By Mitch Abramson
Andy Lee blended in well with the early-afternoon crowd at the Red Lion bar in lower Manhattan. He was taller, better looking, and probably smarter than most of the patrons who were there on this Wednesday afternoon. He looked like a graduate student on a break from class, but Lee wasn’t there to discuss world history.
He was there to talk about his own history, specifically about his loss to Brian Vera and their middleweight rematch on Oct. 1 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on the undercard of Sergio Martinez and Darren Barker on HBO. Like a seasoned politician, Lee stayed on message, hitting all the key notes as he closes in on a fight he’s been longing for since he suffered the lone blemish on his record.
“It’s been so long and coming,” Lee said. “He’s the one man who stands between me and happiness, it seems. I picture after this fight, my life’s going to be perfect. I just want to beat him. I don’t have to beat him to further my career, but it just means a lot to me, so I can stand up to this challenge.”
Lee (26-1, 19 knockouts) suffered from a bout of overconfidence, entering the first fight with Vera in March of 2008. Looking back, he viewed Vera (19-5, 12 knockouts) as nothing more than just another rung on the ladder of success for Lee.
“Whatever I did in the future, that would always be there,” Lee said. “He and I will be intertwined for the rest of my career because of what happened. He was supposed to be a footnote in my career. He was supposed to be on the list, but he showed up and took the opportunity and he did what he had to do. I give him credit. He beat me, and now I have a chance to beat me.”
The more Lee spoke about the opportunity to face Vera again, the more he sounded like Captain Ahab from the novel, Moby Dick, who was obsessed on finding a certain whale. Lee was similarly hell bent on facing Vera again. Lee has won 11 straight since the loss.
“I’m glad that he didn’t get beaten or retire or something else,” Lee said. “So I still have a chance to beat him.”
The first fight was a back and forth affair. Vera was down in the first round, but he managed to lure Lee into a brawl, hurting Lee several times with wide, winging shots. The bout was stopped in the seventh round with Lee absorbing a slew of punches, but Lee seemed to have his wits about him, and the stoppage by the referee, Tony Chiarantano seemed a bit premature. Still, Lee doesn’t make any excuses about that fight, admitting that he wasn’t in the right mental, or physical state to deal with that type of adversity at that stage of his career.
“I got sucked into a brawl,” he said. “I wasn’t prepared physically for that type of fight. I thought it was going to be an easy fight for me, and mentally, I thought it was going to be an easy fight for me. And then, we’re brawling, and I’m fighting at a pace that I wasn’t comfortable for me at that time. I was being macho and I was playing to the crowd.”
Up to that point, Lee said he had never lost a round in his career and that point weighed on him during the fight.
“I was more worried about losing a round than losing the fight,” Lee said. “I remember being in the ring, thinking, ‘I’ve never lost a round and I don’t want to lose this round.’ It was so immature. I’m a different fighter now. I’ve grown. Since that fight I fought in three or four different countries, and learned the game through the gyms and training camps, so I’m ready.”
Lee says he learned much about himself in his fight with Craig McEwan in March of this year, in which Lee experienced some uncomfortable moments before he stormed back to stop McEwan in the 10th round.
“When someone’s giving you everything they have like I gave Vera everything I had, and he still kept coming,” Lee said. “It can break your spirit unless you been through it. It will break you. But now I feel that I’m a seasoned fighter. I’m just well prepared.”
Lee envisions a title shot after getting by Vera in the not so distant future.
“I don’t think Chavez Jr. will fight me,” Lee said. “Sergio Martinez will fight me. He’s probably going to look for a big fight after this, and if he doesn’t, who else is there to fight? If I beat Vera, I’m like the top contender.”
On facing Martinez, one of the top fighters in the sport, Lee expressed confidence in his chances to win.
“I would think that I could beat him,” Lee said. “He’s a good boxer and he comes at awkward angles, but I’m taller. He’s off balance a lot of time. There’s a lot of illusions about the way he fights; he throws a lot of feints. I think good basics beat him.”
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.