By Joseph O’Neill
Reports late last week suggested WBO middleweight World champion Andy Lee would defend his recently acquired World title on March 14th or 21st against Dane Patrick Nielsen in Dublin’s 3Arena. While the original story came via a reputable source, neither Lee nor manager-trainer Adam Booth have confirmed the claims.
Lee has instead said on Twitter that there is “nothing confirmed yet,” but a fight in Dublin (without specifying an opponent) “would be great.” Furthermore, during his appearance on The Late Late Show that evening, Lee kept his cards close to his chest noting only that there had been interest from America to stage the fight. Indeed a St. Patrick’s weekend fight in either New York or Boston would constitute a real money-spinner for the Limerickman and Madison Square Garden is tantilisingly unbooked.
As we all know, boxing is an unpredictable business and nothing as of yet seems to be set in stone regarding Lee’s first title defence. In the absence of a fully confirmed opponent irish-boxing.com speculates four potential opponents the Castleconnell puncher could face.
As it stands, Lee’s most likely defence looks to be against Team Sauerland-backed Nielson. He and the Danish southpaw have encountered each other previously, having sparred each other in early 2013 before Lee’s first-round TKO of U.S. veteran Darryl Cunningham. The Copenhagen-born fighter lost a tilt at the WBA Interim belt last year, being outpointed by upcoming Eubank Jr. opponent Dmitry Chudinov. While not a noted puncher, Nielsen is an aggressive, if somewhat crude, boxer. The Dane turns 24 on March 23rd so Irish fight fans will be hoping, if the fight comes to pass, that the Limerickman ensures that it is an unhappy birthday. While certainly not to be underestimated, Nielsen is no ‘Great Dane’ and represents a very winnable, if tough, fight for Lee. Then again, if one considers Andy’s last two fights against southpaws, we could see another instance of his now-famous right hook spelling an early night.
Lajos Mark Nagy
Nagy has become somewhat of a cult figure in Irish boxing circles in recent weeks. Ranked 187th in boxrec.com‘s, admittedly imperfect, ranking scheme, the Hungarian is inexplicably the WBO’s number 4 rated Middleweight. Rather than being the 4th best Middleweight in the world, boxrec.com see the 24 year old as the 4th best Middleweight in Hungary. Indeed, those who pay any attention to Ireland’s many up-and-coming prospects will recognise Hungary as a provider of journeymen rather than a provider of World Title challengers. Involved in 10 round fights only thrice and having fought outside Hungary only twice (in neighbouring Slovakia and Austria). Nagy’s most recent fight two weeks ago saw him win a close decision over late substitute Ferenc Albert (then 9(5)-5(3)). Despite the complete lack of footage available of his fights, it is fair to assume that the Romanian-born boxer would represent the easiest possible defence for the Athens Olympian.
Before the Nielsen reports surfaced it was rumoured that Lee would be facing a Russian opponent. Looking at the WBO’s Top 15 would suggest either Akavov or the talented 22 year old Arif Magomedov (assuming that a Korobov rematch are miniscule at best). WBO European Champion Magomedov would be a needless risk for a voluntary defence/homecoming celebration. Akavov seems the more likely, and easier, opponent. Boasting an undaunting record and an apparent lack of notable punching power the Saint Petersburg-based 27 year old would present Lee with an attractive first defence. That said, the Russian’s last two wins show an improvement over previous form and perhaps seeking vengence for his defeated countryman may motivate him to previously unattained levels. Nevertheless, anything but Lee win here would constitute a massive upset, even bigger than the Munsterman’s win over Korobov.
The fight everyone wants to see although admittedly unlikely to occur this March. It is widely assumed that WBO #1 ranked challenger Saunders will be given step-aside money to allow Lee a voluntary defence as well as facilitating a more financially attractive fight between the two amateur standouts to occur in Summer (potentially outdoors in Thomond Park, Limerick). However, with no mention of any agreement in place as the January 12th WBO-set deadline passed, the possibility of an Ireland-England showdown around St Patrick’s Day may be a possibility. Politics aside, the Hertfordshire stylist looked unconvincing in the later rounds when he tired, to the extent of almost being knocked-out, in his split-decision win against the crude but game Eubank Junior. One would think that if the 25 year old Beijing Olympian were to similarly run out of steam versus Lee he would not be as fortunate.
All four hypothetical fights are one’s in which Lee would be the bookies favourite. This position was not afforded to Ireland’s last WBO Middleweight Champion, Steve Collins, in his first fight after winning the belt. The Celtic Warrior, of course, famously outpointed Chris Eubank in Millstreet, Cork to wrest the WBO Super-Middleweight crown from the eccentric Englishman.
That fight will be almost twenty years ago to the day when Lee takes to the ring again and Irish fight fans will be hoping Lee can attain a similarly long stay at the top of the ladder. Whoever he ends up fighting over the St. Patrick’s period, 2015 promises to be a big year for Irelands newest World Champion.