I will gladly admit being wrong when I'm wrong, and I was wrong -- Andy Lee ain't the No. 7 middleweight in the world, unless Brian Vera is top six, and I don't think Brian Vera is top six, with no disrespect meant to Vera.
So how did it come to that? How did I rank Lee seventh, and why was it proven to be so wrong, you know, a day later?
I ranked Lee seventh somewhat due to hype, but also because I really feel he's a hell of a fighter and he'll go on to a phenomenal career. The fact that he lost a fight to Vera -- who is a tough kid and was a step up in competition for Lee -- doesn't totally change my mind. But it does knock him out of my top 10, obviously. And it doesn't put Vera in, either, though he does deserve some thought, at least a little. His only loss so far was to Jaidon Codrington at 168 pounds.
Is he truly better than Lee? Trick question. He's less skilled. But he looked every bit like the tougher guy, the one more prepared for the gutcheck. Boxing is not all physical tools, the same as any other sport. Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A's, was a hell of a physical tools prospect in the 1980s. He wasn't mentally good at the game, though. In Moneyball, he and Michael Lewis compare Beane to a former minor league teammate, Lenny Dykstra, who went on to a hell of a good career. Dykstra was far less physically talented, but mentally, he had it all over Beane.
It's not just about guts, either. It's about being able to change on the fly, adapt to the unexpected, and having the knowledge of seeing something as it happens to you. That comes with experience. Lee will get there. Or he won't.
Compare it to another recent upset, Nate Campbell over Juan Diaz. Diaz is not as hard of a puncher as Campbell is, but he had no problem hanging with him for the first half of that fight. It was after Diaz was cut that the fight took a turn. Campbell stayed all over him. Juan (and his awful cutman) failed to adapt. Nate Campbell beat Juan Diaz at the mental game more than he did just the physical game.
So, the question: When is it too early to rank someone?
I had an email conversation today with someone that, obviously, felt Andy Lee was ranked maybe a smidge early by me, to say the least. He's right, of course. But if Lee had won the fight, is there an issue? I don't know about that.
He didn't, so it's a moot point, but I'll tell you this right now: I feel that even with the loss to Vera on there, Lee's record is as good as that of Gary Lockett or Marco Antonio Rubio or any of the other guys I considered for the list, including John Duddy. And if they fought tomorrow, I think Lee would kick Duddy's ass, the same as I did before Friday Night Fights. I now also think Vera would kick Duddy's ass. I like John Duddy because he's fun to watch, but talk about hype jobs.
And now I've gotten away from it again. When is it too early to rank a fighter? It's simple: It depends on the case. Is Amir Khan one of the top 10 at 135? I say he absolutely is. Is Andre Berto one of the top ten at 147? I say he's absolutely not, but many will put him on that list, and I think he has a fair argument.
There is no way to get a rankings list 100% correct. BoxRec.com tries it, and they come up with David Haye as a better pound-for-pound fighter than Joe Calzaghe. Somehow, Luis Collazo isn't better than Daniele Petrucci or Viktor Plotnikov. And as much as I hate him, Zab Judah (Welterweight No. 13) would tear Alfonso Gomez (No. 11) apart in short order.
I don't think it can be too early. Alexander Povetkin is on most heavyweight top tens after 15 fights as a pro, and he belongs there. I think a lot of us would put Khan in there at 135, and I think he belongs. It depends on division and the fighter. I felt Lee was already good enough to be mentioned for the middleweight rankings, and I turned out to be wrong.
My colleague Kevin Gonzalez compared Lee's loss to the first loss of Joel Julio's career, against Carlos Quintana, when he was just utterly outclassed. It took Julio a little time to get his head back, but now that he has, he looks like the future of the 154-pound division. I don't know that Vera will go on to be a world champion like Quintana did, but you get the idea.
Not that anyone was really ranking Julio (a welterweight at the time) in his division's top ten, but he was on that cusp.
Do I feel bad about ranking Lee? Not really. I feel he lost to Brian Vera. All congratulations to Vera, and it's back to the drawing board for Lee.
The peril of overhyping a fighter is also something I find more interesting than legitimate. I don't think this loss should truly affect Lee's career trajectory, I really don't. I hope it gets Vera some hype and some better fights. I've now seen Vera three times, and it's been distinctly different each outing. The first time, he got a majority decision over Samuel Miller in a fight I though Miller absolutely won. The second, Codrington smoked him. The third, he beat up on Andy Lee after weathering the storm. I have no real clue what to think of Brian Vera other than he's got a lot of balls.
Lee will fight on, like Julio did, and in time the loss, while not forgotten, won't seem like the biggest deal in the world, unless he can't come back from it. If that's the case, then he never really had the makeup to begin with.
I think ranking someone like Chris Arreola as a top ten heavyweight, for example, would be unwise at this stage of his career. Meanwhile, I think ranking Amir Khan is fine. He's shown more, even with the chin issues. It's a case-by-case thing, in my view.