In June of 2012, two boxers fought within days of each other. One easily defeated a faded former pound-for-pound jab machine. He was hailed as a superstar in the making, a flashy boxer/puncher who could one day seize the Middleweight throne.
The other guy? He battled hard, won a few rounds and then faded down the stretch, getting stopped by a much bigger, more talented pugilist. The dreaded “gatekeeper” label started getting tossed around, and a once-promising career seemed severely diminished.
Things have a way of changing rather quickly in this sport.
While Quillin has been turning down massive sums of cash to fight guys who aren’t nearly as talented, Lee keeps scoring improbable, back-from-the-brink comeback knockouts. It’s easy to see why the public has embraced one fighter while despising another like nobody’s business.
Lee isn’t the most talented boxer in the world. He isn’t going to shock and awe with his speed and reflexes. He can’t dance merrily around the ring while his befuddled opponent connects with nothing but air. He simply goes balls out for every fight. All that most fans are really looking for is a guy who gives zero fucks about going to war with whomever is in front of him. And it helps that Lee can vaporize pretty much anybody with one fantastic right hook.
Quillin does have exceptional talent. He’s rangy, he’s a solid boxer and he’s got good pop and hand speed. Where he lost the fans is a matter of opinion. I often cite the Haymon Fatigue, or by proxy, the Mayweather Fatigue. Mayweather has of course amassed a fortune by eschewing bouts that could be construed as challenging for easier, still-extremely-lucrative fights.
Haymon, who manages Floyd, has taken many of his fighters down that same road for the past few years. And while his tactics preserved records and set several of them up for high profile fights on NBC, was it worth the damage? Golden Boy Promotions President Oscar De La Hoya, himself a fighter who took on all comers, threw his hands up in a fit of disgust and then washed them of anything to do with Haymon when it was clear that big fights simply weren’t going to be made.
And maybe in the long run, everything will work out just fine for Haymon’s massive group of fighters. But cherry picking fights is the easiest way to piss off a boxing public that has been starving for big showdowns. Haymon’s boys became poster children for it.
Consider a few of them:
Danny Garcia couldn’t be more hated if he dropped a tanker full of oil into the ocean and then clubbed a baby seal to death before urinating on an actual baby while ranting about how awful vaccinations are. After escaping Puerto Rico with a gift decision over Mauricio Herrera, he then fought a guy ranked slightly higher than Jose Luis Castillo’s corpse. After absolutely destroying poor Rod Salka, Garcia sputtered on about wanting to fight “the best.” When pressed by Jim “I masturbate to the sounds of my own interviews” Gray on who exactly he wanted, he immediately said the magic words: “That’s up to Al Haymon.” Of course it is.
Leo Santa Cruz, who just a couple of years ago was beloved by pretty much anyone in the sport, has infuriated many of those same people by talking a big game and then fighting guys who don’t belong anywhere near him. And while the man he continues to duck, Guillermo Rigondeaux, fights in different countries on the undercards of cock fights, Santa Cruz still scores high-profile bouts.
Adrien Broner is almost universally disliked, mainly because he acts like an entitled idiot without having earned any of the actual entitlement.
And then, there’s Quillin. Back in 2012, when he beat Winky Wright, we weren’t sure how good of a fighter he could be. And that’s fine, because he was a rising prospect. The problem is that it’s two-and-a-half years later, and we still aren’t sure how good he is. While he’s scored decisive victories over guys like Gabe Rosado and Lukas Konecny, those guys aren’t exactly Golovkin-esque.
Then there was the Matt Korobov incident. Quillin stood to earn his largest purse BY FAR by taking on Korobov, a slow-but-steady southpaw. It would have been an interesting fight. Instead, Quillin rejected the bout. Or rather, Al Haymon rejected the bout. I won’t get into the whole purse bid-Roc Nation BS here, but there’s something to be said about a fighter who turns down huge money and defers to his advisor because his advisor doesn’t like Jay-Z.
Now Andy Lee doesn’t have any of those problems. But he does have a hell of a problem falling behind in fights lately. In June of last year, John Jackson was absolutely tuning him up, beating the living hell out of Lee in what appeared to be Lee’s last hurrah. But Lee turned the tables and sparked Jackson with a breathtakingly perfect right-hand laser to the dome.
He did it again six months later against the same Matt Korobov that Quillin was advised to avoid. Lee of course lost every round early, before going hook-for-hook with Korobov. Lee’s hook won. A few seconds and about 20 unanswered punches later, Lee’s fantastic year had the icing on the cake.
So it’s fitting that these two men will meet each other in the ring on April 11, on the undercard of the Danny Garcia vs. Lamont Peterson fight. The two men couldn’t be more different both in styles or in paths to the top. Quillin is the favorite, and rightfully so. It won’t really be a shock to anyone if Lee falls behind badly. But Quillin hasn’t been in with a puncher like Lee, who can end things with one shot.
Can Quillin outbox the Irishman all night? Probably. He might even be able to stop him, depending on whether or not Quillin pushes things. But there is of course a risk to engaging Lee. While Quillin’s team have proven time and again to be rather averse to risk, it’s Quillin who will be in the ring, not his advisor.
So perhaps Quillin will put on a boxing clinic, taking Lee to school and finishing what both John Jackson and Matt Korobov started. Maybe he’ll springboard his career onto bigger and better fights, possibly against David Lemieux or The Boogeyman, Gennady Golovkin.
Or, maybe he’ll get complacent, bored, or lazy and Lee will starch him in another Gatti-like comeback fitting for a nationally televised event. Lee is as live an underdog as you could possibly be.
Either way, Quillin has been placed in this position, for better or worse. So what comes next?
That’s up to Al Haymon.