Irish middleweight Andy Lee (16-1) will top the Erin Go Brawl II bill for Irish Ropes Promotions at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden on Monday, March 16. The 24-year-old Lee, from Castleconnell, Co. Limerick, will face Antwun Echols (31-9-4) in a contest scheduled for 10 rounds. "Echols is a very dangerous opponent, and Andy will have to be on top of his game on the night," Irish Ropes president Eddie McLoughlin told the Irish Voice Monday. McLoughlin added that though Echols "somehow always finds a way to lose" in recent times, the draw against the then undefeated Michael Walker (Echols lost the subsequent rematch) shows that the 37-year-old always puts on a good show. Echols is based in Iowa and is a tough and experienced pro who has campaigned in both the middleweight and super middleweight divisions during his career. In his last 10 fights he has gone 2-5-3. Though he has not had his hand raised in victory since 2004, he has recently gone the distance with Peter "Kid Chocolate" Quillin and Fulgencio Zuniga. Echols' ledger also include three world title fights, two UD losses at middleweight to Bernard Hopkins (in December 1999 and December 2000) and a UD loss for the WBA super middleweight title to Anthony Mundine in September 2003. Walid Smichet, who put on a good show against Derry native John Duddy last February, had been touted as a possible opponent before Echols got the nod. "I never really wanted to fight the guy Smichet, not because I didn't think I couldn't beat him but number one, he has a very awkward style and number two, the only reason I would be fighting him is because he gave John Duddy a hard fight," Lee told the Irish Voice on Monday evening after training. "I didn't really want to get involved with anything like putting me up against John Duddy as I know of his fallout with Irish Ropes, and Irish Ropes are promoting this. It would be like going up against John Duddy, and I know it could reflect negatively on me. "Antwun Echols is above and beyond Walid Smichet. He is a better fighter and is in a different league. To beat him would be a good step for me, a good learning fight for me and a good reintroduction to the fight scene over here for me." It is Lee's first foray back into the ring since he TKO'ed Willie Gibbs in Limerick last July. In between, the Detroit-based 2004 Irish Olympian underwent surgery in California to remove scar tissue from his right eye. The injury occurred against Alejandro Falliga last February, but caused him problems in both the defeat to Brian Vera in March and the comeback win against Gibbs at the University of Limerick. The surgery was a success, and Lee reports no ill effects so far this training camp. The time off has also had its benefits. He worked with Irish broadcaster RTE on commentary for the Beijing Olympics and spent a training camp with Wladimir Klitschko in Spain before the holidays at home and a return to Detroit in the New Year. "I don't want to make a habit of it, but it was the longest time out of the ring in my life, even as an amateur," said Lee. "It's been a good time for me to reflect on things, the loss (to Vera in March), though I came back and won - but to get over that. It's time to get back and I am ready to get back and to show people what I can do." Does the break change how Lee and trainer/manager Manny Steward plan for 2009? "Even though I have lost time I am ranked number 21 and the guy that beat me is ranked in the 40s. The inactivity might have helped me because a lot of guys around me ended up losing fights, and they have gone down in the ranking," said Lee. "We know that in three or four fights I'll be right up there, in the top 10 . . . so I am in a really god position," added Lee, who also said that they had tried to get Vera back in the ring for this fight, but he was committed elsewhere. Avenging his only loss is something Lee definitely wants to address in the future. For now, Lee is delighted to be heading back to the Garden where he knocked Carl Daniels out in spectacular style in 2007. "To be top of the bill is special. It is special to fight there any time, but to top the bill on St. Patrick's Day is great. I am looking forward to going back to the scene of the crime and hopefully get the same result, another memorable knockout." The rest of the card will see Dublin featherweight Patrick Hyland (15-0), West Coast-based, Freddie Roach-trained light welterweight Dean Byrne (10-0), Omagh welterweight (2-1) Damian Taggart, Limerick light-heavyweight Jamie Power (4-0) and Philadelphia-based Galweigan middleweight Simon O'Donnell (8-1) in action. Feather weight Sadam Ali (1-0) and Irish-American welterweight Danny O'Connor (3-0) will also feature. Aside from Power, who will fight Reggie LaCrete (4-0-2), opponents have yet to be named for the other undercard fighters. Power beat LaCrete in the quarter final of the 2004 Golden Gloves so the two have some history. Incidentally, one of LaCrete's draws came against former Irish Ropes fighter Alo Kelly in a barnstormer of a fight in September 2007. Tickets for the show are available at the usual outlets. Visit www.irish ropes.com for further information.
Happy Earth Day! Ireland sure looks gorgeous from outer space