On June 7th, Ireland’s Andy Lee got hammered in the first round of a fight against John Jackson, got back up and fought for four more, losing each one, and then, with his back to the ropes as he protected himself from a fifth round barrage, caught Jackson with an invisible right that immediately knocked him out. I was there at Madison Square Garden and jumped out of my seat, so unexpected was the result. Jackson, once the aggressor, had his consciousness removed with one finely placed blow. This is what punching power does.
Tonight, Lee (33-2) returns to the ring in Las Vegas on the Timothy Bradley-Diego Chaves undercard. He will fight Matt Korobov (24-0) for the vacant WBO middleweight title. Korobov was a successful Russian amateur who entered the pros amid much hype. Despite his undefeated record, the high appraisals of Korobov have muted, mostly because he’s fought bad opposition and isn’t as far along as he should be at 31 years old. But there’s a reason he was considered such a strong prospect. Korobov is a talented, technically sound fighter with decent power.
Andy Lee, who like Tyson Fury and Billy Joe Saunders is an Irish traveler, came to the United States as a 21 year old where he trained with the late Emmanuel Steward and even lived in Steward’s home. The Kronk trainer passed on his decades-worth of knowledge to Lee, but Steward’s charge twice came up short in career-altering fights. In 2008 he was stopped by Bryan Vera in the seventh round and in 2012 he was beaten up and again stopped in the seventh by Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. In both cases neither Vera nor Chavez succumbed to Lee’s power, but instead ended the Irishman’s night early.
Lee is an able boxer and must mix his power with skill to beat Korobov. He’s confident in advance of tonight’s fight and plans to take the Russian into the late rounds where he’ll land punishing blows once Korobov has tired. This is a sound plan, but to employ it successfully Lee will have to box more effectively in the first half of the fight than he did against Jackson in June. This means better head and foot movement. If he doesn’t show either, the sharp Korobov will land easily.
Steward said that he was as close to Lee as any fighter he ever trained. Appropriately, in advance of this bout Lee said he’s fighting in the Kronk patriarch’s memory. Beyond their personal connection, Steward’s initial willingness to train Lee doubtlessly stemmed from the fighter’s power and toughness. Yes, he has been knocked out twice, but he showed his strength and mettle in full against Jackson at Madison Square Garden. He was getting thoroughly beaten up but maintained his composure, waited for his opportunity, and took advantage by eliminating Jackson with a punch he never saw. Punching power, as we’ve written so many times, is a tantalizing skill. It can turn a one-sided fight on a single, brutal blow.
Lee, a boxer-puncher, faces a proficient fighter in Korobov. If he can box early and pound away late, Lee may get the positive result he and trainer Adam Boothe are convinced he will. The betting establishment thinks otherwise, though, and sees Korobov as a heavy favourite. For no insignificant reason is Koborov paying less: the Russian has the finely tuned abilities of an amateur standout and Lee cannot simply rely on landing a concussive shot, as he did against Jackson, to win.
This week, Lee’s friend Billy Joe Saunders narrowly agreed with Korobov’s status as a favourite, but highlighted the threat his fellow traveler poses. He told Britain’s Daily Mail “with Andy you have to bring your A-game or you’ll be in trouble. He will be dangerous in the first few rounds.” Lee’s plan is to take Korobov into deeper waters, though, not to overwhelm Korobov with aggression early on. Saunders added that he believes Korobov is suited to his own style. He said “the way to beat [Korobov] is to keep him busy, keep the pressure on, wear him down – and that’s what he will get from me if we meet.” Here Saunders and Lee are in alignment.
Saunders’ opinion is of some importance because he will face the winner of tonight’s fight. A bout with Lee will garner serious interest in Britain, while a fight with Korobov would arouse little excitement on either side of the Atlantic. If Korobov boxes over twelve rounds and lands the occasional power punch, Andy Lee will be in trouble. If the Irishman hangs around and finds openings in the later going, we might see another big domestic bout in the United Kingdom or Ireland next year. That favourable scenario is possible for Andy Lee, but he must first bypass a puzzling Russian.
— Eliott McCormick