By Lem Satterfield
LAS VEGAS -- Chicago light heavyweight Mike Lee will pursue his fifth victory with out a loss and his fourth consecutive knockout on Friday night when he meets Gilbert Gastelum of Tucson, Ariz., at the Mandalay Bay Hotel on ESPN2.
A 23-year-old who graduated from Notre Dame with a 3.8 average, Lee made his professional debut less than a year ago on May 29 at his hometown UC Pavillion in Chicago.
Lee was 16-0 with 10 knockouts as an amateur, won a Chicago Golden Gloves crown, and became a three-time Bengal Bouts champion, which raised money for the people of Bangladesh.
Trained by Ronnie Shields, Lee will face a man in Gastelum who is winless at 0-1-1 in the night's first televised bout.
Lee spoke to BoxingScene.com in this Q&A about his future as well as Baltimore Ravens' safety, Tom Zbikowski (4-0, three KOs), who is also a Notre Dame graduate who grew up near Chicago.
BoxingScene.com: Can you talk about what it's going to be like for you fighting on ESPN2 tonight?
Mike Lee: Yeah, I think that it's incredible. You know, it's a great to have my fifth fight to be on ESPN. It's an honor and it says a lot about the confidence that Top Rank Promotions has in me.
I've been on huge cards before, and I've done nothing but excel. So it's wierd. You know, I love the pressure and the cameras and the lights. I think that it makes me a better fighter. I'm not one of those gym fighters.
I do so much better on fight night, because something about it just elevates my game. So the more people there and the more cameras in my face, I think that I do better. So, you know, I'm just excited about the opportunity.
BoxingScene.com: You're actually placing an emphasis on pressuring yourself into performaing better?
ML: I don't even consider it pressure. I consider it great exposure. ESPN's a major network, and his a whole other animal when you're fighting on ESPN. I'm excited that, first of all, Notre Dame alumni all across the country can turn on the television and get a chance to see what I'm all about.
I'm hearing that they're all excited and out of their minds. My telephones been blowing up with voice mails and guys screaming. Some of them are more excited than I am. It's crazy.
BoxingScene.com: What do you think of your fellow Notre Dame graduate and boxer, Tom Zbikowski?
ML: We've talked on and off. He was at my pro debut press conference. He was older than me when I was at school, so I didn't really know him that well other than having a mutual respect for each other and saying, 'Hi.'
But his dad and my dad talk on and off. Every time that I've been with him he's been great to hang out with. It's great for Notre Dame and it's great for Top Rank Promotions that we're both fighting at the same time.
I look for his results and follow him that way. I think one of his fights was on Fox Sports. But I've been training. But he's been doing well so you've got to love it.
It's cool and unique that we're both fighting now and it's selling tickets. We're both doing well so we're just trying to keep it up.
BoxingScene.com: Can you talk about your preparation with Ronnie Shields in Houston?
ML: We have had so many great guys that have come into this camp. Edwin Rodriguez is in town now, Ronnie's training him. Kermit Cintron is in, and I've been sparring with a couple of top prospects.
Guys who just have incredible hand speed and who are giving me looks and angles that I really need to see, so as a fighter, I've grown this past year incredibly. We just get along, man.
We click. To have that kind of chemistry is really important in boxing. With my jab, man, people are really going to see how strong it is. I'm really learning to utilize my jab.
I've got a 76-inch reach and Ronnie's taught me how to use that. Before, in the amateurs and whatnot, I would try to bully guys and I always had that aggressive style, like, 'Okay, I'll take a shot but I'll hit you twice.'
Ronnie has definitely got me working on my jab and my defense. I think that everything has been coming together.
BoxingScene.com: Can you tell me about what's going on on Sept. 16?
ML: We're putting on a show at Notre Dame that will be the night before Notre Dame's game against Michigan State. It will be at the basketball arena.
We're hoping to get thousands and thousands of people, because their homes games are usually sold out, and there are usually a ton of people there any way.
I'll be in the main event, and it should just be an incredible night the night before a football game. Students can walk through and we're looking to get a big crowd. Top Rank and Notre Dame are talking all of the time.
The proceeds will go to Notre Dame charities. That's something that I'm really excited about, that we will produce money for the different charities that I've been in touch with.
Just some awesome stuff. We're still dotting the 'I's' and crossing the 'T's' on that. But it's something that I'm really excited about. It's a win-win situation.