Andy Lee: Something happens when a fighter knows he has to rise to the challenge. No one has seen the best of Jason Quigley yet
Andy Lee has sparred countless rounds with Demetrius Andrade and not so long ago owned the belt the American now parades. Now a revered coach, Lee will this weekend be in Jason Quigley’s corner when he takes on Andrade. By Elliot Worsell
WHILE there aren’t many stories left to be told in boxing, an exception might be the one about the boxing coach training his fighter to win back the coach’s old title from one of the coach’s former sparring partners. Not to be confused with a Rocky plotline, this story will at last be told on Friday (November 19),when Ireland’s Jason Quigley challenges Demetrius Andrade for Andrade’s WBO middleweight title, the same title Quigley’s coach, Andy Lee, won seven years ago in Las Vegas. If that’s not enough, Andrade, en route to becoming a belt-holder, happened to be one of Lee’s sparring partners, thus giving Friday’s fight some added spice and Lee – and of course Quigley – some priceless insight ahead of what looks, on the face of it, a tough assignment.
“To be completely honest,” said Lee, “I didn’t necessarily want the Andy Lee: Something happens when a fighter knows he has to rise to the challenge. No one has seen the best of Jason Quigley yet fight for this next fight. I felt like after the [Shane] Mosley [Jnr] fight [in May] we could have had one or maybe two more fights because Jason’s still learning and growing mentally. The self-esteem he got from the win against Mosley, it would have been nice to keep building on that. I said this to Jason and to his manager. But Jason was constantly calling out Andrade on social media and I’m not sure what that was all about. Sometimes they just do it for ‘likes’. But now he’s got the fight.
“Listen, I’ll be completely honest, and I’ve said it to Jason, we’re looking at this, on paper, and being very generous, as a 35-65 fight in Andrade’s favour. If you’re looking at it on performances and track record up to this point, Jason is the overwhelming underdog. But from what I’ve seen in the gym from him, there’s a chance those odds narrow if he can repeat what he is doing in the gym on the night.
“He might have known he needed this type of challenge to bring out the best in him and I’ve definitely seen a change in him in training. Everything happens for a reason and this just might be the way it’s scripted for him.”
Although taking comfort from the idea of things being scripted, Lee knows as well as anyone how nothing is necessarily written or preordained in boxing. As tough an artform as any, he will know boxing is not professional wrestling, nor all that forgiving or rewarding, and he will know that fights are ultimately won and lost in the gym and in the ring. He also knows, having now worked with him for three years, that Jason Quigley, 19-1 (14), doesn’t have to be reminded of this fact.
“He’s easy to train in terms of him being completely professional,” said Lee. “He’s always on time and he’s dedicated. He lives the right way. He’s a very nice fella, too. Very personable. He’s easy in that way as well. I’ll tell him to do something and he does it.
“He’s very analytical and he has his own mind. He’s not a deeply complex guy, or a riddle, but in terms of what he might tell you, it won’t necessarily be exactly what he’s thinking. He’s revealed things to me post-fight or later on that I didn’t know beforehand and it could have been good to know beforehand.
“In the gym he’s very easy to work with. He can pick things up and he likes to perfect things. He’s quite obsessive about the details. It’s been a steady progression.”
In calling out Andrade the way he did, Quigley has both backed himself and backed himself into a corner. Yet from this corner he will no doubt believe he is about to produce his best work.
“With him having this challenge ahead of him, I’ve seen a new side to him,” Lee said. “We’ve been together almost three years, I think, and he’s had a lot of frustration during that time. There have been fights that shouldn’t have happened and there’s been a pandemic. But during all that time we kept on training, and in some ways it has been a benefit to him because he’s got to learn more and more in the gym without being really tested in the ring.
“Now that he’s got this challenge against Andrade his level has gone up again. Sometimes that happens when a fighter knows he has to rise to the challenge. I’m seeing a lot more from him, a lot better stuff and more consistency, since he knew this fight was happening.
“I think he feels untested, even though he’s lost a fight [against Tureano Johnson in 2019]. He was a world silver medallist and a European champion as an amateur and I don’t think even he knows what he is capable of as a pro yet. No one has seen the best of him yet. He’s confident, and he’s got a great belief in himself, and I believe in him, too. I fully believe we’re going there to win the fight.
“But everyone has doubts. Even when I was world [WBO] champion, I was still full of doubt.”
On December 13, 2014, Andy Lee, in quite the upset, became WBO middleweight belt-holder at the Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas, when dramatically stopping former amateur star Matt Korobov inside six rounds. To secure the win, Lee had to be patient, first in terms of waiting for his title shot and then, during the fight itself, waiting for his opening to land the shot to end matters. He lost the early rounds, when Korobov appeared too sharp for him, but suspected that would be the case, so had prepared for this scenario in training camp. As a result, where others might have panicked, he was able to remain unflustered, focused, and confident. He then expertly spotted his moment in the sixth round and, as planned, exploded, catching Korobov with a combination from which the Russian was never able to recover.
The win, perhaps Lee’s finest, landed him the vacant title and offered him the chance to make life-changing money from additional defences of the belt. Now, seven years later, having retired in 2017, Lee is about to be reacquainted with his old belt, at least indirectly, this Friday. To again touch it, though, his fighter, Jason Quigley, must do just as Lee did in 2014.
“It’s nice, but I don’t think there’s room for sentiment in boxing,” said Lee. “If there is, this would be a nice way to bring the thing full circle and a nice way for things to be scripted. If he wins the belt, it would be a funny thing to think about. We’d have to get some pictures with the two belts together.
“The strange thing is, it’s only been seven years. After I won the belt, we’ve had Billy Joe [Saunders] and Andrade as champions and that’s it.”
As a pro, Lee spent time in the company of both men previously mentioned. He lost his belt against Saunders in 2015 and, before that, became familiar with Andrade, the current owner of his old title, thanks to a number of sparring sessions.
“I’ve sparred Demetrius Andrade countless times,” he confirmed. “I sparred him even when he was an amateur and sparred him for the first time, in the Poconos, back in 2006.
“When I fought Craig McEwan [in 2011], and he was now a pro, Andrade was my main sparring partner for that camp. So I know him quite well. He’s a great fighter, a two-division [WBO] champion, and undefeated for quite some time now. He was also a world champion as an amateur.”
As well as all he learned from sparring Andrade, Lee gleaned plenty from simply rubbing shoulders and hanging out with the American between sessions. One way or another, Andrade certainly made an impression.
“I can remember I was training for a fight in the Poconos and I was in bed and it was like two o’clock in the morning when I heard all this noise coming from outside,” Lee recalled. “There was lots of shouting and I come outside and there’s Demetrius Andrade and Domonique Dolton and all these girls they had picked up somewhere. They were all outside having a good time and I was like, ‘Come on, I’m trying to sleep here! I’m getting ready for a fight!’ They apologised and tried keeping the noise down after that.”
In his position as trainer, Lee must now see Andrade through a different lens and accept he can do very little about his behaviour on Friday night. As helpless as any coach, he must keep the faith and hope that his avatar, Jason Quigley, can both carry out his instructions and remain as patient, in the process, as Lee was when slaying Matt Korobov in 2014.
“He starts very fast and he’s very dangerous early in the fight,” Lee said of Andrade. “Had he finished his recent fights, when scoring those early knockdowns, he would have a much bigger profile than he currently has. But the fact that he scores these knockdowns early and then usually goes 12 rounds doesn’t help him when it comes to being seen as an exciting fighter.
“His style is just so unpredictable. He’s genetically gifted in terms of his speed, power and reflexes, but he also fights a little bit scared. He’ll punch when you don’t expect him to punch. You’ll be in an exchange with him and he’ll be out of position and suddenly he’ll punch from there. He has the athletic ability to catch you from any angle and that’s how he gets all these knockdowns, especially early in the fight when the energy and the nerves are building up. He’s very dangerous early.
“But Jason just has to ride out the storm. In fact, that’s not the right phrase. Jason can compete with him early in the fight. And that’s what we’ve been working on: competing for every second of the round. We want him to compete for every second of the round and keep the rounds high engagement, not necessarily high in terms of output. He [Andrade] has to be engaged and not just able to go and take walks. Jason has to be the one dictating where the fight is fought. He has to always engage him and then, when Andrade wants to be aggressive, disengage him.
“If he can do that, and if he can get through the first four rounds where perhaps he loses three of them and makes the fourth one close, I think he’s right in the fight. Jason has got the conditioning, the stamina and the hunger to then make his mark on the fight. These are all big ‘ifs’, of course, because Andrade is so talented, but there is an opportunity there for Jason.
“In terms of Luke Keeler and Liam Williams [Andrade’s former opponents], and who they are physically, Jason is a different proposition altogether for Andrade. He is as tall as Andrade and as long as Andrade. He fights with the weight transferred to his back foot rather than being on his front foot. Andrade will have to reach more to get to Jason.”
Furthermore, Andrade will at some point, either at the pre-fight press conference or in the ring on fight night, look in the direction of Jason Quigley and see alongside him Andy Lee, a familiar face. It might not mean a great deal in the grand scheme of things, but for Andrade the dynamic is a new one and could even prove unnerving should he be the kind of champion prone to bouts of self-doubt. On this point, Lee, 37, added: “I can say to him at the press conference, ‘Hey, I used to beat you up every day in sparring, so what are you talking about? And I’m the coach!’ He then followed this comment with a laugh, conceding it’s true what they say: boxing’s a funny old game.