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Sunday, March 13, 2011

"Fighting Irish" Mike Lee

With a resume that includes Notre Dame's golden dome in the core of his education and his buddy former ND wide receiver Golden Tate in a ringside seat, boxer Mike Lee is fast establishing himself in the competitive world of professional boxing.  Lee's background is very different than that of all of his opponents and his future goals are as big as his heart and desire in the ring.

Lee improved his record to 4-0 in a February 25th fight at Las Vegas' Palms Hotel & Casino and he has plans to fight three more times in 2011, as Top Rank helps plot his career in its early stages of four-round bouts.  

Lee hails from Chicago, trains mostly in Houston when he is not changing his training scenery in the likes of Dublin, Ireland, and he is building a following that includes Notre Dame alum, businessmen, Vegas celebs and subway alum from a growing legion of followers and believers in the fighter.  

The future remains very bright.

Two-page photo in current ESPN the Magazine (Lee on right)
Here is his story:

Notre Dame graduate Mike Lee moved to 4-0 in his promising young boxing career Saturday night with another first round TKO against Pablo Gomez in Las Vegas.

Lee, who was a three-time Bengal Bout champ and won the Chicago Golden Gloves tournament before turning pro, is being groomed to be a title contender in the light heavyweight division. As a member of Top Rank Boxing, he trains with Ronnie Shields who has previously molded former champs like Kermit Cintorn, Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson.

Saturday night, Lee and Gomez were the top undercard fight on a title bout between Brandon Rios and Miguel Acosta. After being stunned by a strong right from Gomez in the opening seconds of the fight, Lee regained his composure and twice sent the stepping stone Gomez (1-3-1) to the canvas with rights of his own. The first sent Gomez’s mouth guard soaring through the air and the second sent Lee to the winner’s circle.

It was the second time in as many fights that Lee needed less than a round to get a victory. He knocked out Keith Debow in front of 10,000 fans at Cowboys Stadium in November when he was an undercard for the Manny Pacquiao vs. Antonio Margarito fight. Shortly after the fight, I talked to Mike and wrote an article about his budding career and his strange place in the boxing world (not many pro fighters have Notre Dame finance degrees). 

Highly-touted boxing historian Bert Sugar once famously described his sport as a “social staircase” — a chance for young men to quite literally fight their way out of a cycle of poverty and oppression. For over a century, one has needed to look no further than the inside of a boxing ring to determine what ethnicity sits on the bottom step of that staircase. Why else would you sign up to be bludgeoned for a living?
Mike Lee has his reasons.

The 23-year-old fledgling fighter was born and raised in Chicago’s comfortable west suburbs. He attended the well-respected Benet Academy, a private Catholic school in Lisle, Ill., before earning a finance degree from the University of Notre Dame with a 3.8 grade point average. Then he decided to try his hand at professional boxing.

Lee made his decision with the support of his family and few others. Many wondered if he was committed enough to take his career in the ring seriously. Success in boxing is paid for with gallons of blood and sweat, grueling workouts and training regimens that are often only completed because the fighter has no other options. Lee has options. He answered endless questions about why he would pass up job offers from some of the finest institutions on Wall Street to duke it out with the boys of Bert Sugar’s “mean streets.”

“In the beginning everyone was asking me, ‘Why are you doing this?’” Lee said. “It’s kind of nice now that those questions have sort of gone away. People are starting to figure out this is for real, it isn’t a joke.”

The six-foot, 175-pound middle heavyweight signed with promoting legend Bob Arum and Top Rank Boxing in January and has since silenced many of his doubters by winning his first three fights in convincing fashion. Lee made his debut in front of a packed house at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago on Memorial Day weekend, winning a unanimous decision in a four-round fight against Emmit Woods.
The performance impressed the more than 2,000 fans that showed up specifically to see him fight as well as ESPN’s Dan Rafael.

“He kept his hands nice and high and threw a lot of combinations,” Rafael wrote following the fight. “For a pro debut, it was a fine performance. With his popularity, all-American back story and potential, he’s a guy to keep an eye on.”

Since then, Lee’s heavy hands haven’t allowed an opponent out of the second round. A strong left hook to the ribs caused the referee to stop Lee’s Sept. 11 contest with Alex Rivera in Las Vegas and Keith Debow decided not to stand up after running into an overhand right from Lee in the first round last weekend in the new Cowboys Stadium.

The Dallas fight, which pushed Lee’s professional record to 3-0, showed that the folks at Top Rank are grooming him to be a legitimate contender in the future. It also gave the young boxer a taste of the big stage. The match-up was on the undercard for the biggest pay-per-view fight of the year, Manny Pacquiao vs. Antonio Margarito. Lee, who was a linebacker for his high school football team, said walking out of an NFL locker room in front of a crowd of 15-20,000 fans was a surreal moment.

(Story courtesy of the Lepreachan Legion)

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