by David P. Greisman
Light heavyweight prospect Mike Lee had been seen in Subway commercials during the past 18 months, but he hadn’t been back in the ring for a pro fight until this past Friday, when he scored a sixth-round technical knockout over a 6-0 foe named Peter Lewison.
The win brought the 26-year-old from Chicago to 12-0 with 7 KOs.
“There was a time I thought between injuries and contract issues, that I would never get to 12-0. And here I am,” Lee said to reporters soon afterward.
He had to shake off some ring rust, though.
“I don’t care what you say, 18 months is a long time,” Lee said. “I felt relaxed, but it’s just about getting that little half-step in, that little half-second in. Any fighter will tell you that. The first four rounds, I definitely felt a little clumsy and not as sharp as I was in sparring.”
One report out there about Lee’s layoff during the past year and a half had been an anonymous source from within the fighter’s camp saying that Lee had been getting headaches from Invisalign braces.
“The main reason I was off was because of my lower back. I had a bulged disk in my back, and then I had Invisalign done, and I had TMJ, and it started giving me headaches just after the Invisalign,” Lee said Friday night. “As soon as I cut out the Invisalign, and they said I need it for the TMJ, everything was great and fine. Obviously when it’s anything with your head or your jaw, we wanted to make sure I was 100 percent.”
He said he no longer has the headaches, and that it was necessary to realign his jaw, which had been clicking.
Meanwhile, Lee also changed trainers, from Ronnie Shields to former heavyweight titleholder Chris Byrd.
“Ronnie and I are still on great terms, and I love Ronnie to death. Leaving Ronnie and going to Chris wasn’t anything about Ronnie,” Lee said. “It was something where I needed to be in California, both for the TMJ specialist I was seeing, the back people I was seeing, and just a bunch of personal reasons. I knew that if I wanted to be in California and wanted to continue my career, I couldn’t be in Houston. Ronnie has a ton of great fighters in Houston. He wouldn’t travel just for me, but Ronnie’s first class, man. I love the guy to death. I love his family.”
Byrd and Lee share the same lawyer and, Lee said, the same mindset. Beyond that, Lee feels Byrd will add a key element to his game.
“He tells me to go out there and have fun, and he’s all about skillset. You have a guy who is in the low 200s who is a two-time heavyweight champ, incredible skillset. I have speed and power and I’m an athlete, but that’s what I need to add to my game to go to the next level. I need to add that skillset, and that’s what Chris can teach me. He’s a true teacher.”
And so even though the health issues that brought Lee to California are in the past, the change in trainers is permanent.
“Mostly because Chris and I get along famously. And I love California,” Lee said. “California’s better for me. I have more family out there. I have more friends out there. I got really lonely in Houston. It was a good move for me, and Chris being right there in San Diego was perfect. And I love him and his family to death.”
Shields has had numerous notable contenders and prospects in his stable, including junior middleweights Erislandy Lara, Jermall and Jermell Charlo, as well as middleweight Bryan Vera. Lee feels he still got very good work with the fighters who were in this recent camp with him.
“Ronnie obviously attracts the best fighters in the world, and Chris is now just starting training, but this whole sparring camp I was sparring with Andre Dirrell a lot and [light heavyweights] Anatoliy Dudchenko and [Denis Grachev]. I had world-class sparring. Andre Dirrell taught me so much. We were going in there working. That kid can switch, righty lefty, taught me different tricks. And so I think in the next few months, Chris is going to have some of the best fighters in the world, man. He’s getting phone calls every single day because he’s a teacher. He’s truly a phenomenal boxing teacher.”
Lee had previously been promoted by Top Rank. This past Friday’s card was promoted by Main Events, though Lee hadn’t signed a multi-fight deal with the company.
The Top Rank contract ran out, and they couldn’t come to terms on a new deal, Lee said.
“I don’t have anything bad to say about Top Rank,” he said, also referring specifically to that company’s Bob Arum and Carl Moretti. Moretti was in Philadelphia just to see Lee fight Friday.
“I had a great time with them,” Lee said. “They got me to 11-0.”
Any potential Main Events deal would be worked out between that company’s executives and Lee’s attorney and his father.
“I love Kathy Duva. I love Main Events, and most importantly the partnership they have with NBC is huge,” Lee said.
Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]