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Wednesday 1 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
INPHO/James Crombie
# Corner man
Lee tantalisingly close to his shot at the big one
Limerick man has been linked with a chance at the world title for some time, but that hasn’t come off, in part because of a lack of coherent management and promotion.

AS PROMOTER DON King often says, “Boxing is not about what you earn, but what you negotiate.”

Tonight, two men entering the same Atlantic City ring for different contests show just how important it is for a fighter to have the right team behind him.

In the post-Bernard Dunne era, Andy Lee is arguably one of Ireland’s most prominent professionals.  The Limerick middleweight was first touted as a prospect over a decade ago, and while he has only lost once since hanging up the helmet and vest, the truth is his pro career has stalled somewhat.

He has been linked with a shot for a world title for some time, but that hasn’t come off, in part because of a lack of coherent management and promotion.

Tonight, he fights on the same bill as a World Middleweight Championship contest, but rather than taking on champ Sergio Martinez, Lee fights Brian Vera, the only man to have beaten him as a pro.

Instead, Martinez fights Englishman Darren Barker who just 13 months ago saw his career stutter worryingly.  Since then he has managed only two wins against the unremarkable Affif Belghechem (a victim of Andy Lee) and Domineco Spada in a European Title fight.  Yet, even though he has not truly earned it, Barker aims to become a world king tonight thanks to promoter Eddie Hearn and his Matchroom company, who have manoeuvred him brilliantly into this position.

It’s debatable whether that is a good thing or not.  The conventional wisdom is that this has come too soon for Barker, even if his team confidently predict an upset.  They may have a point too.  Martinez is 36, has fought 51 times, and has completed only ten competitive rounds in 16 months.  Do I expect Barker to win?

No, but I do expect him to be more game than many predict.  It could be a managerial masterstroke, the sort of move Andy Lee could only dream of being pulled on his behalf.

Lee is hoping that both he and Martinez win tonight, setting up a contest between the pair.  However, with fellow Irishman Matthew Macklin in a stronger promotional decision, and readying himself for a fight with Martinez next March, a victorious Lee could still find himself on the outside looking in once more tonight.

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Ireland’s 100% record (through Friday) at the World Championships in Baku is great, but the real action gets underway this coming week.  Darren O’Neill and David Oliver Joyce are in action today – Kenny Egan, Paddy Barnes and John Joe Nevin all fight Monday.

With Olympic dreams in the balance, the stakes could scarcely be higher and while the team’s start suggests that there is a possibility of success, coach Billy Walsh is vowing to keep his charges grounded.

He’s “taking it one fight at a time” which is the right approach for this most important of weeks for Ireland.

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Paul McCloskey’s next fight might, just might, be against Marcos Maidana.  The contest is also likely to be staged in Britian or Ireland, presumably Belfast (and incidentally will be another Matchroom promotion).

Talks are at an early stage, but there are talks ongoing between both sides.  McCloskey recently squeaked past Bredis Prescott in Belfast, while Maidana is best known in these parts for last December’s slugfest against Amir Khan.

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Pawel Wolak is to fight Delvin Rodriguez in a rematch in December, on the undercard of Cotto-Margharito II.  Their first fight earlier this year is the best of 2011 so far, so expect another cracker.

This Day in Boxing History

Today marks the 36th anniversary of one of the boxing’s greatest fights, one which symbolizes a long-lost and much-lamented era for the sport.  I would call the Thrilla in Manila between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier an amazing night, but their contest in the capital of the Philippines actually began at 10:45 a.m. local time to satisfy American television.

It meant their brutal, savage war was staged in blistering heat, making the 14 rounds of action even more astounding.

Neither man relents, nor does he let his opponent do so.  The brute strength of Ali and Frazier is matched by their will, while the intervention of Eddie Futch (Frazier’s trainer) to call a halt to the fight three minutes from time is almost as admirable.  It’s a stunning fight.  It’s one of the greatest sporting events of the 20th Century, and if you have never seen it, then let today’s anniversary be your excuse to finally do so.

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