By Leonard Gunning
‘Andy Lee would like nothing better than to renew his acquaintance with Darren Barker’ was the opening line of the programme preview for Limerick’s Andy Lee, 21-1 (KO 15), and veteran French banger Mamadou Thiam, 46-9 (KO 43).
Lee (162¼lb) and his former Repton Amateur boxing clubmate have been making noises toward each other from some time now and the Irish fighter was rightly disappointed when Barker battled limited French heavy hitter Affif Belghecham for the European middleweight title in April after Lee had completely outclassed Belghecham less than five month previous.
But thoughts of a showdown with Barker would have to be set aside momentarily as Lee was scheduled to face what turned out to be the shell of Thiam (160½lb), who faced the Puerto Rican legend Tito Trinidad almost ten years ago in Miami. This was a fighter with the same name and face but his heart, desire and quite frankly ability had either evaporated into the ether or drained out through his sparkling white boots via osmosis.
Lee, in the famous Kronk colours, came to the ring to a chorus of cheers from his hometown crowd. The same patrons then watched quizzically as the hunched, squat figure of the Thiam shuffled up the centre of the ring to face a towering figure of Lee and receive his final instructions from referee Emile Tiedt.
Thiam’s record sounds relatively respectable with knockout percentage of almost 80%, which would generally be enough to cast at least some doubt into the subconscious of even the most confident of fighter. However, the most scathing of investigations into the level of competition which he has faced would reveal that Thiam hasn’t beaten anyone of note since mulching Michael Rask in nine rounds for the European light middleweight in front of a partisan Parisian crowd in 2001.
Lee, enjoying the physical advantages of a vastly superior height and reach, started the opener gently poking of his southpaw jab as a range finder against the gloves of Thiam, which were already being used as mufflers to protect not just his chin but ears and skull also. The crab came out of its shell to lunge forward and attempt landing a volley of sweeping hooks that were so wild, wide and arching that they travelled through three counties before returning to the position of the intended target. Of course by this time the nibble Lee and made an expeditious retreat.
The third time Thiam attempted this agrarian tactic Lee had the response ready, a quick side step to the right while turning into cuffing right hook which landed about the Frenchman’s ear and provide just enough additional moment to ensure that his novice like lunge continued all the way face first into a neutral turnbuckle. Although Thiam’s knee did make contact with the canvas Tiedt did not rule it a scoring knockdown and waved the action on.
Lee again patiently prodded the jab out to a position just short of the hunched figure before him and delivered a stiff left hook to Thiam’s jaw as the Frenchman once again whizzed past the tall Limerickman. Within seconds Thiam launched his next attack – no variation in the theme – it was more rugby tackle than pugilistic precision. Lee’s footwork meant he again managed to avoid the floundering Senegal born fighter, who once again ended up on the canvas. At this point it was becoming apparent to all in the packed hall that this bout was more farce than fight.
Thiam rose but Lee was understandably non-committal in attack and in what was becoming an embarrassingly regular manoeuvre Thiam again swung, missed and visited the canvas for the third time in the first half of the first round of the fight. Lee circled in an anti-clockwise manner, pushing the jab out to keep his uncouth foe at bay whilst landing only a paucity of clean scoring shots himself.
This was not pretty viewing and the punters in the crowd here becoming restless.
Lee threw some turf on the fire in the second round and pushed Thiam onto the back foot, holding him in his own corner whilst feigning jabs and sending a series of stinging southpaw lefts through Thiam’s guard which peppered his head and body. Lee’s circling right hand, which waved in front of Thiam’s face, seemed to snake charm the Parisian leaving Lee free to unload aggressively without any reply until the bell rang for the end of the second round.
A disheartened and demoralised Thiam never emerged for third round citing an injury to his lower back that was a result of one of his frequent visits to the canvas. The result was met with cheers and boos in equal measure but the exasperated element in the crowd’s reaction soon dissipated once Lee made his customary visit to each corner of the ring to acknowledge to efforts of those gathered.
As a fight in itself the contest was utterly meaningless and Thiam barely scored a scored punch in the six minutes it lasted, however, whilst Thiam was obviously a shot fighter Lee deserves no small degree of credit for exposing his deficiencies in such a timely fashion.
In the post fight press conference promoter Brian Peters, manager Manny Steward and Lee himself all acknowledged that the fight was less than ideal although each of their pills were coated with a variety of thickness of sugar.
Lee outlined that, “With Thiam, the other fellas he fought stood in front of him but once I took that step back I had his balance all over the place. If I fought this guy ten or fifteen years ago he would have been a handful for anyone.”
“A fight is as easy as you make it, if I had stood there it could have been a hard night’s work because he might have off loaded some of his big shots. I took his heart away by keeping him at a distance and keeping him off balance. If he is injured then that is too bad but I think he thought it was going to be a hard night and took an easy way out. I am not disappointed, I have had loads of hard fights here in Limerick that have been the distance so to get a stoppage was fine” explained Lee.
Trainer Steward added, “I thought Andy fought a very good fight. When he (Thiam) punches he lunges and puts his weight onto his front foot, so what Andy did was keep him at a distance and then take one step back and throw a right hand which would make Thiam lose his balance. Andy would not let him get into a rhythm.”
It wasn’t long before the topic of conversation returned to a potential showdown with Darren Barker. Promoter Brian Peters seemed confident of luring the Londoner to Ireland stating, “I hope to get Mr. Barker in Ireland in the Fall, or (Khoren) Gevor, but the European title anyway, whoever is holding it.”
However, Lee seemed to be more interested in hunting down a world title, “I would be happy to fight Barker, he is a nice boxer but I can do everything he does a little bit better and I am stronger than him. He is a very nice technical boxer and it would be a nice gelling of styles for boxing fans to watch, classical boxers. The European title would be nice to win but my goal is to be world champion from when I started boxing and it is still my dream now.”