Great to see boxer Mike Lee getting some serious national exposure with his fight last night on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" and this column in USA Today:
By Jon Saraceno, USA Today
LAS VEGAS - Six months ago, as Mike Lee lollygagged at his locker at Cowboys Stadium following a first-round knockout in his second pro fight, "two big guys in suits approached me and (one) said, 'Mr. Jones requests your presence upstairs,' " recalls the light heavyweight.
"I turned to them and said, 'Jerry Jones?' " Lee says.
"I remember him being very candid and saying, 'Finance degree? Notre Dame? What are you doing young man?' " Lee says with a laugh.
The mild-mannered and well-spoken 23-year-old from Chicago graduated from one of the nation's most prestigious business schools in 2009. Instead of pursuing a career at a Wall Street financial institution, Lee threw a haymaker at his future.
"I am addicted," he says, "to the adrenaline rush."
Managed by his father, John Lee, and aggressively promoted and marketed by Top Rank, the fighter makes his ESPN debut this week on ESPN2's Friday Night at the Fights. Lee (4-0, three KOs) battles Gilbert Gastelum at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
"It's pretty surreal," Lee says. "To fight on a platform like this is everyone's dream. I couldn't be more excited. I know some guys get nervous about these kinds of things, but for me it's the opposite. I fight better when there is more pressure, more exposure — more cameras in my face. I also know that with exposure comes a target on my back."
Plenty of "Team Lee" supporters have his back. An estimated 300 to 500 Lee fanatics will attend the bout, among them former Fighting Irish football star Golden Tate, now a member of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, and Rudy Ruettiger, subject of the movie Rudy.
Lee, a raw prospect, had only 16 amateur fights.
"You don't rush a kid like this," says Ronnie Shields, who trains Lee in Houston, where the fighter relocated. "He wants to learn the game; he wants to be the best. He's very personable, like no other fighter I have been around — and I have been around the best and the worst. He is a breath of fresh air."
Inspiration defines Lee's story.
Undersized and scrappy, he played a variety of sports but was drawn to boxing after his cousin took him to a boxing gym at 16 after Lee had been cut from the basketball team as a sophomore, leaving him "devastated."
He enrolled at Missouri but a shattered patella ended any hopes of trying out for the Tigers' football team. Instead, he transferred to Notre Dame, where he joined the boxing squad.
To this day, Lee wears a Notre Dame medal around his neck. It comes off only when he fights.
"It symbolizes the hard work that paid off," Lee says. "It is kind of like a good-luck charm. I feel naked without it."
He understands his educational pedigree is important, but he says, "I want to be a world champion more than anyone knows."
"Obviously, I have other options. But I don't see that as a weakness. I see it as a strength. I am not training because I have to — I am training because I want to. I want to wake up when I'm 70, whether I become a world champion or not, and say I went for it."
Lee won his fight Friday night in a decision. He is now (5-0) with three KOs.