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Boxing: Lee to fight in JACC once again

Andrew Gastelum | Thursday, August 25, 2011

Professional boxer Mike Lee’s favorite memory of his time at Notre Dame isn’t any of the three Bengal Bouts titles he won, nor is it of the football games he attended. It is composed of those self-made subtler moments, like his icy walks to the JACC prior to his championship fights amid the buzz that centered completely on him.

But never did Lee (6-0-0, 4 KOs) think he would return as a fighter after receiving his diploma from the Mendoza School of Business — that is, until his father raised the prospect of the first ever professional fight taking place at Notre Dame.

“My dad and I had always talked about coming back [after turning pro], but never thought it would happen with all the red tape and the fact that it had never happened here before,” Lee said. “But we had some really good meetings with [Director of Athletics] Jack Swarbrick and the administration about doing it for charity and got it done.”

The fight, dubbed “Fight Like a Champion,” will take place Sept. 16 at the Joyce Center, the day before the Notre Dame-Michigan State football game, with all event proceeds going toward the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation and the Robinson Community Learning Center in South Bend.

“When I was growing up, I was fortunate to have an older kid to look up to who played ball with me and taught me how to deal with bullies,” the 2009 Notre Dame graduate said. “An older role model is a great thing to have and I thought Notre Dame-affiliated charities where the students are involved are good places to start.”

Lee even had the opportunity to meet legendary Notre Dame football coach Ara Parseghian at a press conference announcing the fight, a point of inspiration for the rising star, he said.

“Coach Parseghian told me that when he found out his grandchildren had [terminal Niemann-Pick Type C disease] they had two options: to either go into the corner or fight back and do something about it,” Lee said. “I was blown away by what he had to say. It was like being in one of his locker room pregame speeches.”

Meanwhile, the former O’Neill resident and University of Missouri transfer has been training in Houston with renowned trainer Ronnie Shields in preparation for the highly anticipated light heavyweight bout against Kansas-native Jacob Stiers (4-1, 2 KOs).

“Ronnie is a big reason why I’m here in my career today,” Lee said. “We’ve grown to be really close. Learning from a world-champion trainer is just an incredible experience.”

Lee, a Chicago Golden Gloves champion, is coming off a dominating performance in a knockout win over Michael Birthmark in July at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. Even though Lee knocked his opponent to the floor three times, Birthmark was able to counter at key opportunities in the middle of the fight, something that Shields has worked on with his protégé.

“Ronnie and I watched tapes of the fight and even though I was able to get my overhand right working, I should have calmed down and picked my shots,” Lee, who is scheduled to fight at Madison Square Garden in December, said.

But with his upcoming headline fight — one Lee calls the biggest of his career up to this point — the Chicago native expects an exhilarating atmosphere on a weekend that already draws over 80,000 people to campus.

“The atmosphere is just going to be unreal right before a big game like this,” Lee said. “I just hope the students come out and support this cause. There is nothing like a live pro fight.”

Tickets are available at the Notre Dame Ticket Office and at und.com/tickets, $15 for students and $30 for general admission.