From the time Irish southpaw and 2004 Olympian Andy Lee turned pro in 2006 big things were expected from him. Surely, he would win a world title, especially under the guidance of his longtime trainer and mentor, the great Hall of Famer Emanuel Steward.
In June 2012, Lee finally got a shot at a world title against then-titlist Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Lee started off well, but could not hold up under Chavez’s pressure and was stopped in the seventh round in a very disappointing loss.
The fight would be the last time Lee worked with Steward, who sadly died four months later. Lee and Steward were very close. Lee even lived with Steward for several years in his Detroit home when he relocated from Ireland.
Lee eventually returned to Ireland and began training with Adam Booth, best known for his work for former heavyweight titlist David Haye.
Since the loss to Chavez, Lee has won five fights in a row, albeit not against elite opposition, including a stirring comeback victory in June. That is when Lee, fighting John Jackson (son of former world titleholder Julian Jackson) on the Miguel Cotto-Sergio Martinez undercard, got knocked down hard in the first round, was trailing on all three scorecards and in big trouble in the fifth when he rallied for a spectacular, one-punch knockout.
Coming off that eye-catching win, Lee has another chance to fulfill the promise Steward and so many others had for him when he meets Matt Korobov for a vacant world title on Saturday night (HBO, 10 ET/PT) in the middle bout of the tripleheader at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas that is headlined by welterweight Timothy Bradley Jr. (31-1, 12 KOs) against Argentina’s Diego Chaves (23-2, 19 KOs).
Lee (33-2, 23 KOs), 30, and Korobov (24-0, 14 KOs), 31, a 2008 Russian Olympian now living in Florida, will be vying for the 160-pound belt that Peter Quillin vacated rather than defend against Korobov, the mandatory challenger, for a career-high purse (about triple) of $1,428,630 under the terms of a purse bid won by Roc Nation Sports.
Lee, the next leading available contender, quickly accepted the fight and aims to win it in Steward’s memory.
"I will win and thank my greatest trainer, Emanuel Steward, who I dearly miss,” Lee said.
Lee believes that all those years with Steward, as well as what he learned in the loss to Chavez and from Booth since they’ve been together, put him in position to get the job done against Korobov.
“I relish this opportunity to fight for the WBO middleweight title. I have never been more ready to win the title,” Lee said. “I am totally focused on the fight and I’m ready to take care of business on Saturday night.
“I have learned a lot over the years. I’ve been in different fights and training camps and I’ve picked up a lot of experience along the way. I’ve fought a lot of different guys with different styles, been in different situations, faced adversity, and I fought my way through. This is my time and my date with destiny.”
Although Lee is the underdog, he believes he has two advantages against Korobov: pro experience and power.
"Korobov is a good boxer, technically sound, but the major difference is my experience in the ring,” Lee said. “For the first time in Korobov's career he is taking on a fighter he knows can beat him. Korobov is a fast starter and I plan to match him with that. My extra experience and punching power will be the difference. He's very much untested. I have faced far more adversity inside the ring.”
Said Booth, “I’m not really sure how Korobov will approach the fight and I don’t really care about him. I just care about Andy Lee. Hopefully, I’ve prepared him for every eventuality. Let’s just say that I don’t enter this fight hoping that Andy will cause an upset, I fully expect him to win.”
Korobov is also confident, believing his bigger amateur resume is the foundation for victory.
"I had over 300 amateur fights so I have more experience than Andy Lee has,” he said. “In camp we brought in an Irish left-hander and I had no problems with him. There's danger in every fight but I don't expect Andy to come out and rush towards me. He's smarter than that. This is my time. Andy knows it too.”