IT seems like a long time ago that Emanuel Steward came calling. Andy Lee returned from the 2004 Olympics in Greece with no medal but thousands of miles away in Detroit his performances caught the studious eye of the storied trainer.
Despite his obvious talent, Lee’s relocation from Limerick sounded improbable but for more than a while he followed where great fighters led, down the steps into the brick-like furnace of the Kronk, moving between the famed gym and Steward’s home.
There the lessons of the day found easy review at the dinner table. Those early years were littered with victories, bold predictions from heavyweights in the sport and talk of world titles...and then things got harder.
IT’s Monday morning in London and Andy Lee is relaxing before an afternoon session with his trainer Adam Booth. Now campaigning at Junior Middleweight, the Limerick native will step into the ring against John Jackson in Madison Square Garden on Saturday night for a world title eliminator he describes as the “make or break moment of his career.”
Life’s professional journey has brought him along this windy road that started as an open highway.
Lee is 29 now. His career rise slowed after a world title shot against Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr that ended in defeat in 2012, relocation to London and a reinvention of sorts after the passing of Steward.
Originally born in Bow in the east of the city, Lee is pushing for two years in the capital but he still misses life in America. “It was an easier,” he says. “I know the cities are big there but it’s just easier. London is so busy. It’s hard to get about. If I had my choice I’d be in Dublin or Limerick.”
It’s not just the American lifestyle. Andy Lee is regularly reminded of his old trainer and friend, in gyms; in interviews!
“Manny was the only coach I knew,” he says. “I got a chance to say goodbye and before he died I got to spend some time with him in hospital.
“We were very close inside of boxing and outside of boxing – we lived together when I was boxing first. I think about him all the time and I’m reminded of him everywhere I go.”
Difficult as it was, Steward’s passing gave way to a new regime. Lee found a new mentor in Adam Booth and now he’s campaigning for a world title again but down a weight division.
“Manny was the only coach I knew,” he says. “Adam Booth changed my training. The style is so different, it was a different way of being trained than Manny. I had to adjust. I’m a tall southpaw so fighters would try and expose my weakness; try and back me onto the ropes and box me on the inside where I was weak. One of the first things I addressed when I came here was to be calmer on the inside, not looking to clinch but looking up and throwing shots back.”
Standing 6ft 2in concerns remain that he may lose power. Yet Lee says the extra dollop of abstinence - “denying myself the little treats here or there. The odd bit of chocolate, cut out dairy and cut out bread” - has strengthened his resolve.
“One of my friends said to me recently: ‘It’s time for you to get back to where you were and be the boxer you can be.’ I’m in a great position now,” he says.
“If I have any real intention of becoming World Champion, I have to win this fight.
“I’m training hard and performing better. I always want to have the best performance, show all the experience I have and the new things I’ve learned. I’m due a good performance.”
If there is resolve there is relish too, Lee excitedly making reference to the prospect of “dancing under the lights of Madison Square Garden” when the opening bell sounds.
The slowing of his career and the passing of his old mentor dimmed those lights for a time but when Andy Lee climbs through the ropes on Saturday night he says he’ll enjoy the moment.
“The experience of being in a world title fight before certainly helps,” he says. There is a feeling of unfinished business and now there’s a chance to correct it and do it right.”