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Lee to cut teeth by defeating 'Dentist'

BOXING always contains an element of risk, and there's no doubt that Andy Lee is taking a gamble in facing a proven big-hitter in Mamadou Thiam at Limerick's University Arena tonight.

The Paris-based Senegalese has stopped all but three of his 46 victims, and if he lands one of his KO specials on Lee's chin, it will be goodbye to the Limerickman's world middleweight title ambitions.

But promoter Brian Peters and matchmaker Tomas Rohan have done their homework on Thiam and concluded that the 38-year-old former European light-middleweight champion is not the force he was.

Although he is on a four-fight winning streak, he lost five of his previous six bouts, all of them inside the distance. So, like a lot of heavy hitters, he clearly doesn't take a punch as hard as he gives one.

Lee, too, has all the physical advantages. Thirteen years younger than Thiam, the rangy Limerick southpaw is also five inches taller and has a much superior reach.

Brian Peters believes that Thiam could be the final hurdle for Lee ahead of a planned challenge for Darren Barker's European title, which the promoter is confident of bringing to Limerick.

Andy has come back well since suffering his only defeat, a seventh round stoppage by Brian Vera in 2008, with five straight victories, although there are indications that he has lost some of his old spark.

He needs an impressive win tonight to show his Irish fans that he has what it takes to become a serious world title contender, and he believes this could be the fight that brings out the best in him.

"I know Thiam is a puncher and he demands respect, but the better the fighter, the better I'll fight," said Lee (20-1).

"I'm getting tired of being around the same level, as I have been for the past year or so. I really want to have a big fight after this. I need to show the people that I should be talked about when it comes to world titles."

Lee, who bases himself in Detroit, where he has been well schooled by one of the sport's legendary trainers, Emanuel Steward, will try to use his good movement and long-range skills to notch up the points.

In the later stages, if he sees his veteran rival weakening, he could seek to move in for the kill. But all the time he will be aware of the danger presented by Thiam's power, so he may settle for a points win.

Thiam (46-8) arrived here predicting a knockout that will send Limerick into mourning.

"Some people sell cars, some people build houses, some people drive buses. I knock people out. I suppose I'm like a dentist because we both take people's teeth out for a living," he declared.

"It's not a personal thing for me. I'm sure Andy Lee is a very nice guy, but this is a very hard business and there's no room for nice guys. Beating Lee will put me in a position to win another European title."

It's Lee for me, either on a wide points score, or on a late stoppage.

Andy Lee v Mamadou Thiam, Tonight, Live RTé 2 (9pm)