Andy Lee says a return to boxing’s frontline was too hard to turn down because he believes new protege Paddy Donovan has all the ingredients to win a world title.
Former middleweight champion of the world Lee has been happily retired since February 2018 but has stayed in touch with the sport via occasional commentary and punditry roles.
However, he has decided to return to boxing in a full-time role as the trainer and manager of 20-year-old sensation Donovan, who has turned professional via a long-term deal with America’s promotional behemoth Top Rank.
Like Lee, the former amateur stand-out is a southpaw from Limerick and there were hopes that he may go on to represent Ireland at the Olympics in Tokyo next year.
But Donovan, who was beaten by Kieran Molloy in one of the most eagerly awaited national finals for years in February, has decided to turn over straight away and eschew the chance to win a medal in Japan.
And he will do so backed by all the fighting expertise of Lee, who has known about Donovan for nearly a decade.
“Paddy was the boxer I’ve watched since he was a kid,” Lee told the.
“My brother trained him when he was 11 years old and won his first Irish title.
“Then I saw him in the national championships and was blown away, I thought he was outstanding and saw so much potential. I met his dad there and he said there had been a lot of people getting in touch about him turning professional and he asked if I could give him some advice.
I said I’d do more than that and that I could put out a few feelers. As soon as I did, everyone was interested and I mean everyone.
“That was when I got drawn in.”
Having hung up his gloves in order to focus more of his time on his young family, Lee did not expect to be returning to the sport so quickly but saw this as an opportunity too good to miss.
“He’s just so exciting,” added Lee, who will split the bulk of his training with Donovan between Dublin and Limerick.
“In terms of what you’d want in a prospect he has all ingredients and after getting to know him, he has the right character and the right personality which will serve him well in the pro. He’s a bit flashy but I don’t mind that I like that. He can punch, he’s quick and tricky but he can punch. It’s exciting when you see that as a young kid.”
Donovan is expected to make his debut in either September or October and it is likely that the majority of his fights will take place on Top Rank shows in the US as his new backers believe he has the potential to become a genuine attraction across the pond.
Lee insists there is no need to rush the youngster, considered one of the most promising Irish amateurs for years, but that if all goes well he could be in contention for a world title by the time he’s 25.
“He will get the full education,” said Lee, who spent years training under Emanuel Steward in the fabled Kronk Gym in Detroit.
We will go around America and England for sparring. He will get his seasoning there, serve his time and we will make sure he will be ready when the time comes.
"I think we’re looking at around three and a half years before he’s a contender. In year four he will be 24 or 25 and that will be the right time, he will be coming into his peak as a welterweight. For me he has it all, he even has a great name and the blonde hair. He looks like a star in the making. I wasn’t looking for a route back into the sport as such, I have been doing some media which has kept me involved but it was just simply that the opportunity to work with Paddy was too good to turn down.
"I said this kid can go all the way so let’s do it. I’m not trying to live vicariously through him but I just think he can do unbelievable things in this game.”