Boxing Commentary: The Danger of Over-Hyping a Prospect

By Christopher Roche: Boxing Questions (and answers) - 1) What does Andy Lee’s TKO loss to Brian Vera mean to his future? On March 19, Joe Tessitore of ESPN published an article that quoted Emmanuel Steward’s prediction that Andy Lee would be the middleweight champion of the world “within twelve months”. The article also stated that according to Steward, over the next several years, Lee would prove to be one of the best middleweights ever..

Upon reading that, my eyes almost popped out of my head.

I wrote the following, on, two days before the Lee vs. Vera bout:

Steward is doing a disservice to Lee by rushing him into the title picture so soon. Kelly Pavlik fought thirty-one times before he got a shot at the title. John Duddy is sitting at 24-0; Giovanni Lorenzo is at 26-0; Paul Smith is 23-0; Joe Greene is 18-0; Peter Quillin is 17-0, and Sergio Mora is 20-0-1. Before Lee is crowned the next champion by Emmanuel Steward perhaps he should beat some of those aforementioned participants.

Vera will test Lee this weekend, and Steward and team Lee need to be ready. Vera was stopped by Jaidon Codrington on the Contender 3, but he was fighting out of his weight class in a made for television event. Before that bout, Vera looked very tough against Sam Miller, and he bounced back from the Codrington loss with a win over Max Alexander.

Friday night will not be a walkover for Lee. However, if he wants to live up to Steward's bold prognostications, then he needs to defeat Vera in convincing fashion.

Unfortunately for Lee, he did not pass the test against Vera. I believe Lee has a bright future as a fighter, and he seems like a genuinely nice person and a credit to himself and the sport. However, his people unfairly rushed him, and they created unrealistic hype that is nearly impossible to live up to.

The hype machine happens in all sports, and some athletes live up to it and thrive, while others inevitably do not fulfill expectations. For every Derek Jeter, there is a “Bam Bam” Meulens; for every Michael Jordan there is a Dennis Hopson; for every Ayrton Senna, there is a Christian Fittipaldi. Boxing is no different, and Steward made the classic mistake of putting the cart before the horse with his hyperbolic predictions regarding Lee.

In addition to being Lee’s manager and trainer, Steward has taken on an almost father-figure/best friend role in Lee’s life. Years ago, there was another can’t miss southpaw, with a famous father who pushed him to the limit and created unbelievable hype. The young athlete was not a boxer, but rather a quarterback with undeniable talent. His name is Todd Marinovich, and his father’s name is Marv. Marv’s push on Todd was legendary, and Todd was nicknamed “Robo QB”. Todd succeeded, at first. He played at USC, and he was chosen in the first round of the 1991 NFL Draft by the Raiders. However, he cracked under the enormous pressure of high expectations and hype, and he eventually fell by the wayside.

Unfortunately, Steward now looks like the overbearing father at the Little League game who pushes his son too hard, too soon. The path to success for a young athlete is not always a straight line. Talent and skill need to be nurtured, at a measured pace. With his combination of physical attributes, and skills, Lee will bounce back, but his people need to map out a more measured track for him. Hopefully, Steward has learned that lesson, because if he pushes Lee too hard again, he could risk ruining him.

As an aside, Vera deserves all the credit in the world. Before his bout with Lee, Vera made the decision to move to Philadelphia and get better sparring, and it appears to have paid off. Vera is serious about his boxing career and a man with his heart can never be written off. ESPN wrote Vera off last week, and for that, they rightfully have egg on their faces.

2) Is 2008 the year of the upset?

Paul Williams and Juan Diaz are two promising young fighters who were knocked off in fairly convincing fashion this year, by huge underdogs. The most astonishing thing about both of their losses is that they were seemingly beaten at their own games. Williams was out boxed and out hustled by Carlos Quintana, and Juan Diaz was outworked inside by Nate Campbell.

On the ESPN side, Darnell Wilson was beaten by B.J. Flores, and more surprisingly, Andy Lee lost to Brian Vera. Other surprises, although technically not upsets because the favorite still won, included Paulie Malignaggi struggling with Herman Ngoudjo, John Duddy barely escaping Walid Smichet, and Jermain Taylor surprising many observers by giving Kelly Pavlik a serious run for his money.

Other milder upsets included Sam Peter’s stoppage of Oleg Maskaev, John Ruiz’s decisive win over Jameel McCline and Roman Karmazin being stopped by Alex Bunema. I am sure there are many others that I have missed, but the point is 2008 has provided a thread of unpredictability.

Unpredictable outcomes are wanted by the public. While surprising outcomes may not always please promoters, managers and television networks, the public yearns for them. The public does not enjoy watching bouts that are devoid of risk. The public wants excitement, and after a solid year last year, it seems like 2008 is delivering its share of suspense.

Fight I Would like to See and Why

John Duddy vs. Peter Manfredo, Jr.

I wrote about this scenario last year, and I recently read a few internet rumors that this bout could happen. I think it should. Duddy needs to fight and defeat a named opponent, before he gets a title shot. Manfredo, Jr. needs to defeat a tough opponent, in order to break out of being a labeled a regional attraction. Both men would have a lot to gain in this fight, and the New York to Boston corridor would buzz with excitement at the prospect of this bout.

Quote of the Week

“Lee has made a decision that he will be the best middleweight in the world. Steward has made a decision that he is going to tell people it will happen. Now, the fans get to make a decision this week.”-Joe Tessitore,, March 19.

The public will not abandon Andy Lee. He is still a bright young prospect. If he comes back from this defeat, and he learns from his bout with Vera, then his story will be even more compelling.

Boxing fans love comeback stories.

While the fans will not abandon Lee, the same cannot be said for the media. I am guessing that the same websites and television networks that hyped him, will now shy away from him, at least for the near future.

Injustice of the Week

In the lead-in to the Juan Diaz vs. Nate Campbell bout, Diaz’s attributes were lauded by HBO, and Campbell was never named. In the lead-in to ESPN’s telecast of Andy Lee vs. Brian Vera, Lee was gushed over, while Vera was swept under the rug.

By winning in the ring, both Campbell and Vera made up for the disrespect they received from the respective television outlets. However, it is still an injustice for our two main American boxing outlets to virtually ignore main event opponents.

Non-Boxing Thoughts

My wife has been obsessed with Milky Way Midnight Chocolate Bars. This weekend, we went into the M&M (parent company of Milky Way) store in Times Square, to buy some of the candy. To our surprise, candy is not a featured attraction, and the only Mars product sold are M&Ms. However, if I wanted to buy M&M umbrellas, pillows, shirts or die-cast Nascar collectibles, then I would have been in luck.

Fortunately, in New York, one never has to walk very far to find a viable alternative. We went across the street to the Hershey store, where they actually sell a full line of candy. We knocked out our Easter candy purchases, and satisfied my wife’s obsession with dark chocolate.

Happy Easter.

Reader Submissions

I will be taking reader submissions and answering them in this space. Please e-mail me at with questions and commentary, and we will include as many as we can. Please include your first name and hometown for publication and type the word “Column” in the subject line.

*This column is inspired by the premier novel of the twentieth century, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway spoke highly of the sport of boxing, and he participated as both a fighter and a referee. Every other week this column will humbly pay homage to the man who helped glorify the fight game back in its early stages. With a little hard work, the Sun Will Rise Again for Boxing, as together we can restore the sport to the top, one fan at a time. Thank You for reading the column.

Article posted on 23.03.2008

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