Wheaton boxer on big stage in Texas
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Mike Lee has never shied away from a big crowd.
The 23-year-old boxer from Wheaton, and graduate of Benet Academy and the University of Notre Dame, loves it.
"When the cameras are on, I rise to the occasion," he said.
Saturday, the cameras will be rolling and the lights brighter than ever as Lee puts his 2-0 record against Keith Debow (0-2-1) in a 4-round Light Heavyweight bout in Texas. Lee's fight is on the undercard of the much anticipated WBC Super Welterweight World Title fight between Manny Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito at Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Exactly 8 months ago to the day, Lee was on stage for weigh-ins and in attendance when Pacquiao defeated Joshua Clottey at Cowboy Stadium. Little did he know his name would be appearing on the same card as Ring Magazine's No. 1 ranked, pound-for-pound, best boxer in the World.
Lee always had an interest in boxing, but he began to develop a passion for it when he transferred from the University of Missouri to Notre Dame.
"I always wanted to go to Notre Dame," Lee said, "but I didn't have the grades (upon graduation from high school). When I went to Missouri, I wanted to transfer (to Notre Dame). That was the number one thing. It was more than just getting into school. It was the first time in my life I really buckled-down."
During his sophomore year, Lee fought in Notre Dame's legendary Bengal Bouts, and won the 175-pound weight class. The following year he was named junior captain as he successfully defended his title at Bengal Bouts and was named Notre Dame's Boxer of the Year. During his senior year he was named team captain and three-peated as a Bengal Bouts champion.
"(The boxing program) was my life there," he said. "It defined me. It prepared me."
Upon graduation in 2009, Lee put his finance degree off to the side and competed in the 2009 Chicago Golden Gloves and won his class after defeating five opponents to run his amateur record to 16-0.
In January of this year, Lee signed with Bob Arum's Top Rank Boxing and made his pro debut on May 29. In front of family and friends at the UIC Pavilion, Lee won by unanimous decision, defeating Emmitt Woods.
If Mike's journey is sounding like the Rudy Ruettiger story and the "Rudy" movie about a Notre Dame walk-on football player, that's OK. According to Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports, the original Rudy traveled to Las Vegas to cheer Mike on during his second pro fight. Lee wowed the Vegas crowd by knocking out Alex Rivera in the second round.
Lee is hoping he can take what he has learned from those two fights and continue to get better.
"It's a whole different animal in the pros," Lee said. "I learned a lot in my pro debut. I want to stay as relaxed as I was (in my debut) and have the aggressiveness of my second fight."
Lee has goals beyond himself, and as such he has partnered with Champions for Children, a charity event that benefits Children's Memorial Hospital. He has donated two ringside seats, air travel and hotel for Saturday's event.
"My dad and I wanted to give back. It's important to stay involved," he said.
As Yahoo's Iole wrote, even Rudy Ruettiger is impressed with Lee:
"This is the kind of story that is good for boxing," Ruettiger said. "This is a very personable, very intelligent young man who, let's be honest, could do pretty much whatever he wants with his law and do well at it. He chose to take on one of the toughest challenges out there and try to box.
"The important thing is to trust his heart and give everything he has to reaching his dream. Other people are going to tell him he can't do it, but if one person Michael himself believes he can do it, at the end of the day, that's all that matters."
The financial world can wait for now as boxing takes center stage in Lee's career track. Lee's fight will be streamed live at 7 p.m. Saturday on TopRank.com, which also will cover Friday's weigh-ins at 5 p.m.
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