by David P. Greisman
The first three rounds had been workmanlike and not at all memorable — and then Mike Lee made sure the fourth round, while it lasted, was anything but.
Just 55 seconds into what was to be the final round, Lee dispatched Allen Medina with a single right hand, putting him down for the count.
That victory brought the 24-year-old Chicago native, who now lives in Houston and trains with Ronnie Shields, to 8-0 with 5 knockouts.
The light heavyweight prospect spoke to BoxingScene.com about his win, why it was better to get a knockout than a decision, what he wants to work on, how he rates his 2011 and what he wants for 2012.
BoxingScene.com: You’re just coming off a fight at Madison Square Garden on the Cotto-Margarito rematch undercard. Tell me about your win over Allen Medina.
Lee: “It was just pretty incredible coming out in the Garden. Everybody talks about how it’s the Mecca. A lot of people were asking me if I felt pressure and what have you. I really felt good. I came out and there was just this energy. I’d say it was one of the more packed, energetic crowds I’ve ever fought in front of, because it was right before a pay-per-view, so the place was starting to get packed. I was real excited about that.
“It was going to be a six-rounder, and they switched it to four right at the last second for pay-per-view issues. Ronnie [Shields, his trainer] told me, ‘Come out patient still, but if I tell you to pick it up, then pick it up.’ It was one of those things where I wanted to come out real patient, establish my jab. We’d been working a lot on the left hook, so I wanted to pepper that in, too.
“And then around the third round, Ronnie was telling me to pick it up. And in-between the third and fourth, he said ‘This kid’s hurt. I want you to take him out.’ So I went out there in the fourth round with the intention of knocking the guy out. He was like, ‘I don’t want you coming back to this corner without the knockout.’ That’s what I did. I’m glad I got a pretty violent knockout. It’s always fun to get those. I jumped on the ropes, because I was just so excited. I’m healthy and I got the win, so you can’t ask for much more for your debut in the Garden.”
BoxingScene.com: He seemed kind of awkward.
Lee: “Yeah, he was awkward. That was really the thing. When we first started exchanging punches, he was hitting me more so like on the lower end of my jaw. And he was tall, so I guess I didn’t really expect that. You get that from shorter guys. So that kind of threw me off at first. He did have, like, a weird awkward style that I saw on tape before, but obviously when you’re in the ring, it’s not the same. It’s never the same as any kind of tape you watch.
“He had long arms. It was one of those things that I wanted to get inside, but at the same time I didn’t want to get caught trying to reach inside. That’s why every time I came back to the corner, Ronnie was really adamant about me throwing everything off the jab and really establishing everything off the jab while I was closing the distance. That’s what we tried to do.”
BoxingScene.com: He really didn’t engage with you, and that made things more difficult for you to look good for the first few rounds.
Lee: “It does. I wanted to counter off some of his punches. I noticed that he had a lazy jab, so one of the moves I like to do and what we were working on is rolling off the jab and countering with the straight right hand. That’s what I’d seen he got hit with in other fights, so I was like, ‘You know what, this is perfect.’
“But I think right off the bat he felt my power, because I hit him with a couple of jabs that threw him back into the ropes. I could tell right away, hitting him with some shots, that he respected my power, and in the beginning it kind of made it difficult because we were doing a little bit of posing because I was looking to counter a little bit. I was kind of stalking him down, coming forward the whole time. I guess that’s my style.
“I don’t care who you’re fighting, what the records are — it only takes one punch. So I knew in the back of my mind I wasn’t going to run in there, all cocky, throwing haymakers. I wanted to look good, but I knew it’d take a few rounds to kind of open up.”
BoxingScene.com: How important was it, considering the way those first few rounds went, to go out with a bang?
Lee: “It was big. And that’s what Ronnie was stressing between the rounds. He was like, ‘I want you to get the win. More importantly, I want you to look good doing it.’ It’s important. I felt like it was a good knockout, because you break guys down, you slowly break them down, and then you look for your shot. That’s how things should go.
“And some of the Top Rank guys were happy with my performance. That’s what they said. They wanted to see me get some more rounds and really just take him out at the end. It was important for me, and in my mind that fourth round, when that bell rang, I was thinking, ‘I want to knock this guy out.’ I was really set on knocking that guy out that round in particular, because I knew they’d cut it from a six to a four. I was like, ‘I got to press the issue here.’ ”
BoxingScene.com: What do you feel you need to improve on?
Lee: “I think I just need to keep developing, working on combinations and counterpunching. There’s a lot of different things I’d like to improve on that just comes with experience. I feel like I’ve gotten better every fight. I feel like this was one of my better fights, just being patient and calm. Just having that mental calmness right now.
“The first few fights I had, you just kind of go out there, and sometimes you’re just winging punches. It seems like the last few fights I’ve been coming out with a calm demeanor and a legitimate strategy. I want to keep improving on that, but I know that I have the athleticism to do all the things that I want to do. It’s just about working on it in the gym and making that happen.”
BoxingScene.com: You’ve had five fights this year and are ending the year at 8-0. What did you think of your 2011, and what do you want out of your 2012?
Lee: I’m very happy with my 2011. Obviously I’m my biggest critic, and there’s certain things in the fights that I’d like to do. Each fight I watch tape and I say, ‘I’d like to do that’ or ‘I want to do that.’ But I couldn’t be happier with 2011. It was a great year for me. We had an amazing event at Notre Dame. An amazing charity event. We’ve had just incredible fans. I’ve learned so much sparring with former world champions and world champions and just being around Ronnie Shields and learning from him and being put on big stages. I think I’m really happy with where we’ve been.
“I see 2012 as a lot of the same thing — steadily getting those fights, tougher opponents, longer rounds and just keep developing as a fighter. I’m just 24, so I’m in no rush. I like how every fight we’re getting better and better. That’s really what it’s all about for me at this point.”
BoxingScene.com: Any final thoughts for boxing fans?
Lee: “I just hope more people look out for me and look for my improvement. I’ll keep promising an aggressive, come-forward, fan-friendly style.”
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter at twitter.com/fightingwords2 or on Facebook at facebook.com/fightingwordsboxing, or send questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org