By Jake Donovan
There will be a Garden party on St. Patrick’s Day, but not all Irish eyes will be smiling that evening.
Exactly one week before Sergio Martinez returns to HBO’s airwaves, Limerick-born Andy Lee – who was thought to be groomed for an eventual shot at the lineal middleweight champ – appears way under the radar as he prepares for a stay-busy fight tonight in Detroit, where he now calls home these days.
“It’s a club fight,” Lee (27-1, 19KO) readily admits, not at all trying to dress up his showdown with Saul Duran for anything more than is really the case. “It’s more about staying active and getting a win. It’s about staying busy. I like fighting one after the other. The more you’re active, things come naturally. You’re not rusty when you get in the ring.
“I know I’ll get some criticism for the opponent. But rather than sitting at home doing nothing at all, I prefer to keep building up.”
His well-placed ring appearances in 2011 were supposed to do just that. Lee served as the chief support for both of Martinez’ last two fights, which aired live on HBO. This weekend will be roughly one year since Lee topped unbeaten Craig McEwan in the 10th round of a nip-and-tuck affair, a win that breathed new life into his career.
The next televised win was far more crucial to his success moving forward as he avenged his lone defeat to date. On a night where Martinez struggled early before settling down and eventually ridding the ring of massive underdog Darren Barker, Lee offered a professional performance in easily turning back the challenge of previous conqueror Brian Vera, scoring a lopsided decision.
In exorcizing any lingering demons, Lee and his handlers believed a bright future to be ahead. Thought to be included in the lot was a shot at Martinez, since both fighters are promoted by Lou DiBella and spent the past year in each other’s presence.
“It is frustrating,” Lee reveals. “I had a big year last year and want to build on that. Instead, we seem to be going backwards.”
A lateral move at the very least was supposed to mark his 2012 debut, as Lee was slotted to serve in the co-feature of Martinez’ showdown with Matthew Macklin. The headlining fight sat none too well with Lee’s camp, particularly chief trainer Emmanuel Steward who signed his fighter with DiBella Entertainment for the specific purpose of eventually landing a Martinez fight.
DiBella himself acknowledged Lee’s disappointment during the press conference to officially announce the March 17 show, stating that he understood why his fighter was upset and that he expected him to feel that way.
Where the promoter has since fallen short is in supplying his fighter with a sufficient consolation prize.
The March 17 co-feature slot was offered with TBA as the scheduled opponent. DiBella blamed a less than desirable budget on not being able to secure a suitable challenger, instead pulling Lee from the show altogether in hopes of landing him a title shot against a middleweight beltholder such as Felix Sturm or Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
Negotiations took place with Sturm’s camp, only for the defending titlist to instead settle on Sebastian Zbik. Meanwhile, Chavez’ camp continues to offer resistance to facing a fighter of Lee’s ilk – a tall southpaw who can box and bang equally well.
While DiBella has taken to the soapbox in claiming other titlists too scared to fight his guy, what has yet to be explained is why he won’t yet match up his own fighter – or why Lee has nothing better going on this weekend other than a clubfight that may or may not air via webcast.
Ever the gentleman, Lee refuses to get caught up in the politics of the sport, even when they’re the very cause of his forced drastic change of course in recent weeks.
“The bigger fights aren’t happening. That’s the business side of things. It would be nice if everyone can work together for the benefit of the sport. After the fight with Rubio, I approached Emmanuel about landing the June fight with Chavez. Since then, they’ve had a change of heart. They didn’t want to fight me because I’m a southpaw. There’s not much that can be done about that.
“I would like to fight Chavez and Martinez. Those are the two biggest fights in America. Felix Sturm is European; that fight would’ve never meant much here even if I did land it. To beat Martinez, you’ve beat the man who beat the man. As far as Chavez, I’ve always wanted to be the WBC champion. At this point it’s looking slim.”
Sadly, even this weekend’s club fight was also threatening to not happen for Lee. There have been several opponent changes over the course of the past few weeks, as well as a bit of confusion. Alexis Hloros – a local fringe-level middleweight – was the originally scheduled opponent, but pulled out and is instead on course to headline separate club shows in and around the Motor City.
Replacing Hloros – and a slew of other candidates who fell through for a variety of reasons – is Mexican veteran Saul Roman (34-9, 26KO), who was brought in on fight week after fellow late replacement Alexis Camacho wasn’t cleared to fight.
The perception is that Lee will walk through him and that nothing at all will be gained from this weekend other than making it 13 straight wins since the upset loss to Vera four years ago. But that’s not at all what the middleweight contender hopes to get out of this weekend’s event.
“Honestly, I want to get some rounds in. I’m going to box and move around some. If that still leads to an early knockout, then so be it. But I’d like to get some rounds and then start working towards the stoppage midway through the fight.”
After that… who knows. In the spirit of optimism, Lee believes something good comes of his planned 2012 campaign. Despite the setbacks, his immediate team remains a loyal and united front with their collective eyes affixed on the future.
“Emanuel has always believed in me. I moved from Ireland to live in Detroit to work with him. He is very frustrated and hurt by what’s going on. He signed me with DiBella to get the Martinez fight and that hasn’t happened yet.
“I just take it as chapters in my life. Hopefully I’ll get that middleweight title and one day look back at this as just a memory.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]