corner against McEwan.
“For the McEwan fight, he wasn’t quite right 100 percent, physically. But that was his second chance to be on American television, so he had to go through with the fight against a tough guy who had beaten Vera.”
And tough is what it turned out to be. In what seemed like a triumph-in-the-making for the Scot, McEwan rocked Lee early and led throughout the fight. But late in the ninth round, Lee dropped McEwan with a perfect left cross, and again with the same punch in the 10th as referee Steve Smoger stepped in to wave an end to the fight.
“Andy impressively gutted out against a guy who was not only an undefeated fighter, but a guy who had beaten Vera. He just sucked it up,” said Steward.
“He just went out there and used what was inside of him. He was hurt early in the fight, but he basically told himself, ‘I got to win this fight,’ and you can’t teach that.”
A winner of 11 straight fights, including seven by knockout since being stopped by Vera, of Austin, Tex., the 27-year-old Lee (26-1, 19 KOs) has been camped out at the home of Steward near Detroit while preparing for Saturday night’s HBO televised rematch toward avenging his lone defeat.
Vera-Lee II will is taking place on the undercard of the main event featuring RING middleweight champ Sergio Martinez (47-2-2, 26 knockouts) and England’s Darren Barker (23-0, 14 KOs) at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
“I underestimated Brian the first time and I didn’t realize the sort of fighter I was getting in there with. I found out that he’s a physical guy, and a tough and aggressive guy. The last time, I got mixed up in brawling with him and going punch-for-punch with him,” said Lee, who was ahead on all three scorecards at the time of his loss.
“I really didn’t train hard enough for that type of fight, but I was just a kid back then. So, you know, I’m just a lot more experienced and a lot more mature. I have 27 fights and a lot more training camps behind me where I’ve picked things up and become more seasoned. So this time, I know what to expect. This time, I’ve done all of the work and I’ve left nothing to chance.”
Having been Lee’s trainer a career that began in March of 2006, Steward agrees, saying, I think that Andy’s a lot more experienced since that loss.”
“In our very next fight after Vera, he fought Willie Gibbs, who was 20-1 with 16 knockouts, and that was one of those fights people were saying that we should never have taken right away,” said Steward, who has been hard at work with Steward refining his skills at Detroit’s Kronk Gym.
“We had Gibbs hurt about three times, but he was very, very patient in that fight. I was impressed with the way that he broke him down, didn’t over-extend himself, and was able to knock him out in the 10th round.”
So much more improved is Lee, said Steward, that the 6-foot-2 fighter actually sparred with 6-7 WBO, WBA, IBF and RING heavyweight beltholder Wladimir Klitschko (56-3, 49 KOs) during Klitschko’s final weeks of preparation for a unanimous decision victory that dethroned David Haye (25-2, 23 KOs) in July.
“Andy’s got a big heart, and he’s tall enough to be a challenge. He’s actually done that a lot since I’ve been with him,” said Lee. “He’s actually provided some of the hardest work for Wladimir during some of his camps.”
The 29-year-old Vera (19-5, 12 KOs) scored an eighth-round knockout of Eloy Suarez in June that followed February’s split-decision win over ex-junior middleweight title holder Sergio Mora (22-2-2, 6 KOs) in February.
Vera had been among those being considered to challenge to WBC middleweight belt-holder Julio Cesar Chavez (43-0-1, 30 KOs) this month.
Having trained alongside Barker at their native London’s Repton Boxing Club, even once defeating him as an amateur, Lee will have an eye on the Martinez-Barker clash to observe how much success his former stablemate has against Martinez.
Lee is coming off of a unanimous decision over contender Alex Bunema in May, and if he’s victorious over Vera, will set his sights on Martinez.
“I think that it’s a possibility,” said Lou DiBella, who promotes Martinez and Lee.
“I think that if Lee looks good and makes a really good impression, then that makes for an interesting fight with Sergio.”
Lem Satterfield can be reached at [email protected]