Hall of fame trainer Emanuel Steward says that Irish middleweight Andy Lee (18-1) is ready for his fight against Anthony Shuler (20-6-1) on Friday night, but that the Limerick fighter’s opponent will provide a much tougher challenge than most people think.

“I don’t like the fight because he is a tough fighter with no recognition. Also the fact that he is fighting at home means he is going to have a lot of people and big support,” Steward told the Irish Voice.

“When he lost to Julio Cesar Chavez Junior he was fighting in an all-Mexican crowd and he was intimidated, they told me, and he didn’t really try. But in this fight he is going to be a really difficult opponent.”

Steward and Lee, who is now ranked 14 by the WBA, are taking no chances, and their preparation for the fight at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Indiana, has been thorough.

“Andy’s camp has gone very well. He has had super boxing for the past three weeks, some of the best boxing I’ve seen any fighter have preparing for any fight,” continued Steward.

“He’s been boxing guys from cruiserweight to junior middleweight.  He’s been boxing Aaron Pryor Junior and also Dominique Dalton, a very good undefeated junior middleweight, and J’leon Love. Remember, before this, his sparring partner was Wladimir Klitschko,” added Steward, referring to the fact that Lee became the Ukrainian’s principal sparring partner while the heavyweight champion got ready for the for the Ruslan Chagaev fight.

Matthew Macklin (24-2), who fights for the European middleweight title on September 25 against Amin Asikainen (26-2), said last week he would like to fight Lee if he beats the Finn.  When asked if this was a bout that would interest him, Steward, who acts as Lee’s manager as well as trainer, told the Irish Voice where his fighter’s priorities are.

“Matthew is a good fighter, but let me be very honest, that is not in our scope.  It's really good for Matthew and maybe good for Brian (Peters, Macklin’s manager),” he said

“Andy is on the verge of fighting for the championship of the world.  He’s been working hard for three or four years, and there is talk with one of the rating (boxing) organizations of the world that if he gets two wins he will be fighting for the world title.”

Steward would not go into the specifics of what organization, but said that outside Kelly Pavlik, Lee is one of the biggest names in the division.

“Andy’s name is what most of the organizations want because he is the biggest marquee name. Now that (Arthur) Abraham has left he is the biggest international name,” said Steward.

Right now, there are three routes to win a middleweight title. The WBO/WBC titles are owned by Pavlik, and he puts them on the line next against Paul Williams in late November/early December.  Taking on the winner of this fight would be the hardest route to becoming world champion.

Then there is the WBA belt that is currently held by Felix Sturm, who has campaigned mainly in Germany and never tested himself against the best in the division.  Finally, the IBF belt was recently vacated by Arthur Abraham, who has moved up to the super middleweight division, and the IBF will sanction the two top ranked fighters in that organization to fight for the vacant title.

Steward also said the John Duddy was one of the biggest names in the division and confirmed reports that came out last week that a Lee/Duddy fight has been proposed to HBO, but that the cable channel turned it down.

“They did look into it, but the fact was that Duddy was not too impressive in his last fight,” added Steward.

Last week Lee confirmed that his troublesome right eye had stood the test of full sparring, and Steward went on to say that his fighter had received a lot of head butts in his most recent fights, and that he needed to change his stance slightly to avoid clashing heads with opponents.

“I told him he’s been bending forward too much and he has got to go back to the way he used to fight when he didn’t bend forward at all, like the old European style that he used in the Olympics,” said Steward.

It would seem that after a lull due to eye injury/surgery/rehabilitation, Lee is now entering a critical period in his career. 

If Lee wins on Friday night, then he will be one step closer to the title shot that he craves.

In amateur news, Ireland's chances of a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics got a huge boost after the inclusion of women's boxing at the London Games. The IOC met in Berlin last week and decided to bring women’s boxing into the Olympic fold.

It has been two-time European and two-time world amateur champion Katie Taylor’s dream to win an Olympic gold medal, and now the path is clear for her to prepare and ready herself for that challenge. A dominant boxer in the lightweight division for two years, the Wicklow woman will be a hot favorite for the gold medal at the London Games.

"I can only rejoice about the decision of inclusion of women's boxing," said IOC President Jacques Rogge, who used to work as a boxing doctor in his younger years,

“I think it's a great decision. Boxing was the sole (Olympic) sport with no women involved.  The sport of women's boxing has progressed a lot, a tremendous amount, in the last five years and it was about time to include them in the Games."