Brandun Lee admits he was worried, even if only momentarily, when he got the news that Adrien Broner had withdrawn from his Saturday main event against Omar Figueroa on a card the Californian was scheduled to be featured on.

“For a split second, I did (worry), but I knew that the people from Showtime would resolve the issue right away,” said Lee, who saw his televised 10-rounder against Will Madera untouched by the change in headliners. 

That wasn’t the case on August 6, when the cancellation of the Jake Paul-Hasim Rahman Jr. card scrapped Lee’s Madison Square Garden debut. So he just extended his training camp, refusing to be stressed out by the loss of that opportunity.

“Just stay in the gym, stay active and maintain and keep on doing what I'm doing, just working hard, watching how I eat,” said Lee. “And the way I looked at it was, I just had to add another two more weeks to training camp. So I had a 12-week training camp.”

That’s a lot of training camp, but the type of thing you can do when you’re 23, on top of the world, and dispatching most of your opponents in three rounds or less. In fact, before going the 10-round distance in beating Zachary Ochoa in April and stopping Juan Heraldez in seven last December, the La Quinta product hadn’t seen the fourth round since a decision victory in his ninth pro fight over Stephon McIntyre in 2018.

What followed the McIntyre fight was a lot of positive press, a lot of knockouts, and a lot of fans hanging on his every move. Along the way, The Ring magazine’s 2021 Prospect of the Year has become, along with peers like Jaron “Boots” Ennis, Vergil Ortiz, Jr. and Ryan Garcia, the prototype for the new generation of boxing stars. They all have huge fan followings, are pros at social media, they can fight, and they know the power of branding.

“Nowadays it's pretty important because it's all about how many followers you have and how many tickets you can sell,” said Lee, who is currently clocking in at 213k followers on Instagram, far behind Garcia, but neck and next with Ennis and Ortiz. “I've been fortunate enough to team up with LA Galaxy and Jinro, which is a major Soju company in Korea and here in the U.S. I've also been invited out to the L.A. Rams, so I have a great team behind me that's doing the best they can to really put Brandun Lee out there, and we're working on our brand as much as we can.”

It's smart and it’s the way the world is turning. If you want to play curmudgeon and hope for the days to come back when all that mattered is the fight, they’re not coming back. This is the way things are, and frankly, if they fighters fight and the big bouts get made eventually, there’s really nothing to complain about. And if those athletes can make some more money from streams outside the ring, more power to them. And luckily for the diehards, Lee looks like he’s the real deal so far. That comes from his work ethic, the skills learned over the course of a lengthy amateur career of nearly 200 fights, and the power that has ended 22 of his 25 pro wins inside the distance.

You might also want to add in the willingness to make sacrifices not a lot of folks his age want to make.

“So many things,” Lee said when asked what he’s given up to get to this point. “Birthdays, Thanksgivings, Christmases, Halloween when I was a kid. Prom dates, anniversaries, and slowly but surely, it's all paying off because last year in March I became the IBO intercontinental champion and I was awarded 2021 Prospect of the Year, so all my sacrifices are paying off.”

So does he surpass the other boxers previously mentioned in terms of mainstream appeal? It will be hard for anyone to catch Garcia at this point, but Lee might have an edge when it comes to his ethnic background, a unique one that not only crosses over into key demographics, but perhaps made his decision to fight inevitable.

“Koreans are willing to die in the ring, and they'll do anything to win,” said Lee. “And Mexicans are the same way. I'm half Korean and half Mexican, so you know whenever Brandun Lee's fighting I'm gonna leave it all in the ring. I'm either gonna leave on two feet or leave on a stretcher, but I'm gonna go in there and give it my all.”

So no chance of him in a 9 to 5?

“It's in the bloodline,” he laughs. And while his father and trainer Bobby is getting across the point of hitting and not getting hit, the son responds, “This is boxing. You can't go out in the rain and expect not to get wet.”

Yeah, that’s the attitude of a Korean-Mexican fighter. That doesn’t mean he still doesn’t get people wondering why he chose this line of work.

“From time to time, a lot of people tell me that,” said Lee. “They all know that I didn't come from a bad family or grew up in poverty, so they already assume that my family has the money. So, they ask me, 'Why do you box? You go to college, you're a college kid, why don't you just go to school and work a 9 to 5 and not get hit?' But they don't realize that boxing is a special sport. It's amazing to see how someone transforms from being out of shape, out of condition, overweight, and then in eight weeks, you've got this machine who can go all these rounds, shredded, muscles, abs, can go run miles and miles. That's the reason why I fell in love with the sport is because you really get to see that transition.”

It's also because when you take away the money, the fame, and all the extraneous things that come along with being an elite pro athlete, it’s still a fight for the ones who choose to step between those ropes. And as Chuck Palahniuk wrote, “How much can you know about yourself if you've never been in a fight?”

“Take that all away and it becomes an egotistic thing that this man in front of me, he can't beat me,” said Lee. “He's a human, just like I'm a human. We bleed the same, so what makes him better than me?”