Boxing: Mike Lee
June, 8, 2012
By Michael Woods | ESPN.com
Cameron Dunkin is a prized persona in the fight game, from a writer's perspective, because he will often traffic in the truth. Sure, he has his moments when he plays his cards with a politician's instincts, but by and large, he will speak his mind honestly when asked.
The manager admitted that the mental/physical/spiritual/emotional/technical reclamation project that is Kelly Pavlik looked like "doo-doo" in his first fight at 168 pounds, against Alfonso Lopez on last May's Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley undercard. Yes, the former middleweight champion scored a win, but one judge had it even, and many wondered whether too much outside-the-ring drama had cut short Pavlik's efficacy. Hell, Dunkin wondered as much. But new trainer Robert Garcia, when he and Pavlik hooked up in January, talked him off the ledge.
"Give me to September," Garcia told Dunkin. "By that third fight, Kelly will be ready to do something -- he can tangle with anybody at the top level."
Pavlik (38-2, 30 KOs), 30, famously born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio, relocated earlier this year to California to work with Garcia and for a fresh start after battling a drinking problem. The early returns are promising. He looked loads better in taking out Aaron Jaco on March 31, scoring a second-round TKO victory and showing that his hand speed and crispness were back in form. Tonight, Pavlik will take a quarter-step up in competition when he headlines "Friday Night Fights" against Scott Sigmon at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas as he continues to work on acclimating to a new weight class (and lifestyle).
Sigmon (22-3, 12 KOs), the underdog, is a 25-year-old Virginia resident and winner of six fights in a row. A self-motivated type who promotes the heck out of himself, Sigmon makes a solid living selling tickets to his bouts and sponsorships, and he even trains himself. He knows that movement bothers Pavlik, but he's self-aware enough to know that this isn't his strength. He likes to exert pressure, and so does Pavlik, so this could be a good style matchup. Sigmon certainly seems to think so: "This will be an early candidate for fight of the year," he said.
Dunkin, again offering a surprising and refreshing degree of truth, acknowledges that Sigmon isn't close to the level of competition that Pavlik was beating a few years ago.
"I know Kelly is not in with the greatest opponent in the world, but if he looks anything like he looked [against Jaco], he'll be ready to fight some top guys by September, and after that, he'll be ready to fight for the title. I think he's got several more years left in him at the top level. I think he's going to be a big deal in boxing again."
Friday also marks the return of prospect Mike Lee (8-0, 5 KOs), of Chicago, who had a busy-as-hell 2011, during which he went 5-0. But Lee hurt his right hand against Allen Medina in New York on the Cotto-Margarito undercard in December and then had surgery to repair it in January. He told me he got down for a week or two, but like all successful types, he turned the negative into a positive.
"I thought, 'What am I gonna do? I can't punch.' Then I said, 'Let's make this a blessing.'"
So Lee went to the gym with trainer Robbie Shields and drilled on refining his jab and his defense.
"I'm so much more comfortable with the jab and head movement," Lee said. "In the last three months, people who see me sparring say it looks like a new kid."
Now he's looking to show off the new bells and whistles against Mexico's Eliseo Durazo (4-2, 1 KO) at the Hard Rock.
Lee is known in some circles as "the Subway boxer guy" because he snagged a national TV commercial for the sandwich chain in the fall of 2011, and has since been re-signed by the company. He totally appreciates the exposure, but admits that he is burning to be recognized much more for his ring prowess than for his acting chops.
"In the near future I want to be known not just as 'the Subway kid,' but as a world champion."