There is something of the superhero to Andy Lee. A lanky Irish traveller getting handpicked and taken to the Kronk gym by one of the greatest trainers of all-time is an origin story to rival anything from Marvel. Like any good superhero, he tends to do things the hard way. His wicked one punch power has snatched several victories from seemingly hopeless positions. Admittedly most superheroes don’t get outpointed by Billy Joe Saunders but we can forgive a bad night; Lee is a compelling fighter. Crucially, he’s also a compelling character outside the ring.
Commentating on the Saunders fight, John Rawling said that Lee was so articulate and intelligent that it was hard to believe that he was a boxer. Rawling is a great commentator so it was sad to hear him reinforce the stereotype that anyone who gets in the ring is an idiot. Lee is proof that a thoughtful man can choose to box.
Much is made of boxing as a path to riches but Lee prefers to talk about it as an education. The sport has taken him around the world. Working with Manny Steward forced him to adapt to Detroit, a place that is in every sense a long way from his hometown of Limerick. Then there’s been his odyssey of improbable fight venues, ranging from Esbjerg in Denmark to Memphis, Tennesse. He has argued strongly that the brutality of failure in boxing means it teaches you more about yourself than any other sport. He’s also clear in his belief that boxing is an art, where instinctive improvisation counts for far more than monotonously drilled routines.
Lee is an eager reader, has starred in a play about Chekhov and his wife is the lead singer of an alternative pop band and a theatre director. His interest in the arts makes him an unusual ambassador for the sport. When he gives interviews about his favourite books or takes part in panel discussions about theatre, he reaches an audience that other boxers don’t. He may not necessarily be converting many to become instant fans but in his articulacy, he is challenging the prejudices of those who see the sport as mindless violence.
The point is not that all boxers should be renaissance men but that we should defend the fact that it’s a sport with an array of characters and not the refuge of cretins that some are keen to portray. Irish comedian and podcaster Jarlath Regan puts it well when he says "we have a Tyson Fury so we need an Andy Lee". Boxing thrives on narratives; for narratives to have variety, they need a diverse cast.