In New York, Andy Lee is in as familiar a territory as he can be.
The middleweight contender from Limerick, Ireland, fought in New York twice early on in his career, lived there for two years, and is promoted by the New York-based company Dibella Entertainment. Now he will have his third start in the Big Apple this Wednesday, when he faces Darryl Cunningham (28-4, 11 knockouts) at B.B. King Blues Club in the ten-round main event of this week’s Broadway Boxing.
What won’t be as familiar to Lee is carrying forward with his career without longtime trainer and mentor Emanuel Steward in his corner. Lee will be fighting for just the second time since the legendary boxing guru passed away last October after battling diverticulitis and colon cancer. Though having trained Hall of Fame boxers Tommy Hearns and Lennox Lewis, Steward had said that he was never closer to one of his fighters than he was with Lee.
This will be his second bout with British trainer Adam Booth, who also works with former WBA heavyweight titleholder David Haye, but the mission remains the same as it has always been.
“I feel I can be world champion,” Lee (29-2, 20 KOs) tells RingTV.com. “I’ve felt like that since the day I turned pro and I still feel it today.”
The 6-foot-2 southpaw Lee, now 28, had been on the best run of his career before sustaining a seventh-round technical-knockout loss to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. last June in a bid for the WBC middleweight title. Lee was ahead on all three cards 58-56 before being battered on the ropes for the stoppage.
In his only bout since then, Lee outpointed Anthony Fitzgerald over ten rounds in Belfast, Northern Ireland, this past February.
With Chavez Jr.’s future at 160 pounds looking uncertain, and the reigning RING middleweight champion (and fellow DiBella stablemate) Sergio Martinez looking increasingly vulnerable as he gets closer to age 40, there is a lot of room for movement in the division. The rest of the landscape is made up of WBA titleholder Gennady Golovkin, who beat Lee on points in the 2003 World Amateur Boxing Championships, IBF titleholder Daniel Geale and WBO titleholder Peter Quillin, whom Lee’s team had negotiated with in the past.
Cunningham, who is a native of Detroit, where Lee trained for years with Steward, figures to be a relatively safe measuring stick for his second match under Booth. Cunningham’s two recent step-up fights — against Andre Dirrell and Adam Trupish — ended in knockout losses. At 38, Cunningham is ten years Lee’s senior.
“I haven’t seen much of him, but he seems to know his way around the ring,” said Lee, who represented Ireland in the 2004 Olympics.
Even in defeat, Lee has always been entertaining and thrilling. In victory, Lee will have to be flawless to return back to contention for a second title opportunity.
Photo: Timothy A. Clary-AFP/Gettyimages
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to The Ring magazine and GMA News. He can be reached at [email protected] An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.