Andy Lee’s world title dream: A Sisyphean task?

54105_54_news_hub_47389_588x448

For Limerick’s longtime middleweight contender Andy Lee, the moment has arrived.

On tonight’s Bradley-Chaves undercard at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, he fights for a vacant 160lb. world title against ex-amateur great Matvey Korobov.

Lee’s route to this point has been a long and circuitous one, taking in the Athens Olympics, a 9-year pro career that has often flattered to deceive, and a switch to trainer Adam Booth after the death of his mentor Emmanuel Steward.

As an amateur, Lee was accomplished. He won a European bronze medal, and went on to beat Alfredo Angulo at the 2004 Athens Olympics, before losing on countback to future professional titlist Hassan N’Dam. Rejecting overtures to remain amateur for the Beijing games, Lee instead opted to turn pro under the tutelage of the legendary Manny Steward of Kronk gym and Tommy Hearns fame. The Limerick lad was off to Detroit, and acquired a reputation as one of the sport’s top prospects.

He won his first 15 fights as a pro, most notable among those a stunning one-punch knockout of faded ex-titlist Carl Daniels.

Steward and Lee had developed a close relationship, which Steward would later describe as the closest bond he had ever formed with one of his fighters. In 2008, Steward boasted that his young charge was already capable of beating the likes of, then middleweight king, Kelly Pavlik, and Jermain Taylor.

However, just a month after making that statement, Lee suffered his first setback, tiring and suffering a stoppage loss at the hands of the unheralded Brian Vera.

Shaky performances against the likes of Alexander Sipos and Affif Belghecham followed over the next couple of years, as the lustre began to fade, even as he continued to win. Complacent, widespread opinion that Lee was a “world class” fighter, despite a complete lack of evidence to support this, began to propagate, and it is a view still held by many fans, and even some noted figures in the fight game, today.

Eventually, a chance on HBO arrived against unbeaten Scot Craig McEwan. After a torrid 8 rounds, Lee was trailing on the cards and facing likely defeat. A heavy knockdown in the 9th, followed by a knockout in the 10th and final round rescued the situation for Lee and gave him the noteworthy win he had been waiting for. McEwan’s career subsequently went into freefall, as the once-prospect succumbed to a series of ignominious losses.

Lee then avenged his defeat to Brian Vera in comprehensive fashion in another HBO showcase. This led to his first world title shot.

In June 2012, he faced the son of a legend, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. for the latter’s middleweight belt. While it is questionable if Lee had faced the right opposition to prepare him to enter the lion’s den in partisan Texas, Julio Jr. was similarly untested.

After a solid start, Lee began to tire quickly, and was overwhelmed by the larger, if crude, Chavez. The stoppage defeat came in 7 rounds.

For more on this fight, and the post-fight drug testing controversy, this article is worth perusing: https://pound4poundireland.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/kelsey-mccarson-asks-what-happened-in-texas-the-definitive-article-on-the-chavez-jr-lee-drug-testing-controversy/

This disappointment was followed by the untimely passing of Manny Steward, and Lee relocated to London to train with Adam Booth.

While they have compiled 5 straight wins as a partnership over limited opposition, the road has been rocky. Rounds were dropped to Anthony Fitzgerald in an underwhelming points win. The opening moments against journeyman Ferenc Hafner were punctuated by Lee absorbing a head-snapping flurry. Lee scraped by natural-welterweight Frank Horta in a majority 8-round decision in Denmark, failing to block every shot of a 5 punch combination at one point.

How did this title shot come about?

Andy was set to fight the fearsome Gennady Golovkin in April for his middleweight belt, a suicide mission if ever there was one and a likely career-ender for the Irishman. However, the death of Golvokin’s father forced a cancellation, and Lee instead continued his 154lb. experiment with a fight on the Cotto-Martinez PPV undercard against unknown prospect John Jackson.

In a torrid battle, Lee was dropped in the first round, outboxed and reeling on the verge of defeat, when a single right hook flattened Jackson for one of the year’s most stunning knockouts, and certainly the year’s best comeback.

This win alone was not enough to get a title shot though. Lee can thank Jay-Z and Al Haymon, among others, for that.

Al Haymon charge Peter Qullin was the longtime holder of the WBO’s 160lb. title. Top Rank’s Matt Korobov was the mandatory challenger.

When this potential fight went to a purse bid, Jay-Z’s (holder of an old grudge against Haymon, dating back to the latter’s time in the music business) Rocnation promotional group bid big for the contest, resulting in the ignominy of Haymon ordering Quillin to vacate his title by pulling out of the fight, and a payday more than 3 times what he has earned before.

This left Korobov in need of a foe for the title.

Enter unbeaten contender Billy Joe Saunders, promoted by Frank Warren. He was next in line in the WBO’s rankings and was set to face Korobov, until, out of nowhere, the co- promoter of WBO 154lb. titlist Demetrius Andrade, Artie Pellulo, filed a petition to allow his man to step in and fight for the title at the higher weight.

The WBO acquiesced and Andrade-Korobov seemed ready to go. However, Andrade later changed his mind and opted to stay at 154lbs., which once again left Korobov-Saunders as the likely fight (http://ringtv.craveonline.com/news/358143-andrade-to-stay-at-154-korobov-saunders-in-play-for-fury-chisora-card).

However, while the Andrade drama was playing out, Frank Warren had been working behind the scenes to make an anticipated grudge match between Billy Joe Saunders and Chris Eubank Jr. (which would ultimately be sanctioned as a final eliminator for the Korobov-Lee winner), and even when a title shot was again on the table, he opted to pass for now, instead finalizing the domestic fight, one which would increase Saunders’ profile in the UK considerably.

Thus, the title shot fell in Lee’s lap, and he moved back to middleweight to take it.

What are Lee’s realistic chances in his title fight?

This is a similar situation to the Chavez fight. Two fighters who have yet to show that they can win at world level will contest this title.

Whether Lee has improved under Booth is highly questionable. Certainly, we have yet to see in-ring evidence of any major changes. While his body looks in pristine condition, the same stamina problems, defensive liabilities and inability to keep his boxing together still undermine Lee. He is just 30, but maybe he has accumulated too much wear and tear over the years in gruelling Kronk sparring sessions and harder-than-expected fights.

What of Korobov then? He is not the same man he once was either. He twice won world amateur titles, and was considered one of the best pound for pound amateurs in the world. He was a gold-medal favourite at the 2008 games, only to be upset in the early stages. He left the amateurs with a reported record of 300-12.

As a professional, Korobov was the most heralded Russian amateur to turn over since Kostya Tszyu. Signing with Top Rank, he scored knockouts in 8 of his first 10 bouts, and seemed destined for the fast track to world honours and stardom, in much the same way that Gennady Golovkin and Vasyl Lomachenko have done since.

However, the knockouts dried up and the performances grew more one-paced and less explosive, as he failed to move beyond 8-round level (he has only had two fights scheduled for 10, and gone that distance just once). Multiple switches in trainers have also hampered his progress.

He has undergone surgery for breathing problems, but perhaps his failure to transition smoothly to the professionals can be put down to the age-old ‘complacency of the good life’ problems that seem to plague many star amateurs who come to the West to ply their trade for pay. Whatever the case, it has been a long 6 year wait for his first title shot.

Could his diminished foot-speed and lack of experience in long, hard fights cost him against Lee? It’s certainly possible, and his chin was almost cracked by the limited Derek Edwards when they met a year ago.

Whatever happens, I do not expect Korobov to turn back the clock and suddenly replicate his 2007 amateur form.

A Sisyphean Task

However, the smart money has to be on Korobov prevailing. My pick is for Lee to win a few rounds early, but to tire by halfway and eventually lose a clear decision.

On a night of two big fight cards in Vegas, with plenty of compelling storylines, in this writer’s opinion, Korobov-Lee stands out the most.

In Greek mythology, the figure of Sisyphus was punished by the gods by being compelled to roll a giant boulder to the top of a slope, the stone always escaping his grasp near the top and rolling down again. Given the punishing nature of the sport of boxing, this could be taken as an apt metaphor for the trials and tribulations of the perennial contender. oftentimes climbing the ladder with great difficulty, only to fall short when nearing the summit.

Simply put, it’s childhood dream or bust for Andy. New horizons will be conquered tonight, or his dream will roll inexorably away.

Vitali Vacates: The Heavyweight Scene Heading into 2014

http://doransboxingblog.com/2014/01/02/the-heavyweight-boxing-scene-heading-into-2014-minus-vitali-klitschko/

 

My latest column for Doran’s Boxing blog

https://www.facebook.com/DoransBoxingBlog

Pound4poundireland’s 2013 Awards for Fight, Knockout, Round, Prospect, Upset and Trainer of the Year

Fight of the Year

1. Timothy Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov

https://pound4poundireland.wordpress.com/2013/03/17/fight-video-timothy-bradley-v-ruslan-provodnikov-fight-of-the-year-candidate/

2. Mike Alvarado-Brandon Rios II

https://pound4poundireland.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/full-fight-video-brandon-rios-mike-alvarado-ii-another-classic-fight-of-the-year-contender/

3. Omar Figueroa-Nihito Arakawa

https://pound4poundireland.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/full-fight-video-omar-figueroa-vs-nihito-arakawa-epic-fight-of-the-year-contender/

Knockout of the Year

1. Javier Fortuna ko1 Miguel Zamudio

https://pound4poundireland.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/full-fight-video-javier-fortuna-v-miguel-zamudio-frightening-first-round-knockout-of-the-year-contender/

2. Deontay Wilder ko1 Siarhei Liakhovich

https://pound4poundireland.wordpress.com/2013/08/10/full-fight-video-deontay-wilder-vs-siarhei-liakhovich-ko-of-the-year-candidate/

3. James Chereji ko2 Belmin Skomorac

https://pound4poundireland.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/full-fight-video-james-chereji-vs-belmin-skomorac-knockout-of-the-year-candidate/

Round of the Year

1. Timothy Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov Round 2

2. Denkaosan Kaovichit-Eiji Tsutsumi Round 10

https://pound4poundireland.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/video-round-of-the-year-candidate-denkaosan-kaovichit-vs-eiji-tsutsumi-round-10/

3. Darren Barker-Daniel Geale Round 6

https://pound4poundireland.wordpress.com/2013/08/18/full-fight-video-daniel-geale-vs-darren-barker/

Prospect of the Year

1. Vasyl Lomachenko

2. Jessie Magdaleno

3. Naoya Inoue

Upset of the Year

1. Simpiwe Vetyeka rtd6 Chris John

https://pound4poundireland.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/full-fight-video-chris-john-vs-simpiwe-vetyeka/

2. Fahlan Sakkereerin Jr. ko3 Ryo Miyazaki

3. Jhonny Gonzalez ko1 Abner Mares

https://pound4poundireland.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/full-fight-video-abner-mares-vs-jhonny-gonzalez/

Trainer of the Year

Angel Garcia – for his work with Danny Garcia

Pound4poundireland’s 2013 Award for Fighter of the Year

Fighter of the Year

1. Floyd Mayweather Jr.

2. Adonis Stevenson

3. Guillermo Rigondeaux

* 2013 will be remembered by many as the year of the punchers, with significant successes for Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev, Ruslan Provodnikov, Lucas Matthysse (despite his defeat to Danny Garcia), Jhonny Gonzalez, Marcos Maidana, and Adonis Stevenson, and it is the latter who secures the 2nd spot on my Fighter of the Year list.

Beginning the year as a 36 year old 168lb. contender, and mandatory challenger to titlist Carl Froch, without much profile, he avenged the sole defeat of his career to journeyman Darnell Boone by 6th round knockout.

The came a surprise shot at lineal light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, and one of the year’s most stunning upsets, a 76 second destruction of the shellshocked American.

Stevenson showed he wasn’t just a one-dimensional flash in the pan by displaying slick southpaw skills en route to two further dominant kos of top ten opponents Tavoris Cloud and Tony Bellew to round out his year, truly one to be proud of.

Let’s hope 2014 bring that Stevenson vs. Sergey Kovalev shootout that has everyone salivating.

* Despite the prominence of punchers this year, the other two spots on my list are reserved for two of the finest exponents of pure boxing skill to grace the ring in recent decades.

Guillermo Rigondeaux had a breakout year, schooling many people’s pick for 2012 FOTY, Nonito Donaire, to catapult himself to the forefront of the sport in just his 12th pro fight.

He only had one further contest in the year, a shutout of the highly capable Joseph Agbeko, due to dissatisfaction on the part of his promoter Top Rank (Bob Arum no doubt disgruntled that Rigondeaux had ruined his star fighter Donaire), and the network HBO, with his perceived ‘boring’ style.

When considering his prospects next year, it is worrying to read quotes such as this one from HBO Sports boss Ken Hershman: “I’m very torn, I have to say. I was expecting more from him. This is one where you listen to the fans. The fans voted by turning off the channel. At the end of the day we’re a TV network, and we have to please our subscribers. If they’re not interested, we have to respect that. In the right match maybe there will be another opportunity, but it’s not something getting done in the near future. I have tremendous respect for what he does, but it’s not something our subscribers responded to.”

It is equally disappointing to read the disgraceful, persistent and sophomoric criticism of Rigondeaux’s sublime skills perpetuated in the media by prominent journalists such as Dan Rafael (who embarrassingly picked Donaire to easily knock out Rigondeaux) and Kevin “MMA” Iole.

* My top spot this year is reserved for the pound for pound king, Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Fighting twice in the same year for the first time since 2007, he completely dominated top 147 contender Robert Guerrero, and the undefeated 154lb. number 1 Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.

His win over Canelo (a man whom most thought Mayweather would avoid fighting at this stage) brought him a lineal championship in a 4th weight class, a feat only equalled by Manny Pacquiao.

He is more dominant than ever, beating top level opposition while barely breaking a sweat or taking a punch in return.

Though it factors little into my decision, it is also worth noting that Mayweather’s transcendence of the sport continues as strong as ever, his fight with Canelo being the most lucrative in boxing history, both at the gate and in terms of PPV revenue generated.

His 6-fight contract with Showtime, which will keep him active with 4 more fights over the next two years, is the most lucrative in the history of all sports.

It has never been more clear that Mayweather is the king of boxing, both in the ring and out.

He is the Fighter of the Year for 2013.

Pound4poundireland’s 5 breakout names for 2014

Vasyl Lomachenko – This twice Olympic champion will challenge Orlando Salido for his Featherweight title in March, and if he wins, would break the world record by winning a world title in just his second pro fight. This could also set him up for a mega showdown later in the year with fellow ex-amateur all-time great Guillermo Rigondeaux, and a chance to gatecrash the pound for pound elite quicker than anyone else in boxing history

 

Naoya Inoue – Inoue has already established himself in the Jr. Flyweight top ten in just 5 fights, and could be set to charge towards a world title in 2014, joining the many Japanese fighters in the lower weights who have taken the fast track to the top, most notably in recent times, the highly talented Kazuto Ioka

 

Khabib Allakhverdiev – Top Rank’s WBA “regular” bauble-holder at Jr. Welterweight had an inactive year in 2013, fighting only once, a lethargic stoppage of Souleymane M’Baye, and seeing a scheduled fight with Breidis Prescott on HBO fall through due to injury. 2014 promises to be far better for the former world amateur bronze medallist, and he is next slated to appear on Pacquaio’s undercard in April.

With Top Rank lacking opponents for their big names at 140 and 147, he could find himself in a major fight next year, and would have the chance make a Provodnikov-like breakthrough

 

Terence Crawford – Crawford was the man to take advantage of Allakhverdiev’s injury, stepping in to school Prescott early in 2013. Two further wins on HBO followed, and the new year could provide him with his chance to establish himself as the premiere lightweight on the planet.

That starts with a scheduled mandatory shot at Ricky Burns in March, although I have a niggling feeling that Burns might just pull out of this one ‘injured’ and vacate his title, instead of taking a very likely loss in front of his home fans

 

Bermane Stiverne – With Vitali Klitschko’s virtual retirement and vacation of his title, comes the opportunity for a number of heavyweight contenders to claim a slice of history. Stiverne gets the first crack at it, and he could hardly have a more favourable opponent: the WBC’s favourite overweight son Chris Arreola, whom he quite easily beat just a matter of months ago.

If, as expected, he can pick up the title, and continue to be showcased on HBO or Showtime, he will transition from relative obscurity to prominence in the boxing landscape next year

Fights to look forward to in 2014?

Note: I’ve kept this list to fights that can realistically happen next year, hence why you won’t see any fights like Mayweather-Bradley or Quigg-Frampton on this list that are prevented by promotional/TV differences.

 

1. Wladimir Klitschko-Pulev

With David Haye’s career in limbo, Pulev, a mandatory challenger for one of Klitschko’s belts, stands alone as the undisputed number 1 contender to the world’s heavyweight championship.

This fight is set to happen in the middle of next year, and while Klitschko would be prohibitive favourite as always, Pulev has some tools which could make the fight interesting in spots.

 

2. Stevenson-Kovalev

The top two light heavyweights in the world. Two of the biggest pound for pound punchers in the sport. Two of the best fighters of 2013.

One of the best fights that can be made in the sport.

 

3. Ward-Golovkin

In my view, probably the most compelling matchup that can realistically be made in the entire sport.

The ultimate boxer, dominant champion at 168lbs., vs. the ultimate come-forward destroyer, clearly the best at 160lbs.

With a Martinez-Golovkin showdown looking unlikely to ever take place, and Ward in no rush to move to 175, let’s hope these two can meet in the middle late next year.

 

4. Froch-Groves II

This rematch looms for May as the biggest UK fight of the year.

It brings a number of compelling elements: huge controversy, genuine enmity, domestic turf war, a potential passing of the torch, and, most importantly of all, $$$ for everyone involved.

 

5. Martinez-Cotto

This fight appears to be almost finalized for a June date in New York, and figures to be a fascinating battle.

‘Sexy’ Sergio will enter as the favourite, but appears to be fading fast, and Cotto looked rejuvinated in his last win, but will be the much smaller man.

It is a compelling matchup historically also, with Cotto looking to become the first Puerto Rican to win titles at 4 weights.

For the record, I predict Cotto will pull off the upset by razor thin decision.

 

6. Macklin-Lee

For many years now, fans in Britain and Ireland have been calling for a round robin between the cream of the domestic 160lb. crop: Darren Barker (whose career is now in jeopardy), Matthew Macklin, Martin Murray and Andy Lee.

Talk is now rife that Macklin vs. Lee could belatedly kick things off next March, although Macklin’s stated preference is a world title rematch with Felix Sturm.

If the fight takes place in Dublin’s O2 Arena, I will be there for sure.

 

7. Canelo-Lara

This fight is more of a hope than an expectation.

Lara has been calling out Canelo for years, but been ignored because he appears to have the style to give the young Mexican star fits. It is arguably the most meaningful fight than can be made at 154.

After his excellent (but horribly boring) domination of Austin Trout, could Lara get a shot at Canelo on one of his three scheduled PPV dates of 2014?

I wouldn’t bet on it, but fingers crossed.

 

8. Pacquiao-Provodnikov

While Pacquiao-Marquez V or Pacquiao-Bradley II would be perfectly good fights, and seem more realistic from a PPV point of view, Pacquiao vs. red-hot Siberian mauler Ruslan Provodnikov is my pick for the fight I’d like to see Pacquiao take next year.

It would be action all the way, and you can bet Provodnikov wouldn’t show the same reluctance to go headlong into the perilous ‘devil’s mouth’ that Brandon Rios seemingly did.

Could the older, more skilled Pacquiao, hold off the incredible will of the Provodnikov?

 

9. Broner-Garcia

Broner has rushed up (some would say eaten his way up) to 147, and Garcia, having cleaned out 140, is set to join him next year.

This seems a natural PPV showdown between two young unbeaten stars in the making, with the winner positioned to move into the upper echelons of the pound for pound ratings and a superfight with Floyd Mayweather.

Plus, can you imagine the trash talk that would take place between Broner and Danny’s volatile father, Angel Garcia?!

 

10. Matthysse-Maidana

This battle of Argentine brawlers has long been mooted, and would undoubtedly be a ‘can’t miss’ action fight for as long as it lasts.

 

11. Alvarado-Rios III

A trilogy fight is inevitable, after their first two wars both earned fight of the year contention, and widespread acclaim amongst the best handful of fights of recent years.

After a series of punishing fights, both men need a rest and maybe a ‘gimme’ win or two, but hopefully late next year we can see the conclusion to this savage rivalry.

 

12. Rigondeaux-Lomachenko

This fight gives me a boxing erection.

That’s right.

I said it.

Lomachenko is set to fight for a featherweight title against Orlando Salido early next year, in just his 2nd pro fight, an attempt to break the world record.

Should he come through, Bob Arum has stated that he intends to match Rigondeaux and Lomachenko later in the year, in a battle of ex-amateur all-time greats, with 4 world amateur titles and 4 Olympic gold medals between them.

 

 

What fights would you like to see happen in 2014?

Comment and let me know!