Middleweight Andy Lee (20-1, 14 KOs) will fight Mamadou Thiam (46-8, 43 KOs) at the University Arena in Limerick on May 15.
The 38-year-old Thiam is a former European light middleweight titleholder and lost his two world title challenges during his career, first to Felix Trinidad and later to Santiago Samaniego.
Thiam has rattled off four consecutive wins after a four-fight losing streak, and with 43 knockouts on his ledger the Paris-based Senegalese will have more than a puncher’s chance against the Irishman.
“Thiam cannot be overlooked. He has a 94% knockout ratio, which is phenomenal, and he also has all that top level experience so he is a real dangerman,” said promoter Brian Peters.
“He is one of those guys who throws every punch with bad intentions. His record speaks for itself. He's a veteran of 54 fights and 50 of those have ended inside the distance, so it's safe to say that this is a guy who rarely relies on the judges.”
Thiam’s height is said to be 5’9”, so if Lee (6’2”) uses his natural height advantage and reach then he should be able to control things from distance.
However, the same could be said for his last opponent, Affif Belghecham, and when Lee decided to brawl in the last round after a dominant performance, he shipped some fierce shots and was nearly caught out at the end.
When the 25-year-old Limerick native spoke to the Irish Voice about this date a few weeks back before an opponent was confirmed, he talked about the importance of a strong showing.
“Hopefully I will have a good performance. It has been a while since I have been really happy with one of my fights,” said Lee.
“I need to go out and remind people of what I can do and go out and have a good knockout or put in a good boxing show and make a statement.
“My last performances haven’t been the best because there have been a lot of distractions and a lot of things going on, but thankfully I got through the fights, and I am more focused and more determined than ever. You can judge me in the ring.”
It sounds like Lee lacks nothing in motivation for this fight, and Peters believes he shows his best form when up against it.
"Andy has always performed at his best when he's been faced with a real threat, and that's exactly what he will be coming up against in Thiam,” said Peters.
“Andy will need to be very careful but he's no slouch either in the power department so I think it's safe to say that it's a fight that will produce fireworks.”
Though Lee told the Irish Voice that he wanted to concentrate on his career in the U.S. after this fight, Peters feels Lee could be better served targeting success in Europe.
“If Andy can get past Thiam then I believe that his next fight should be for the European title and I'd be very confident of bringing that fight to Limerick,” said Peters.
Darren Barker is the current European champion (Lee beat Barker in their amateur days already) having beaten Affif Belghecham in a close fight a few weeks back after Matthew Macklin vacated the belt due to his broken nose.
After the change in the middleweight landscape over the weekend with Kelly Pavlik losing his WBC/WBO titles to Sergio Martinez, the European title might be worth considering.
Pavlik has a rematch clause with Martinez, and if he triggers that clause both men will be busy with that fight for the rest of the year.
Pavlik was also cut badly in the bout and will need a few months to recover before he could even consider getting back in the ring with the Argentinean.
If he chooses not to, Martinez could be tempted by a big money rematch with Paul Williams (himself in action against Kermit Cintron in May) who beat the new champ in a very close fight in December.
In any case, for Lee, and for John Duddy and Macklin, the road to Pavlik’s belts is now closed, and Martinez is the man who holds all the aces.
Will that make a European middleweight title belt challenge and a possible challenge to either WBA world champion Felix Sturm or IBF world champion Sebastian Sylvester more appealing?
There remains a lot of fighting to be done before world title tilts can be talked about in earnest, and for Lee it is Mamadou Thiam who will be dominating his thoughts up to May 15.