Andy Lee has insisted that his St Patrick’s weekend comeback bout at Madison Square Garden will be his “first step” towards another world-title shot.
The Limerick native is set to take on American KeAndrae Leatherwood over eight rounds in a middleweight support fight to the world-title clash between champion Gennady Golovkin and challenger Daniel Jacobs on Saturday night.
Lee was originally included on the bill as a back-up opponent for Golovkin should Jacobs pick up an injury, although the 32-year-old is fully focused on Alabama native Leatherwood, who carries a relatively healthy 19-3-1 record, in his first ring outing since a December 2015 defeat to England’s Billy Joe Saunders.
The Castleconnell man lost his WBO world crown in that Manchester loss and Lee is hoping to launch another tilt at the world’s most famous fight venue this weekend.
“To fight at Madison Square Garden on St Patrick’s Weekend, it’s an honour and a thrill… I’ve had some great results here,” said Lee, who praised stablemates Josh Kelly and Jez Smith for their sparring efforts during his pre-fight camp.
“I feel really sharp… I’ve been champion before and my goal is to regain my title, a good win on Saturday is the first step in doing that.
“It’s important that I look good and hopefully I get a knockout, which I’ve nearly always managed to do at Madison Square Garden,” added Lee ahead of his fourth bout at MSG.
The Limerick man is 3-0 at the Garden, having recorded two impressive knockouts over Carl Daniels and John Jackson, and he believes that experience will stand to him in contrast to Leatherwood’s lack of big fight-night experience.
“I mean it’ll be his first time fighting in a big arena,” said Lee.
“I’ve seen some of his fights on YouTube and they look like they’re in high school halls or basketball halls on small shows. Maybe that’ll be a disadvantage to him, but I’m well used to it,” added the 32-year-old, who has been training at Mendez’s Gym near the site of the original Madison Square Garden on East 26th Street and Madison Avenue.
Heavy snow may have upset New York’s infrastructure and transport, but Lee has welcomed a respite from the temptations of the Big Apple.
“I mean it’ll be his first time fighting in a big arena"
“It’s been handy actually because it forces you to rest,” he explained.
“Usually when you’re in New York, you kind of feel obligated to get up and go out, not sightseeing, but have a look around, whereas now I’m just staying in the room and resting.”
However, Lee has maintained his training, working out with his old Kronk Gym colleague Sugar Hill at Mendez’s yesterday and this afternoon ahead of the arrival of trainer Adam Booth.
“I like these few days, it kind of sharpens the mind,” said Lee. “Up to this point you know the fight is happening, but these few days kind of help me put together a more definite gameplan.
“The last couple of days I’ve spent a bit more time watching videos [of Leatherwood’s fights] and just rehearsing it mentally to see what I can do to him to win the fight,” added the former champion (34-3-1) ahead of his 39th pro bout.
Lee was also praised by Golovkin’s promoter, Tom Loeffler, during today’s pre-fight press conference.
The K2 promoter commended the Limerick man’s eagerness to fight Golovkin as the pair were due to meet in 2014 before Kazakh world champion’s father passed away, which resulted in the bout being cancelled.
“He’s one of the few middleweights who agreed to fight against Gennady and the fight unfortunately didn’t happen because Gennady’s father passed away, but we give Andy a tremendous amount of respect for that,” said Loeffler, which will boost Lee’s hopes of a showdown with the champion should both men win this weekend.