This weekend against the backdrop of Conor McGregor mania, another Irish fighter faces into a massive world title bout albeit following a much more muted build up than last week’s UFC main event in Las Vegas.
Andy Lee, unlike McGregor, is a boxer. Andy Lee, like McGregor, is a world champion.
That is about the only similarity between two of Ireland’s most prominent fighters.
While McGregor’s approach to big fights has been to try and gain a mental foothold over his opponent by engaging in ‘trash talk’, (his verbal assaults include calling Denis Siver “a nazi”, Jose Aldo a “Brazilian bitch” and telling Chad Mendes that he would rest his testicles upon his head) Lee operates on the completely opposite end of the spectrum, choosing to pay genuine respect towards his counterparts and has remarked that he feels trash talk has no place in boxing.
Regardless of whether you think trash talking is an essential element of mixed martial arts or boxing, there is no disputing that it sells.
This is emphasised by the fact that the Irish national broadcaster RTE produced a six part documentary on McGregor before he was even a title contender, while Lee was confined to a fifteen minute segment on Nationwide (an evening bulletin that mainly appeals to pensioners) the week before his first world title defence.
Tomorrow night Lee has a chance to take centre stage in his maiden WBO middleweight world title defence against unbeaten challenger Billy Joe Saunders in Manchester.
In a country that has now become gripped by mixed martial arts on the back of McGregor’s success, it’s seems to have become all too easy for the Irish sporting public to forget about it’s former Olympian Lee as he prepares for the biggest fight of his career. To say the Limerick man’s ascent to the top of his craft has been a bumpy ride would be an understatement.
Having caught the eye of legendary trainer Emanuel Steward, Lee began his professional career in the fabled Kronk boxing gym in Detroit, a nursery which has seen world renowned pugilists such as Tommy Hearns, Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko all walk through the doors. Having impressed as an amateur and now being in the able hands of one the most decorated trainers in the history of the sport it appeared that Lee would become a world champion in the infancy of his career.
What transpired was to be quite different as Lee suffered a shock loss to Brian Vera, which he later avenged, before losing his first world title tilt to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
Following on from this disappointment in 2012 Lee was to lose something far greater than any boxing belt as his trainer and friend Steward passed away. The Limerick man was a truly at a cross roads in his career, and given the circumstances could have been forgiven for throwing in the towel and calling time on his boxing career.
But those who have followed Lee know that he is a poster boy for perseverance, and having teamed up with English trainer Adam Booth and recording a string of sensational knock out victories. he finds himself as WBO middleweight champion of the world, nine years after making his pro debut under the guidance of the iconic Steward.
He fulfilled his former master’s prophecy and now aims to cement his place as a great middleweight champion.
His first defence is historic given the fact that when he and Saunders step into the ring tomorrow night in Manchester, it will be the first time that two members of the travelling community have fought for a world title. A victory will put the Irish man in the frame for a unification bout with middleweight kingpin Gennady Golovkin – potentially a hugely lucrative fight.
And while Ireland continues to be swept up in the hysteria that is Conor McGregor and the UFC, it is worth noting that we have another world champion, and he is doing this country proud in his own humble, understated way.