The Limerick middleweight was in the mix for a shot at the WBC world champion after recording a stunning fifth-round knockout win over American John Jackson on the undercard of Cotto’s title win over Sergio Martinez last June.
Cotto is expected to defend his belt in December at New York’s Madison Square Garden, but while it is believed that co-promoters Top Rank and US TV network HBO had both approved 30-year-old Lee as a potential opponent, the Castleconnell native believes the future hall-of-fame fighter’s backroom team shot down the idea.
“The decision was made last week that he’s not going to fight me,” explained Lee. “Apparently, and I asked could I use this quote, Freddie Roach said, ‘I’m too big and hit too hard’ to get the fight so I’m going to take it as a compliment! I knew it was an outside chance anyway, but HBO had approved me and I was in the frame but, I don’t know, it didn’t [happen].”
Having already seen a scheduled bout against WBA world champion Gennady Golovkin cancelled earlier this year, Lee is taking solace from the fact that he is close to once again challenging for world honours after losing out to then-WBC champ Julio Cesar Chavez Jr in their 2012 bout.
“I’m in the mix, one or two fights away from fighting for a world title. I’ll box again in November, I think,” said Lee, who admitted Cotto would be his ideal opponent, despite speculation that he may finally take on Matthew Macklin in an all-Ireland middleweight showdown.
“Cotto, he’s the [lineal] middleweight champion of the world and, for me, I think he’s one of the easier champions to fight style-wise,” he explained.
The former Olympian claimed he has a renewed hunger to win a world title after being present ringside to see his former Ireland amateur team-mate Carl Frampton claim the IBF super-bantamweight championship in Belfast last weekend.
“Watching these fellas who I’ve grown up with and been on teams with, shared gyms with, you’ve seen them doing it and obviously you want to do it yourself,” said Lee, who was extremely impressed with Frampton’s title win. “He was very good, he only made one or two mistakes and in a 12-round fight against the world champion that’s very hard to do so a top, top performance,” continued the ex-Irish amateur champion, pointing to the influence of former amateur coach Zaur Antia on Frampton’s development.
“He [Frampton] was a junior when I was there [on the Ireland team] but after I left he kind of flourished, especially with his time with Zaur. He improved all round and he’s just built on that now as a pro, his conditioning and everything he’s doing with Shane McGuigan seems to be working so he looks likes a complete fighter.”
Meanwhile, Frampton could be stripped of his IBF title if he doesn’t defend it against mandatory challenger Chris Avalos, according to British promoter Eddie Hearn.
After ex-Irish elite boxer Frampton beat Kiko Martinez for the IBF super-bantamweight belt last Saturday, speculation increased that Avalos would be paid “stand aside” money.
This would pave the way for a unification bout for Frampton against either England’s Scott Quigg or Mexico’s Leo Santa Cruz.
Cuba’s Guillermo Rigondeaux, who everyone appears eager to avoid, is another unification possibility. But Hearn, who has a stake in California-native Avalos, insists that the IBF won’t budge.
He said: “The IBF have made it clear that he [Frampton] must fight Chris Avalos and they won’t move on that. So, we’ll see how negotiations go and if we have to go to purse bids then we’ll bid strongly for the fight.”
Martinez was given an exemption to fight Frampton last Saturday on the understanding that the winner will face Avalos within 90 days.