Andy Lee: ‘I’d love to finish as a champion, and end career on my terms’

Lost somewhere amidst the furore surrounding Michael Conlan’s professional bows at Madison Square Garden on St Patrick’s Day, Limerick’s former WBO world middleweight champion Andy Lee returns to the ring after a 16-month absence.

Andy Lee: ‘I’d love to finish as a champion, and end career on my terms’

The 32-year-old former Olympian lost his strap to Billie Joe Saunders in December 2015, but is hopeful that an indian summer will beckon when he trades leather with American KeAndrae Leatherwood at MSG’s larger ‘Garden’ arena, on the undercard of the all-conquering Gennady Golovkin’s world middleweight title scrap with hometown fighter Danny Jacobs.

“It’s not so much about reliving the dream,” explains Lee. “That would be hard to recreate emotionally, the way I felt when I won the title. But my last fight, I just felt I didn’t do myself justice. I just don’t want to end my career on that note. I’d love to finish as a champion, and end it on my terms,” he says.

“I have achieved what I wanted, and I’m doing it now just for the love of the sport. I don’t have to fight to keep myself financially secure. I know now that I’m at the tail end of my career. I knew, during training camp, that this was going to be one of the last times I’ll ever do these things; hill sprints, track sessions — I enjoyed the freedom of not having to worry about external pressures. I enjoyed doing them.”

Should he impress, Lee’s bout with Leatherwood could conceivably propel him back into the world title conversation.

It’s a tailormade comeback, and even bearing in mind his lengthy ring absence, a reinvigorated Lee still fancies a crack at the world’s most feared fighter.

“Part of the agreement of me fighting on the undercard was that, if Danny Jacobs was to get injured, I would step in to fight [Gennady] Golovkin,” says Lee. “But it was also with a view to fighting one of those guys in future, whoever the winner should be.”

To put boxing’s current plight into perspective, Golovkin has held at least one version of the world middleweight title since 2010, winning 18 consecutive world title fights by stoppage. Since he first picked up a world belt, 18 other men have also won versions of the world middleweight title, but only two of these men have fought Golovkin.

Lee, to his credit, has agreed to fight the Beast from the East twice, with the untimely death of Golovkin’s father amongst the reasons it never came to fruition. The financial clout of the Sky Sports-backed Kell Brook, too, put paid to a potential Golovkin-Lee showdown last year.

But the man known Stateside as ‘Irish Andy’ has never been one to make much noise — to a fault, perhaps, considering the current boxing climate which saw David Haye v Tony Bellew generate £13 million earlier this month.

It’s somewhat fitting, then, that this weekend in New York will see an intersection between the careers of Michael Conlan and Lee, whose approaches to self-promotion could scarcely be more different. Lee, however, sees sense in both Irish boxing icons’ respective methods, and while predicting major accolades for his younger counterpart, remains extremely satisfied to have done things his own way.

“Michael Conlan deserves what he’s getting,” he says. “I can see that this is the start of a massive career for him. He has the potential to be a crossover star, a household name, a star across the board. Headlining at The Garden on your pro debut is unheard of.

“I think it’s a good approach for Michael, talking a bit and what have you. He will back it up in the ring with his exciting style.

“But it’s a fine line, too. These things can become tacky. For me, it was never my personality. And whenever I do retire, I’ll be proud that I’ve always conducted myself in a gentlemanly manner. I’m as proud of that as anything else I’ve achieved in my career. To me, that means more — that I was myself all the time. And that’s just how it went.”

Of course, if Andy Lee’s in-ring approach has taught us anything over the years, it is that it’s never over until it’s over.

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up