Andy Lee was blessed to end his career with a win, outpointing Keande Leatherwood in their March 2017 clash at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The bout took place one day after St. Patrick’s Day, the perfect backdrop against which to bow out gracefully, even if the fighting pride of Limerick, Ireland wouldn’t make that final decision for another 11 months.
There was never the urge to return to the ring, or become the latest disciple of Detroit’s famed Kronk Gym in coaching the next wave of talent. Then came the chance to guide the career of the next big thing to come out of his Limerick hometown. Next thing he know, the Irish southpaw was sitting down with promotional powerhouse Top Rank Inc. to ink a deal for amateur standout Paddy Donovan to make his pro debut.
“I’ve known Paddy since he was a kid,” Lee (35-3-1, 24KOs) told BoxingScene.com of his longtime relationship with Donovan. “Winning everything in the amateurs since 11 years old and he’s from my city. There were a lot of people interested in his career, and his father asked if I could help in the process.
“He had so many offers to turn pro, even as he was aiming to fight in the (2020 Tokyo) Olympics. I just wanted to get him the best fit for his career. I had no intention of getting into coaching. But the opportunity was there, he’s so exciting and talented. I’ve waited a long time for a kid like him to come along.”
Donovan leaves behind a brilliant amateur career, where he served as a 13-time national champion while amassing a 161-5 record. The 20-year old southpaw will officially enter the pro ranks as a welterweight, as he faces Mexico’s Arturo Reyes this Friday at Ulster Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
“I’ve always looked up to Andy, a fellow Limerick man who I watched (box) since I was six years old,” Donovan said of the opportunity to work with his childhood hero. “I couldn’t be working with a better trainer for my pro career.”
With the lofty accolades will come high expectations for Donovan. All eyes will also be on Lee, who is well prepared for the moment as he’s already drawn from his own experience in the pro ranks, which includes a year-long middleweight title reign towards the end of his 11-year pro career.
“He has the type of talent that will hold up anywhere in the world,” insists Lee. “Of course, all of the praise and talk comes with a lot of pressure which I remember. The beautiful thing is that it’s all fresh in my mind.”
Lee spent a considerable portion of his career training under the tutelage of the late, great Emanuel Steward until his passing in 2012, Their last fight together was Lee’s lone title challenge at the time, jumping out to a strong start versus then-unbeaten middleweight titlist Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. before suffering a seventh round stoppage in their June 2012 clash.
Steward passed away later that October, with Lee enlisting the services of Adam Booth for the duration of his career. The two enjoyed an 8-1-1 run together, including back-to-back dramatic knockout wins over John Jackson and Matt Korobov in 2014, the latter netting him a middleweight title.
One defense followed, a 12-round draw versus an overweight Peter Quillin before conceding his title to England’s Billy Joe Saunders in Dec. 2015. The aforementioned win over Leatherwood would provide the end of the line, with Lee, now 35, prepared to pass along his life lessons to Ireland’s next wave of talent.
“I get to introduce two worlds to Paddy,” notes Lee, who will also take over the training reins for middleweight contender Jason Quigley. “Pass along the teachings of Emanuel Steward as well as Adam Booth. He’s training and turning pro over here, but I will definitely instill that Kronk attitude into Paddy. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t remember everything I learned under (Steward), not just boxing, but cooking breakfast, doing laundry… and of course his massive expectance that every fight will end in a knockout.
“Of course, I balance that out with all that I learned under Adam, correcting all the remaining mistakes I was still making. I’m still finding my way as a coach.”
It doesn’t hurt that his first project is to shape the career of a young Limerick southpaw with knockout power.
“Paddy has all the talent in the world, the first year will be to nurture that talent and let him grow as a professional,” notes Lee. “In the gym, he’s already well ahead of the game in terms of a debutant. The trick is to perfect those things and let it become an everyday habit. He’s already doing all those things in the gym, in sparring with guys like (unbeaten welterweight prospect) Josh Kelly.
“He has the talent but there’s a lot to be said for seasoning and experience. One step at a time is the key. I made the mistake of looking too far ahead in my career, sometimes overtraining, sometimes undertraining. It’s not like it was 40 or even 20 years ago. It’s still fresh and I won’t allow him to make the same mistakes I did.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox