Monday 19 March 2018

Andy Lee traces transformation to Booth home truths

Boxer Andy Lee defends his World Middleweight title against Billy Joe Saunders this Saturday in Manchester. Picture: Dave Thompson/Getty Images
Boxer Andy Lee defends his World Middleweight title against Billy Joe Saunders this Saturday in Manchester. Picture: Dave Thompson/Getty Images

Sean McGoldrick

On a bleak January afternoon in 2014, Andy Lee and his new trainer Adam Booth sat down over a cup of tea to decide where their professional relationship inside and outside the ring was heading.

At the time, Lee's career had effectively stalled. Eighteen months had passed since his ill-fated shot at a World middleweight title ended with a seventh-round stoppage against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

The legendary American trainer Emanuel Steward - who had enticed the Castleconnell native to leave the IABA's then fledging High Performance Programme and join him in Detroit after the 2004 Athens Olympics - died after a short illness in October 2012.

Lee's career appeared to be drifting towards a sad finale.

Ultimately it was Booth, who had made his name with David Haye, who was the inspiration behind Lee's second coming. It wasn't a case of love at first sight.

"I was asked by a friend to work with Andy. I was curious," recalls Booth. "Watching him in the first few days in the gym I was thinking 'I genuinely don't know how to work with somebody like this'.

"The way he fought didn't naturally match the way I trained fighters. But he put his faith in me."

In May 2013 Lee won his second comeback fight but the relationship with Booth didn't flourish until after their heart to heart session.

"I said this doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Let's either do this as much as we can or we both go back and enjoy our family life. So Andy moved into my house to live with my family. I knew he was eating the right foods 100pc of the time.

"Since that conversation he has beaten John Jackson and Matt Korobov and drew with Peter Quillin. It has been an incredible journey."

It wasn't all plain sailing, but in June 2014 Lee (below) got an unexpected break - a fight in New York against light-middleweight Jackson.

"If you want to reach the top in this sport you have to take risks," argues Booth. "Andy had reached the stage of his career when it was either win or bust. He took the fight against Jackson because it was at light-middleweight - there was absolutely nothing being presented to him at middleweight.

"Even after the Jackson fight there was nothing because Andy was then considered too dangerous. Nobody was willing to risk taking him on; he was cursed."

Everything changed, of course, last December when Quillin's decision to relinquish his WBO belt rather than fight Korobov gave Lee his second chance at world glory, and he sensationally knocked out the Russian.

On Saturday in the Manchester Arena he defends that crown against Billy Joe Saunders and according to Booth his mind-set is different now.

"He has now fulfilled his dream of becoming a world champion and the shoe is on the other foot now," he said. "I expect him to handle this fight with the poise and professionalism that has marked everything else in his career. He has got such a handle on himself."

Irish Independent

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