By Nick Halling
It’s looking increasingly likely that London-based Irishman Andy Lee could be up next for IBO/WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin. Negotiations have been progressing steadily, with an announcement possibly coming as early next week. Madison Square Garden has been tabbed as the likely venue, with a date of 26 April being discussed.
Lee has been in Ireland this week, taking a short break from training, while waiting by the phone for news of developments from manager/trainer Adam Booth and longtime business advisor Damian McCann. Potentially, the deal could be done within hours.
Golovkin’s trainer, Abel Sanchez, revealed earlier this week that Lee’s name is firmly in the frame, and that an announcement could come within the next few days.
If it goes ahead, it would mean that Lee would be the first of the three world class British-based middleweights to tie up a big fight in 2014. Matthew Macklin has been calling out IBF boss Felix Sturm, with disappointing results thus far, while Martin Murray is reassessing his options following his acrimonious split with Hatton Promotions. There had been talk of Lee and Macklin going head to head, but that now seems a long way off.
“This has been going on for a couple of weeks,” said Lee, “so I’m well aware that things seem to be moving along, although you can never take anything for granted in this business. You’re never certain until the fight is signed. Sometimes, its not even certain until you get in the ring! But talks seem to be coming to a head now.”
This will be the popular Lee’s second tilt at a world title, following his brave but unsuccessful attempt on Julio Cesar Chavez Jr’s WBC belt in June 2012. Lee started brightly but faded and was stopped in seven.
Following the death of his trainer and mentor Emanuel Steward, the Irishman moved back across the Atlantic and now works with Booth. He has had three fights on Booth’s watch, and has looked particularly sharp in his last two outings, neither of which went past the second round. Equally, none of the opponents were remotely in Golovkin’s class.
“This would be a hard fight, there’s no doubt about it,” Lee admitted. “He’s probably recognised as the best middleweight out there, and I will be the underdog, but I fancy my chances. I’m a puncher, I’m at my peak physically, and I’m going to go out there and give it 100 percent. It’s every fighter’s dream to win a world title, and I’m no exception.”
Lee has been staying sharp in the gym since the turn of the year, prior to his short break in his home country. Assuming the deal is done, preparations will begin in earnest next week.
There aren’t many who would fancy his chances, but the tall southpaw has an impressive skill set which has been modified and broadened by Booth. He also now has bigtime exposure, having boxed Chavez Jr, and that experience could prove invaluable.
Combine Lee’s talent with Booth’s reputation as a master strategist, and you have the potential for an upset. Booth was at it again last week, admittedly at domestic championship level, when he guided big underdog Curtis Woodhouse to the British light welterweight crown against defending champion Darren Hamilton.
“I was so happy for that guy,” said Lee. “He came down to us in London, and we put him through hell. We sparred a lot of rounds together, one time we did 10 rounds with me boxing orthodox, and he came through it OK. I was delighted for Curtis, he’s a nice fella and a real character.
“We also had (cruiser) Tony Conquest down working with us too, and he won the Commonwealth title, so that was good to see.”
If Booth is able to come up with a solution to the riddle of Gennady Golovkin, and Lee is able to stick to the gameplan, then connect with his proven power, there’s a chance the belt could be changing hands. And if it does, it couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy.
Keep an eye on rising Essex prospect Martin J Ward this weekend. The unbeaten 22-year-old makes his debut as a super featherweight on the Ricky Burns – Terence Crawford undercard on Saturday night against the capable Craig Woodruff.
It is Ward’s first appearance at the weight, having previously campaigned at lightweight. The youngster comes from Tony Sims’s gym, where he was virtually the only fighter who didn’t have to diet to make weight. If anything, it was too easy for him.
Under the guidance of dietician Mike Jones, however, the pounds have fallen off, and Ward looks comfortable at the lower weight. Judgement is being reserved until they see him in action, but the belief in the Sims camp is that Ward could have British champion potential.
Regular sparring with Ricky Burns and Kevin Mitchell have aided his development. If he impresses against Woodruff, don’t expect him to be hanging around at six-round level much longer. His next appearance could be for the Southern Area title. And with the talent pool not particularly deep among the British super feathers, Ward has the potential to be fast tracked to championship status.
Referee Steve Gray had his hands full last weekend with that eight knockdown, three point deduction thriller between Daniel Brizuela and Tommy Coyle. Predictably, the Fleetwood official took some heat on social media sites for stopping it in the last, when Brizuela went down for the fourth time, only to be waived away despite having risen as the count reached six.
Some outraged fans yelled about a home fighter decision. That missed the point. Coyle had been down three times from body shots. Brizuela went down heavily from head shots twice in the 11th, and once in the 12th. Three knockdowns in under three minutes of boxing time, and all from blows to the head. That spells danger to any qualified, competent referee.
Coyle had tons of power. Brizuela, tiring visibly, had just as much courage. That’s a potentially deadly combination. Gray got his decision spot on and handled a potentially tricky situation with authority.
Any complaints would have been academic anyway. Coyle was narrowly ahead on all three cards after 11, so with the knockdown in the 12, the Hull fighter was in an unassailable position. This information wasn’t readily available after the fight however.
For reasons of his own, the IBF supervisor at ringside attempted to withhold the scorecards before being persuaded that such information isn’t generally regarded as confidential, even in the byzantine world of boxing politics.
Nick Halling is a commentator for Sky Sports.