SAN DIEGO, February 14, 2017 – Athletes don’t pursue boxing because it’s the easy path to fame or fortune. Most boxers are driven to escape tough times, whether poverty, crime, or a difficult family life. When there’s another option, why work so hard and risk so much?
Undefeated light heavyweight Mike Lee is one of those rare boxers who didn’t grow up in difficult circumstances. At age 29, he has his college degree in business from a prestigious school, a reliable media presence, and plenty of other options in life. But none of those options satisfy his number one priority: to be able to look back on these years without regrets.
“I see this (professional boxing) as my one and only plan,” explained Lee. “I have a life outside boxing, yes, but I knew at a young age that the pain of regret would endure longer than the pain from any part of this sport. I’m giving it all I have because I don’t want to ever regret anything.
Lee kicks off his 2017 campaign in the ring in only the second Southern California appearance of his career adopted home area in Southern California on Thursday, February 16, in an eight round main event at Fight Club OC in Costa Mesa, California. Lee (18-0, 10 KOs), faces Justin Thomas (18-1, 7 KOs) of Baton Rouge, Louisiana at what should be a sellout at The Hangar at the Orange County Fair & Event Center.
Lee is currently ranked 12th by the World Boxing Organization (WBO) and 13th by the International Boxing Federation (IBF). He trains at the Wild Card West Boxing Gym in Santa Monica, California with Jamal Abdullah.
In Lee’s last bout in September, he won a unanimous decision over Boston’s Chris Traietti at the UIC Forum in Chicago. Lee earned the IBF-USBA light heavyweight title. Thomas is riding a six-fight win streak.
Lee loves the prospect of having friends and neighbors in the audiences on Thursday night. “This is my first California fight since 2011,” said Lee. “I’ve had lots of fights in Chicago, the East Coast, and Las Vegas.”
Lee remembers his appearance at the StubHub Center that day with a laugh. “I’ll never forget it. I was still a kid, I came out in my Notre Dame gear. There were some USC fans there and they booed me. I won with a knockout. After the win, they came up to me and said they were now fans,” Lee recalls.
“Now L-A is my home, Southern California. I’ve planted myself. I love the weather, the people, the lifestyle out here. It’s really a pleasure to compete and have friends hop in the car and come out to see me. All are going to be wearing their Team Lee shirts,” said Lee.
Bursting out of the amateur ranks to great fanfare in 2010, Lee enjoyed success and plenty of publicity, but was derailed between 2012 and 2014 with frustrating injuries. If he was going to turn away from the sport, this would have been the time. But he didn’t consider it an option, and instead virtually started over with a new trainer and new gym, taking bouts as if he was back at the starting line with no sense of entitlement, expecting to earn his opportunities.
Make no mistake though, Lee’s path hasn’t been easy. “There are a lot of moments I don’t make public,” said Lee. “I’ve gone through tough times: pain, injuries, doubts, fears, depression. These are things everyone deals with. There were times a few years ago that were really scary. But it only made me stronger. It’s a cliché, but it makes me appreciate where I am right now.”
Lee is enthusiastic about fighting in the intimate club venue at home. “I think it’s great. I’ve fought in the big venues like Madison Square Garden and in Las Vegas, on network TV. But I love fighting in these smaller venues. These big fights are in other cities, you don’t get your own fans there always. In the local venues you get more loyal fans who know the fights and the fighters. You have world class fighters there,” said Lee.
It’s the world-class boxing community in Los Angeles, arguably the center of boxing in the U.S. today, where Lee has found a home. “The reason I came out here, the opportunities outside the ring aside, Southern California is a hotbed of talented fighters. Guys from all over the world are here now. They know the best are here. Maybe it’s the weather? The opportunities? For me, I want to compete and be around the best, and this is the place to do that.”
Lee finds himself in a division with some of the top pound for pound boxers in the sport, but expresses nothing but eagerness to engage the Wards, Kovalevs, Stevensons, and such. “Some of the pound for pound best are in my division. It excites me. I know it won’t be very long before I get a chance to fight some big names. I know in my heart it’s possible.”
Like anyone in business, Mike Lee has a business plan for himself in 2017. He plans four fights, starting in Orange County this week and moving on to bigger offers with TV network exposure, leading to a title eliminator with standing in the Top 10 with a record 22 and 0. “I’m doing it the right way. I’m ready. I’m 29, I feel I’m at the peak physically and mentally, in the sweet spot. In business, I’ve always addressed things one step at a time. When you set a goal, you set your overall success,” said Lee.
Whether he wins in the ring or not, Lee is scoring wins everyone can see by choosing to pursue his goals, no matter how many times he gets asked why. “I’m doing this because I love it. People don’t do things because of what other people say, or their fears. At the end, you just have to jump in, and take risks. Whether it’s business, sports, arts, or music, you take the leap. This is my leap. There’s no way I’ll look back with regrets.”
Fight Club OC is officially sold out, but check the website for returned tickets at www.FightClubOC.com
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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