Irish champ Andy Lee faces his toughest test yet in first title defence

SportBy Kevin Palmer
Andy Lee prepares for his first defence
Andy Lee prepares for his first defence

It may feel as if the boxing world is on hold as it counts down to Floyd Mayweather against Manny Pacquiao on May 2nd, but Ireland’s very own world champion is back in the ring this weekend as Andy Lee defends his WBO title in New York.

Lee has been flying the Irish flag in the Big Apple in the last few days as he prepares to defend his WBO middleweight title against Peter ‘Kid Chocolate’ Quillin and it seems the 30-year-old is in confident mood.

Just four months have passed since his stunning victory against Matt Korobov ensured Lee became the first Irishman to win a world title on American soil since 1934, but he is hoping that triumph was merely the start of his adventure as a world champion.

As Lee held court with reporters after a fine tuning session with trainer Adam Booth, he suggested the world will see a more complete boxer as he looks to confirm his worth in front of an American audience all over again.

“I'm very proud to be an Irishman from Limerick defending his world championship in New York, it doesn't get much better than that,” stated Lee.

“It feels like there was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders after winning the world title as that is what I always wanted. That monkey is off my back now and I just want to show people who I am.

“I have been working with Adam on physical and tactical improvements and hopefully we can show them in the ring when it matters.”

Lee has yet to attract the kind of media publicity in Ireland that has been associated with our champions such as Barry McGuigan or Steve Collins, but he is popular in America and his prime time appearances on network television confirm as much.

His stunning knock-out win against Korobov won his plenty of new fans and there appears to be genuine anticipation in the American media to see the Irish champion make his return to the ring.

“My last two fights were all or nothing fights,” said Lee, who lost to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr in a world title right back in 2012 before finally achieving his world title dream by beating Korobov.

“If I lost either of the last two, I was seriously considering retiring. If I’m not going to be world champion, I didn’t want to carry on. I knew that was going to be my last chance at becoming a world champion. It’s very rare that people get three chances at a world title.”

A successful defence of title this weekend could pave the way for a mega fight against Miguel Cotto, the Middleweight viewed by many as the best in the division, but Lee is determined to put talk of the future to one side as he focuses on defeating Quillin.

He is wise to do so as this first defence comes against a dangerous and hungry opponent. The fighter who goes by the name of ‘Kid Chocolate’ vacated the WBO Middleweight belt Lee now holds for personal reasons last year and he is back to claim what he believes to be his as he enters the ring with an unblemished 31-win record.

Quillin was rocked by the death of his beloved uncle Eric last year and his drive to be crowned world champion for a second time is fuelled by the memory of his lost relative, as he told New York Daily News.

“I cried like a baby when he died, but his words gave me some peace and closure,” he says. “Then seven months ago my son, Joaquin, was born, and my whole life changed forever. It was like a spiritual transformation.

“My wife and I moved to Brooklyn, where I had lived on and off for eight years. Now I had a reason to get back to work. I have never been more inspired in my life. Now I have a reason to fight because I am fighting for my son’s future.”

Cuban-born Quilllin has spent most of his life living in America, with a troubled upbringing that he is determined to learn from as he raises his own family now.

“My father wound up going to prison,” he adds. “My mother raised four kids alone.

"I grew up without her ever hugging me or saying she loved me. Her life was just a daily struggle to put food on the table.

“Then one Thanksgiving she had no food to feed us. No food at all, but that was my best Thanksgiving ever, because on that day she hugged me for the first time ever and told me she loved me. It was better than any turkey dinner.

“I want to learn from my experiences an and I’m training harder than ever. On April 11, I will kiss my family and win back my title.”

Lee has not signed up to an easy fight as he starts life as a world champion and holding on to the belt he worked so hard to win will be no easy task.