Friday 17 November 2017

Andy Lee hoping to dine at top table once again

Limerick champ eyes unification bout if he can demolish Saunders' unbeaten record

Limerick champ Andy Lees is eyeing a unification bout if he can demolish Bill Joe Saunders’ unbeaten record in Manchester. Photo: Getty Images.
Limerick champ Andy Lees is eyeing a unification bout if he can demolish Bill Joe Saunders’ unbeaten record in Manchester. Photo: Getty Images.

Sean McGoldrick

Perhaps it is the attention devoted to the tiny details that characterises champions.

Moments from completing the public formalities at yesterday's weigh-in ahead of the first official defence of his WBO world middleweight crown, Andy Lee was whisked away by his trainer Adam Booth to an adjoining room in the bowels of the Manchester Arena.

There he sat down to eat his first meal of the day, an unappetising looking carton of dry white rice topped up with a couple of bananas.

Like a Mother Goose watching over a flock of goslings, Booth fussed around and ushered away anybody who approached the boxer.

Sipping occasionally from a water canister as well a small bottle of concentrated juice, Lee ate in silence for nearly 20 minutes. He explained later the rationale governing what and how he ate his first meal after the weigh-in.

"Even though everybody wants to drink after a weigh-in, it is better not to drink too much because it will flush out all your digestive enzymes. So I always graze on something plain with no sauces and sip drinks.

"I will have a proper meal an hour and half after the weigh-in and then another meal later on tonight. It's always good to have the weigh-in over. It wasn't too hard to make the weight, though the last few pounds are always the most difficult," he conceded.

Lee was four ounces lighter than his opponent Billy Joe Saunders which is slightly surprising given that at 26 he is five years younger than the Irishman.

As has been the case in the build-up to this much-delayed contest - it has been postponed twice this year - there was no trash talk between the two fighters who are both members of the travelling community.

Bareknuckle

Saunders, who boxed at welterweight for the UK in the Beijing Olympics, is a great grandson of Absolum Beeney, the famous British bareknuckle boxing champion.

The fighting blood is already coursing through the veins of the next generation of Saunders.

The Hatfield native, who prepared for tonight's fight in the Matthew Macklin gym in Marbella, revealed in a recent interview that on his return to his home which is at a travellers' site in Hatfield, he found his two young sons, Billy Joe Jr and Steve, bareknuckle sparring outside their chalet.

Lee, who is a second cousin of the newly-crowned world heavyweight title holder Tyson Fury, has had a more conventional route through the boxing ranks.

During his amateur days he recalls sleeping on an airbed in the dressing rooms of the National Stadium on St Stephen's night in 2003 together with a couple of team-mates who were preparing for the European Championships the following spring.

At the time the budget of the then pledging High Performance Unit wasn't sufficient to cover the cost of putting up the boxers in a bed and breakfast.

"Experiences like that were all part of the journey," remarked Lee as he recalled that incident yesterday. "I've had to make sacrifices and I had to make sacrifices for this fight. That's the way it is if you want to do something incredible and achieve something."

Lee, whose dream was to defend his world title in front of his home fans in Limerick's Thomond Park, was delighted that he had plenty of vocal support at the weigh-in.

"I believe there are quite a few fans coming from Ireland for the fight and I think it will be 50/50 in terms of support in the arena."

This afternoon he will go for a nap prior to making the journey to the Arena for the fight which is provisionally scheduled to begin at 10.15pm.

"I don't find the last 24 hours before a fight difficult. It's just a matter of getting in and there and fighting. All the hard work is done at this stage.

"I have spent too long waiting for this fight. I'm just looking forward to doing what I have to do and beating him.

"I believe I can out-box him and hopefully knock him out but it's not just about the punch," said Lee in an obvious reference to his lethal right hook.

Essentially, it was this punch which initially saved his career when he deployed it to stop junior middleweight John Jackson in New York in June 2014 and then he used it in even more spectacular style in his sensational world title win over unbeaten Russian Matt Korobov in Las Vegas last December.

Tonight's fight should be a classical counter-punching affair between two southpaws.

Lee has argued that though his 34-2-1 record is slightly blemished with two losses and a draw overall, he has beaten better quality opponents than Saunders who was won 12 of 22 contests via knockout.

Lee is three inches taller than his opponent and is obviously more experienced. Saunders is regarded as a more scientific fighter than the Castleconnell native.

It will also be of concern to the Lee camp that were it not for his devastating right hook he would almost certainly have lost the fights against Jackson and Korobov as they were ahead on the judges' cards when the contests were stopped.

But, of course, it's that punch that makes Lee such a dangerous opponent and one which he will be aiming to unleash tonight. Both fighters may be ring rusty in the early stages as Lee hasn't fought since drawing with Peter Quillan in April while Saunders' last fight was in July.

Before the clock chimes 12 o'clock tonight, Lee will have either ended Saunders' unbeaten record and be looking forward to a lucrative reunification world middleweight bout against either Daniel Jacobs or Gennady Golovkin in the US in the spring or be facing the prospect of retirement.

December has always been a kind month for the Irishman and this visit to the well ought to produce a positive result for Lee.

Andy Lee v Billy Joe Saunders,

Live, Box Nation, 10.15pm

Irish Independent

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