ONE comes away from reading Andy Lee’s book “Fighter”, wondering how he would have lived out the rest of his life if he never had become a world champion. There doubtless would have been bitterness, regrets, and a hollow feeling of a career that was incomplete. For you see, Lee was destined to get to the top of the mountain, then destined not to before finally achieving the former in glorious fashion. Yet you get the feeling that his building blocks to the top still leave a small void that can never be filled.
For Lee it was sometimes less about fulfilling his own prophecy than it was of Emanuel Steward’s. Based on a victory over an amateur that Steward thought highly of, the Kronx guru without ever having seen Lee box moved him into his Detroit home and turned Andy pro, confident he would make the Irish lad a world champion. The men developed a bond that was as personal as it was professional. It was a bumpy ride to say the least, with the crowning moment coming after Steward had passed, but the legacy of their relationship endures in the book.
Outside of those in Lee’s inner circle, few read the book with the level of interest that this writer did. At most I am no more than a casual acquaintance of Lee’s, but had developed strong friendships with some of the key players in his career who had given me behind the scenes insights which the book reinforced.
There was his primary trainer and manager Steward, an utterly brilliant man and a good friend whom I spoke with regularly on the phone. Lee who had a room down the hall from Steward doubtless was privy to some of those conversations. Then there was his assistant trainer, former world champion Joey Gamache who I was close with and had steered toward Steward, who after first being reluctant took him on. There was Lee’s attorney Keith Sullivan, a buddy of mine who regularly picked my brain on boxing matters pertaining to Lee and what could best benefit him, while at the same time limiting the scope of our conversations so that it did not compromise their attorney – client privilege. And when Lee suffered that devastating first defeat to Brian Vera at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, in March 2008, I sat ringside having travelled to and from the fight with the referee Tony Chiarantano who lives in my neighborhood. It was a borderline stoppage which Lee laments about in the book, but later that night Chiarantano told me that Steward spoke to him in private and wholeheartedly agreed with the decision to terminate it.
Lee is critical of Steward at various junctures, but is sensitive not to seem disloyal. He voices frustration that as time evolved Steward was not giving him the same level of attention he had earlier in his career. Lee interprets it as a sign that Steward had lost faith in him. While that might have been the case to an extent, any neglect on Steward’s part was more a result of having spread himself thin, had too much going on with his other fighters such as Wladimir Klitschko, television duties with HBO, etc; to give Lee the undivided attention he craved. And if truth be told, Lee was not really performing on the high level that Steward had envisioned he would.
Gamache was frustrated as well, but it was not his style to speak out. As time progressed, Gamache who had initiated regular contact with yours truly, fell out of touch. The reason was left unsaid, but obvious to me. Gamache had reached the point of no return in his working relationship with Steward and felt uncomfortable expressing that to me because of my role in recommending him to Emanuel. I can only presume Gamache was concerned I would voice his displeasure to Steward.
Lee, from Ireland, speaks of the sacrifices made on his road to the top. He gives credit to his wife Maud who had to stay behind a good part of the time as he plied his trade in Detroit. And the evening that Lee essentially saved his career with a last round come from behind victory over Craig McEwan in March, 2011 in Foxwoods in Connecticut, I had been chatting with Sullivan backstage shortly after the match when Lee came over. Sullivan asked Lee would he be around later that evening to discuss something. Lee shrugged and said it would have to wait because he had been training the last couple of months and had not had the chance to be with his wife. No further explanation was necessary.
Despite the McEwan victory and the three that followed afterward which included a Vera rematch, Lee’s stock had fallen so dramatically that when he finally was given a shot at a world title 15 months later, he would have to go into the lions den and face Julio Cesar Chavez Jr in El Paso. Lee admits to basically giving up before the fight was stopped. Steward who had been training Klitschko in Europe for a match the following month, had flown in to work Lee’s corner. Lee had no idea how ill Steward was at the time. Steward would pass away a few months later and Lee would go on to be trained by Adam Booth in the UK.
Under Booth’s guidance, Lee an underdog, shocked Matt Korobov to win the vacant WBO middleweight title in 2014. Although all evidence points to Booth having been an asset to Lee’s career, the title winning performance was a result of Lee’s power bailing him out once again as it had in his previous fight against John Jackson when behind far behind on points he landed the big blows to make the scorecards irrelevant.
It is usually dreadfully boring to hear a victorious boxer being interviewed in the ring when they start thanking an inordinate amount of people instead of talking about the fight, but in Lee’s case it was welcome. It was closure for Lee who meticulously needed to thank everyone involved in his success from past to present.
Too bad Steward was not alive to see Lee’s crowning moment. He forecast that and more when they started on their journey together.
Lee travelled a far distance to spend time with Steward in his final days. The son that had moved out, now returned home for a final goodbye. Much as Mike Tyson previously did after his mentor Cus D’Amato passed on, Lee wishes he had become a world champion a little sooner so he and Emanuel could have celebrated it together. But for Lee it was more than that, it allowed him to let go of many of the negative feelings he harbored.
FIGHTER is compelling reading of one man’s quest for validation. It takes you behind the scenes of Lee’s bumpy ride to the top and makes you appreciate how difficult it is to get there. Once you start reading the book you won’t want to put it down.
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