7 March 2011 – Kevin Byrne
Andy Lee talked to Kevin Byrne on his upcoming fight with Craig McEwan, where he sees himself in the middleweight mix and his hopes of a title shot against Sergio Martinez. Lee is vying for world titles along with Matthew Macklin as they break into top 10 spots with the ruling bodies. Closer to home, Anthony Fitzgerald has called out Lee in the past. Lee also spoke about the Irish amateur scene he left behind to turn professional in 2005 and fellow Limerick man Willie Casey’s March 19 fight against Guillermo Rigondeaux.
Andy, does Craig McEwan on HBO next week represent your biggest challenge yet?
“This is definitely the biggest fight of my career to date. I mean, its on HBO, Im getting in the mix now for world titles. I see this as a great opportunity for me. Its three years now since I was last on American TV, when I lost against Bryan Vera. Ive learned from that, Ive put in my time since and fought all over the place. Im bigger and better than I was then and I have learned a lot since.”
He is 19-0… Do you see extra pressure because he has never lost?
“Its my first time fighting an unbeaten fighter – but that doesnt worry me at all. I look at the man, not the record. Hes got two hands just like me – the record doesnt matter.”
Did you watch the National Senior Championships?
“I watched the Seniors last weekend. I saw Kenny Egan lose to Joe Ward. The young lad was very good but I thought the referee ruined that fight. Don’t get me wrong, Ward did really well and took his chance – but I thought Kenny was in control until the warnings. Hes the champ, she shouldnt have been docking him points like that – she ruined the fight. I dunno, maybe she was trying to prove some point. There were a lot of points he didnt get, and I still think Kennys the better boxer, although Ward is a great prospect.”
You fought McEwan yourself in the amateurs, and won quite comfortably?
“I know I beat him well, if I dont fully remember the score it was handy enough. But its so different now, that was a long time ago and I cant go on that alone. Im sure hes improved. Hes at the Wild Card gym in California, training with a lot of great fighters and this will be ten rounds of three minutes each – not exactly the same as four by two minute rounds. This is what I am in boxing for. You leave home and make all these sacrifices – you just hope it all pays off. But Im a big believer in the phrase: You get out of it what you put into it. Now its my time.”
You attended the Paul Williams v Sergio Martinez bout wanting to fight the winner…
“I go to all the big fights and watch to see who is out there. I knew I was in the running for a big fight even then. Who else is out there to step up? Youve got a Russian who rarely fights out of Russia (D Pirog) and the Canadian David Lemeuix who barely anyone knows. And right now two of the best middleweights in the world are Irish – me and Matthew Macklin. There are no Americans doing anything. So theres no reason why were not in the mix for the big fights and the big titles. I know Matthew has his eye on the IBF title ahead of his fight with Winky Wright in Vegas (interview before that fight was cancelled). But now is my time. If I beat Craig, Ill solidify my claims to be one of the best contenders out there for Sergio Martinez. Hes the one whose belt I want. Me and Matthew would be a good fight down the road but I cant see it happening just yet. Maybe if we both failed in our own attempts for world titles, a fight then would be a good idea for us. And if one of us won, Im sure wed like to defend our title against the other.”
What threat do you see in Craig McEwan?
“From what Ive seen, hes a mover. He punches and then moves. He throws a good volume and although he doesnt seem to hit that hard, he has hurt people. He beat Vera but I wouldnt say he was very impressive. He did what I should have done and simply boxed, sticking on the outside and coming in with the win. Me, I got drawn into a fight and just punched myself out.”
You have sorted out a promoter now.
“Yeah, I have signed with Lou DiBella for three years, hell promote me. Im very happy with the deal – hes my first promoter too. Brian Peters did good work for me back home but I was looking for a top guy over here and Lou has the fighter with the best title in Martinez, he’s on the East Coast, it’s a good deal for me at this point in my career.”
Your fellow Limerick man Willie Casey is one of three Irishmen going for a world title in the near future…
“Fair play to the Irish boys – those guys have tough tasks – Willie has a huge one. Im sure hell give it 100 per cent and even if Rigondeaux beats him, hell know hes been in a really tough fight. That said, Rigondeaux is a master boxer and hell be great to see in Ireland but the best of luck to Willie.”
What’s been your career highlight to date?
“To qualify for the Olympics in 2004 was great, and also as an amateur, winning a senior medal at European level was unreal. I know theyre all winning them now, but believe me they were a lot rarer back then! And I did it with a broken hand. As a pro Ive loved fighting in Madison Square Garden on Paddys Day – and I knocked out Carl Daniels with one of my sweetest punches ever to top it off.”
Disappointed John Duddy pulled out of your fight?
“I was really surprised that he retired out of the blue. There were some big fights out there for him, and not just me. He could have had a few warm-ups before me, I wouldnt have minded – but good luck to him. Boxing is not the world and hes acting in a play now. One of my mates went to see it and said hes actually really good in it.”
Back home Anthony Fitzgerald has mentioned your name and seemingly fancied stepping in for Duddy…
“Not to be disrespectful to Fitzgerald, but he hasnt earned the right to fight the likes of myself or Matthew. If he beats Belghecham and that’s a really tough fight. I have no fear of him anyway, and I see why I am a good name for him to mention. Hes only looking up the ranks to the likes of me – Im doing the same thing over here with the likes of Martinez so fair enough. I’ve seen him box, in the Stadium I think, and he’s got good talent.
Manny Steward will be away with Miguel Cotto for the McEwan fight. Worried?
“Nah, Javan Hill will be there with Manny away, and my brother Roger as always. Joey Gamache will be there too so that’s more than enough. I’m more than used to working with the lads.”
How has sparring gone. Did Chad Dawson make it along?
“Manny supervises my sparring. I was supposed to have Chad Dawson in as Im getting in southpaws and hes one of the best around, but a fight he was due to have got cancelled I think so he wasnt available. For McEwan Ive been sparring great fighters like the unbeaten fighter, Demetrius Andrade, and another unbeaten guy called Mark Tucker from Rhode Island as well as Domonique Dolton.”
World hopes and plans for staying in America or coming back here, maybe to defend a world title?
“I know Ive got to beat McEwan or else I can forget about fighting Martinez. The fight will be made if I impress, thats the way I see it. Over the years I have fought a lot in Ireland, a lot here. I plan on staying in America for the near future but Id definitely like to fight in Ireland again soon, maybe the end of the year or next year. I think Irish boxing is on the way up and I want to be part of that.”
Youre on Setanta Sports by the way, they just announced today (Thursday). Had you heard?
“Really? Thats fantastic news, Im delighted. And now my dads going to get to watch it as he cant travel over for the fight.”
Funniest thing that has happened to you in the ring…
“I remember one time one of my brothers was fighting. He punched a guy so hard in the stomach that the other guy put his head out through the ropes and got sick on the judges. Another time I recall I was fighting in the ring while one of my brothers – I wont say who – was doing more fighting out of it. I could barely concentrate on my own fight while all that was going on.”
Worst habit in ring…
“Trying to counter punch too much. Or maybe Im guilty of relaxing too much sometimes, or losing concentration. I can switch off.”
Fave fighter growing up…
Roy Jones Jnr.
Best Irish prospect…
“In the amateurs thatd be Joe Ward or Ryan Burnett, those lads are going to be very good. In the pros, I think Carl Frampton is the best amateur to turn pro in Ireand in a long time.”
Favourite current boxer…
“He just got knocked out! Im a big fan of Fernando Montiel. I also like watching Wladimir Klitschko. Hes very dominant in the ring and I know him well by now as well. I think weve been away together on about 10 training camps by now. Hes a very nice guy – we send each other the odd text. I have heard rumours that hell fight David Haye at the start of July, I hope that comes off.”
Best mate in boxing…
Interview carried out for Seconds Out boxing column, every Saturday in the Irish Sun.