“I once heard someone say, if you don’t have haters, you are doing something wrong,” Mike Lee said from the a folding chair in the back of the main stage of the Liacouras Center in Philly. The words where prefaced by a smile, as though he could tell the question I was going to ask, “…here comes that question…”
Mike Lee is a Notre Dame graduate, earning a high GPA, he had a notable football career, but stood out in winning the Bengal Bouts, an all-campus boxing invitational at Notre Dame. This was followed by a victorious run in the Chicago Golden Gloves. None of this would be off putting to anyone, but the harsh criticism comes at another level. It is the Subway commercials that feature Lee that have been the source of much discussion. Lee is, by all accounts, a kind person ,and incredibly sincere with every answer he gives to the media, but it left me with one question; why does Lee box? “I box, because I love the sport,” Lee would later respond and judging by his demeanor and how much time he spent with the media, it appeared to be very true.
Lee is astute and just speaking him for five minutes I could tell that he is very smart. Not many of us know what it is like to be under the microscope at all times, most prospects won’t either. It is a tremendous stress for one to bear knowing that you’re the subject of conversation for so many that feel they deserve your spot.
Lee fought Peter Lewison, an undefeated fighter who had been protected for a large portion of his career. As Lee fought I noticed a divide in the crowd. Some watched attentively gripping their palms in a fist saying, “C’mon Mike!” The others sat mocking Lee’s defense because at times he looked a bit too rigid and flat footed even for a guy coming off a year and a half lay off. Lee battered Lewison for all five rounds, getting caught every now and then, but not with anything he couldn’t give back much harder. Mike Lee is special and that is why he merits so much attention.
Scanning the arena, the floor seats on both the right and left side had filled up with those dawning Notre Dame gear cheering on Lee. Lee staggered and stopped a befuddled Lewison getting a dramatic sixth and final round stoppage only to be greeted with loud cheers and admiration from his fans who may have traveled from his native Chicago to see him.
“I think it is very special. I think we have 100-200 Notre Dame fans here and I looked out and saw [them], it meant the world to me,” Lee said. Lee a graduate of Notre Dame has never been one to be shy about his ties to the school and his pride in attending Notre Dame, “…my seventh pro fight we put on a huge event in which I donated all my purse, fight revenue, ticket revenue to two Notre Dame children charities. [Notre Dame] gave me so much, I am very grateful.”
Lee also thanked his new trainer Chris Byrd, “…you know I got really lonely out there in Texas, I have more friends and family in California, it’s just better for me…..Chris is just starting out, but he will attract some of the best soon…I spent most of my camp sparring with Andre Dirrell.” Dirrell is the famed Heavyweight boxer who is now moving into the training realm.
Lee will turn 27 later this year. He is young and after a year and a half layoff, he will look to gain momentum and traction to get a big fight. In all reality Lee is about three years away from a big fight, in my opinion. A question asked at the end of the scrum with Mike Lee left a lasting impression. Lee was asked why he fights. With no hesitation the former Top Rank fighter, whose contract expired with the company, but is still under good terms with the promotions, stated, “Because I love it!”