By Kevin Byrne (follow Kevin Byrne on Twitter @kevoobyrne)
Sparring stories can only tell you so much, but still – put two guys together for 12 rounds and they’ll learn a lot about one another.
And Andy Lee has given his verdict on recent sparring partner Conrad Cummings, who boxes on the This Is Belfast show tomorrow night.
Heavy-handed, bull-like, built like a mini brickhouse, Cummings has impressed. And Lee believes he has all the tools needed to excel in the pro game, and will be even more dangerous when he learns a few of the tricks of the trade.
The pair completed 12 rounds a few weeks back ahead of the Tyrone 22-year-old’s second pro bout against Bulgaria’s Zahari Mutafchiev.
“He’s a very physical guy, he’s strong like a bull-type of fighter,” Lee said. “He’s coming forward and he lets his hands go. He’s gonna be a handful for anybody, even at this stage.
“He’s only had one fight and he’s still a handful for anybody. He’s got a load of experience as an amateur so he’s a very good prospect.
“I think, with training there with Shane McGuigan beside Carl Frampton, that he can learn a lot from those guys and he’s going to keep on getting better.”
When Lee marks out a guy as a decent prospect, it is usually time to look up that fighter. He has sparred with some of the world’s top fighters including the heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko.
But it is the men in and around his weight division – middleweight up to now, with a move to light-middle on the cards – who have emerged in the spotlight.
Over the years he’s spoken about hard spars with the likes of Cornelius ‘K9’ Bundrage, Demetrius Andrade and Adonis Stevenson, all of whom went on to win world titles afterwards.
Lee himself, like many a fighter, has almost become known for his prowess as a sparring partner, a tag he has been working hard to remove.
“Sometimes you get in with a guy and you go ‘this guy is really good’. But you’re competing at the highest level when you’re sparring with those guys,” he added.
“The standard is high anyway, and when they’re sparring me it’s the same. It’s always competitive. Even Demetrius Andrade, I’ve sparred him countless times. And he went on to be light-middleweight champion of the world.
“So many guys. You’d just know. I remember when I sparred Adonis. The first day he tried boxing me and I made it look like I had the upper hand and won every round.
“The next day, two or three days later, we sparred again. And he just came at me, he didn’t box me. He’s unbelievably strong and I just knew this guy was an animal, you know what I mean? An unnaturally strong guy.
“So you see different things from all different fighters. It’s one thing I have over other guys – experience. I’m 29, and from just being around Emanuel and being in the States, and around Wladimir, and all these different camps.”
With over 30 fights to his name, Lee is a veteran now whether he likes it or not. An Olympian a decade ago and someone the current crop of Irish fighters look up to. He sees it when he goes home to mix it with the rising stars of the amateur ranks and felt it when he recently visited McGuigan’s Gym in Battersea and chatted with Frampton and Cummings.
He said: “I know, I’m an old guy and I felt it with the two lads. Carl said ‘I used to look up to Andy’ and then the other fella said ‘yeah it was great to spar someone I admired as a kid’. I’m old, you know what I mean?
“You obviously see these young guns coming. If you’re sparring the likes of Jason Quigley, Michael O’Reilly and Cummings, these are the next generation.
“I know and when you spar with them, they always have that extra incentive to do well. It keeps you on your toes.
“I can remember doing the same with Kenny Egan. When I came up, Kenny Egan was the man back in those days. I wanted to go in and prove myself against him.
“This week I’ve sparred with a fella called Aaron Morgan, who’s undefeated, and a German kid who’s over in London called Herman. And then I sparred Conrad, all within the same week. Three undefeated middleweights and every one of them trying to get in and have a crack. But it keeps you on your toes. It’s good.”
How far can Cummings go?
“It depends on his development and it’s still very early. He definitely has all the potential in terms of his physique, his aggression and his power. He’s a freakishly strong guy.
“He puts his head down and bulled forward for six rounds, twice over two days. Once he picks up a few things from the pros which he’ll learn in the next year or so, some good moves and some subtle things, it’s all down to himself.
“He seems very dedicated so I’d predict good things for him. He’s a dedicated guy in great shape, he lives with his trainer and his lifestyle is in check. It’s really up to himself. He has all the ingredients.
“Even when I watched him in the semi-final against Quigley in the all-Irelands, you could see then he was suited to make a good pro. I’ll be interested to see how he and Quigley go now that Quigley is going pro.”
Idol or not, Cummings was more concerned with taking his head off than asking for advice.
Lee said: “Yeah, they were competitive spars. But either him or Quigley, any of the Irish fighters, I’d always be happy to help out and have a word. I’m here. There’s a lot to this game and you never stop learning. If ever I can help any of those fighters, I always do.”
Cummings said that the work with Lee forced him to up his game ahead of his pro debut.
“I have been sparring away with Andy it’s been excellent work,” he said. “Really making me up my game and come to that level.
“To be mixing it with some you looked up to and idolised as a kid is a fantastic feeling and great confidence booster. The pro switch has taken a bit of adjusting too in different ways but I’m coming on well and learning and progressing all the time. I hope to showcase that come April 4th in my home debut in the Odyssey. I can’t wait.
But Cummings was quick to insist that there is more to his game than just marching forward.
“I definitely feel I was and am more subtle in my aggression and attacking. A bit more clever. Idol or no idol, I don’t take no prisoners in the squared circle. I feel I am getting more noticed and people are starting to realise I mean business!”