JOHN RIORDAN: Lee’s moment of destiny arrives in El Paso showdown

The Mexican drug cartels operating with alarming bloodlust around the hinterlands of El Paso, Texas have promised there’ll be a one-day truce on Saturday, June 16.

It took a Limerick man to bring a bit of order.

A couple of weeks ago, Andy Lee travelled all the way down to the Mexican border from his training base in Detroit to take part in a press conference with undefeated Mexican WBC Middleweight champion Julio César Chávez, Jr. But there was a tense backdrop.

“These guys had their heads cut off and stuck on a bridge at the local highway. It’s pretty rough down there,” Lee said with admirable understatement as he continued his training preparations this week.

According to local media, officials at the University of Texas, acting upon warnings from local law enforcement, decided that Chávez Jr’s relationship with the widow of drug cartel boss Joaquin ‘Chapo’ Guzman’s son was reason enough to tell promoter Bob Arum that he needed to look elsewhere for a venue.

After some behind-the-scenes negotiations, which I can only hope were tense, seedy and dimly lit, the fight was back on at the Sun Bowl stadium.

With all that uncertainty out of the way, Lee is back to focusing on the fight itself, his chance at the big time after overcoming a couple of setbacks along the way, not least his one and only defeat — Brian Vera just over four years ago — along with the cancellation of a couple of planned bouts this year, including a potential challenge to WBA champ Felix Sturm.

“I thought this fight would happen, as long as I kept winning. It had to, you know. I had got myself into position and there are only so many top middleweights available to fight. I knew it was going to be this year but I’m still happy it’s coming to pass.

“I’m in good shape, maybe the best of my life. I’m probably ahead of schedule. I’m putting everything into it, as you’d imagine. It’s the biggest fight of my life. There are still three weeks to go so I have to be careful I don’t do too much.”

Not only has he tied down his career-defining title shot on the week of his 28th birthday, he’ll be doing it at an opportune time, when Ireland will be consumed by Euro 2012, and the rising tide of football should keep those inflatable shamrocks raised for one of our greatest boxers.

I don’t know about you but that maddening lull between rounds at the European Championships and the World Cup, those dead days when the overdose of constant action is replaced by the cold turkey of off-days, I’ll never get used to it.

Thanks be to Sugar Ray Robinson, we have Andy Lee to keep the patriotic fervour ticking along nicely.

Appropriately enough, his fight with the Mexican will land slap bang in the middle of Ireland’s two Latin battles in Gdansk and Poznan, two days after Spain and two more before the last group game against Italy.

Although he admits that outside of the boxing fraternity, he’s not sure how this huge fight is being received at home, he has no choice but to be focused on his own job.

“It’s not that I don’t care what sort of attention it’s getting at home but I have to focus and concentrate on the fight. I just want to get into the ring and win it.”

Lee has been based in Detroit full-time since 2006, a city which has famously bitten the dust in the last decade and one which is now slowly getting back on its feet.

“There are a lot of artists moving into studios downtown, a lot of shows, but in terms of infrastructure, the kind of thing that’s really valuable to a city, there’s not much going on.

“It’s a pretty tough city, a lot of crime and unemployment but I don’t see a lot of it. My life consists of going to the gym and then going home.”

He lives in Rosedale Park, a historic area built especially for the upper echelons of the civil service who were traditionally expected to live within the city boundaries. “I have a very good life here. You know where to go and not to go. All that trouble, it’s local stuff between gangs, like in Limerick. They keep it among themselves, you don’t see it on a day-to-day basis. I’ve never had any trouble in Detroit or Limerick.”

Nor does he expect to have any trouble in El Paso.

He has waited long enough.

* john.w.riordan@gmail.com Twitter: JohnWRiordan


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