Former WBO World middleweight champion Andy Lee is eyeing a return to world title action after a 10-month break from the sport.
The Limerick southpaw hasn't fought since dropping a majority decision to current champion Billy Joe Saunders in Manchester, but following Daniel Jacobs' Stateside TKO victory over 'Latin Snake' Sergio Mora on Saturday night, the 32-year-old Lee reckons a shot at the Brooklynite's WBA world strap is within his grasp.
The once-beaten Jacobs frequently works with Lee's promoter, Lou DiBella, and is on a 10-fight KO streak since a battle with cancer in 2011. As such, Lee views Jacobs as the easiest fight to make as he seeks to reinvigorate his career following some much-needed time off:
There's only a handful of fighters I'm interested in - the champions: Daniel Jacobs, Gennady Golovkin and Billy Joe Saunders. But the only realistic fight is Jacobs because he's New York-based, and I have a good fanbase in New York. He works with my promoter a lot - he's not signed with my promoter but works with him for PBC fights. So, to me, that's the natural fight to make. And it's a fight in which I'd fancy my chances, and it almost gets me back to where I was before my last loss.
Jacobs knocked the durable Mora down seven times in Pennsylvania in the wee hours of Saturday, and just one fight previously annihilated former Lee foe Peter Quillin inside a round. But Lee, despite his obvious admiration for 'Miracle Man', believes his style could prove Jacobs' downfall similar to how Russian Dmitry Pirog dealt with the 29-year-old in 2010:
After the first round he knew he could fight like that against Sergio Mora because there was no threat coming forward. Mora didn't have much ammunition or firepower, so to speak, so there was no threat coming forward. I think if he was fighting me he'd be a lot more tentative. He'd take his time and you'd see a proper boxing match, but when we do exchange with shots they'd be heavy ones.
He's a nice guy with an incredible story. To come back from cancer and become a world champion is just an incredible story.
Lee's own boxing journey has been rollercoaster-like in its progression, with a spectacular world title stoppage win over Matt Korobov in Las Vegas two Decembers ago finally silencing suggestions from some corners that he'd remain Irish boxing's perennial bridesmaid.
The amicable Munsterman maintains that despite having already achieved a dream he shared with his late, great trainer Emanuel Steward, there hankers a hunger for second helpings at the world title table:
I have nothing to prove, really, in boxing. Like, I achieved my goal and became a world champion. But there are a couple of reasons why I want to do this. I don't want my career to end on the note of that last fight - I felt I underperformed against [Billy Joe] Saunders. I didn't box anywhere near my potential and I lost a fight which I shouldn't have lost. I just don't want to end my career on that note - not giving it 100%.
And also, to become champion, defend it and then lose...to come back from all that and to become a champion again - that's the motivating factor. I don't want to be just a flash in the pan. I want to be a great champion. So I want to fight Jacobs and hopefully that'll lead to a Golovkin fight, when or if I win.
Lee's 10 months out of the ring has been the longest period of respite he has ever enjoyed. Following defeat to Saunders that fateful night last Christmas, he cut a forlorn figure at the post-fight press conference, stopping only briefly to congratulate the new champion. Despite his own statement to the contrary, many suggested he'd ride off into the sunset.
The break, says Lee, was much needed after a tumultuous six months of rigorous promotion on both sides of the Irish Sea, with obligations in England in particular taking their toll on the former champion:
I needed the time out. I've been a pro for over 10 years, and never really took time off. And especially the last three years have been incredibly intense. I needed a break after Saunders. The whole protracted build up, the two cancellations and the rescheduling... I was sick of it. I was sick of boxing, I was sick of looking at Billy Joe Saunders, sick of the lot of it.
It's different in England as well - I could almost see it in Golovkin at the weekend. People were saying he was sick, he looked rough. When you're over there you have to do so much - I don't want to swear, but - shit media, you know? In England, they've got so many people who are unqualified. Of course you'd accept that there'll be a press conference and some one-on-one media stuff, but every day for that Saunders fight, the week of the fight, we had to do something. We did BBC Radio, BBC tv - every day there was something you had to do. It just takes a lot of energy.
I could never get motivated to fight in England. I lost motivation for that Saunders fight after it got cancelled in Limerick. I was training hard - I probably trained too hard. Too long and too hard, because obviously I wanted to win the fight, but I just didn't perform well and I think it came down to the build up and the whole thing.
The aforementioned Golovkin's perceived struggles with Kell Brook in London may ultimately propel him to stardom should the likes of Saunders finally opt to trade leather with the formidable Kazakh.
Triple G has held at least one version of the world middleweight championship since 2010. He was won 18 consecutive world title fights, all of them finishing inside the distance. Since he first picked up a world belt, 18 other men have also won a version of the world title. Just two of these men have dared pit their wits against the world's finest (though, to Lee's credit, a fight between the pair was signed but later cancelled in 2014 due to the death of Golovkin's father).
Ireland's leading middleweight wasn't shy about his intention to fight the Eastern Beast two years ago, and he's still more than willing to throw down with the lineal champion. And while scoffing at the misconception that GGG is now eminently beatable having been caught on the wrong end of a few slick Kell Brook combinations, Lee explains how he would personally approach a clash between the pair:
You have to get his respect. You have to make him fear walking in. Even though Brook caught him with a few shots, it was a middleweight versus a welterweight in there - it was like a man boxing a kid - so Golovkin's plan was always to just walk through him.
For me, you have to make him respect the distance. If he's going to walk in, he has to pay the price. When he throws, everybody covers up to weather the storm. But it's not good - he's too powerful. You have to punch with him; when he punches, you have to punch at the same time and make him think twice about his options. I don't even know if that's good enough to beat him - but you have to make him respect you. That's the start of it, anyway. Build from there.
I'm six-foot-two, I'm a southpaw and I punch hard. Those are three attributes that he hasn't faced yet.
While admitting he'd love a shot at the middleweight kingpin, Lee knows the most likely route is through Jacobs, who himself is a formidable opponent who he's obviously not overlooking. But 'Irish' Andy did reveal that he came very close to pitting his wits against Golovkin this very month:
I don't think they'd be able to sell a fight between us right now because of my last fight. But I signed to fight him before, and they actually gave me a call again during the summer when the Chris Eubank thing was up in the air. They called me and said, 'Would you be available to fight Golovkin?' And I agreed to it again, but then they went with the Kell Brook fight.
But listen, I have no fear of anybody. I'll be willing to fight him if the time comes.
First up, Lee will attempt to secure a fight with a man to whom he was introduced at Madison Square Garden in 2006, when Danny Jacobs was still an amateur. The pair have remained on a tentative collision course for the bones of a decade, but with Lee once again eyeing the world stage, another New York showdown might well be in the works.