If Andy Lee and Craig McEwan intend to have promising careers in boxing, their last chance to make that happen will be against each other on Saturday night. Pedigree and famous trainers are nice but these two need a convincing performance in order to achieve real boxing glory. In short, will either of them make us care?
Andy Lee was to be Emanuel Steward's next prodigy. A decorated Irish amateur boxer, Lee was touted as the hope for a starved fan base. With his power, punching ability and legendary trainer, Lee's future prominence in the sport seemed all but guaranteed. But sometimes, funny things happen on the way to greatness and in this case it was professional spoiler Brian Vera (see Mora, Sergio for another recent example).
As a professional, McEwan learned his craft at the Wild Card Gym under Freddie Roach. Moving from Scotland to L.A., McEwan fought in all sorts of gym wars and sparred with many greats. Yet his own fights have often been pedestrian affairs. He has lacked the focus and consistency to ascend to the sport's higher ranks. McEwan, already 28, has only fought two 10-round fights.
They both can fight but they are not the names that they could be. Steward has trained and managed Lee. To this point, Lee has not entered into a long-term contract with a big promotional outfit. This arrangement has allowed Steward to develop Lee at his own pace but once Lee lost, the absence of big promotional muscle delayed his ability to get premium network and big-card exposure. Since his defeat, Lee has fought more frequently in Ireland and appeared on small cards in Illinois, Oklahoma and Indiana. Needless to say, during his comeback he hasn't received copious premium television exposure.
McEwan has languished on the back benches of Golden Boy Promotions for years. He has fought off TV on some big undercards but to date his biggest featured fight has been on ESPN's Friday Night Fights.
McEwan hasn't fought in eight months. He had some fights fall through but Golden Boy has had several opportunities to place him on big cards and his lack of activity doesn't seem to be a big priority for them.
Golden Boy cannot solely be blamed for McEwan's lack of activity. McEwan often fails to inspire. He doesn't have serious punching power and with the wrong opponent he can make ugly fights. In theory, he's a pressure fighter, but he doesn't really cause damage. He's probably more "pesky" than "pressure." In the ring, he has had periods where he lacks focus or desire. He often seems satisfied with a points victory instead of taking the necessary risks needed for something more spectacular. McEwan has admitted to a lack of training discipline in the past.
Lee has great technique but has not established a consistent ring personality. He has a very strong left hand and good ring awareness. However, he has not emerged as the knockout artist that many predicted he would become. His opposition has been weak yet he has not dominated. A lack of stamina led to his undoing against Vera.
Both fighters will be facing the best opposition of their respective careers. McEwan, who does have a victory over Vera, needs to make it a gueling fight. If his work rate is over 60 punches a round, he has a great chance of winning. Lee can win with a big shot or with crisp, effective shots on the outside. Lee is favored but McEwan can win this fight by pressing the action and testing Lee's endurance.
Although someone will emerge a victor, the winner must look excellent. For all of the stalled momentum and unfulfilled promise of the past, a good performance renders much of that unimportant. With premium network attention, career momentum can be revived.
If Lee drops McEwan with a thunderous left hand, the last few years of relegation to minor boxing outposts will be a distant memory. If McEwan displays the tenacity and heart to take the fight out of Lee, he becomes a player amongst the exciting young boxers emerging in the middleweight division.
Both fighters understand this opportunity. Premium boxing slots are few. They are no longer young; whatever hype they had is gone. Neither of these boxers has the promotional backing to get another chance with a bad performance. HBO has no dog in this fight and no long-term investment with either boxer. This is it!