Lee aims for 2017 return, eventual Golovkin fight

Former middleweight world titleholder Andy Lee is ready to get back in the ring in 2017 after taking 2016 off. Dave Thompson/Getty Images

Ten years into his professional boxing career, former middleweight titleholder Andy Lee decided to take a rest in 2016.

That decision came after he lost his world title by majority decision to Billy Joe Saunders in December 2015 in a fight in which he got knocked down twice in the third round. Lee wanted to take a break, recharge his batteries and then go after another title.

Lee initially hoped to return this December, but that is out and now he hopes to look for another big opportunity in 2017 with his eye on a return in the early spring.

"I am back in training. I decided to take a break after my last fight, which I lost, just to get away from it for a while,” Lee said when I joined him as a guest on the “Off The Ball” radio program on Irish radio this week to talk about the state of boxing.

Initially, Lee thought he might come back by facing a softer kind of opponent to shake off the rust from the layoff, but now he said he would prefer a higher level of opponent.

Lee (34-3-1, 24 KOs), 32, of Ireland, mentioned Argentina’s Jorge Sebastian Heiland (28-4-2, 15 KOs), a fellow southpaw, as a possible opponent. Heiland is the No. 1 contender for one of unified titleholder Gennady Golovkin’s belts but has seen no movement in actually getting the title shot.

"Originally, it was supposed to be a prelim bout against an opponent of our choosing, which would be like a comeback [fight], somebody with a good record, rated in the top 20,” Lee said. “But the way things have developed, there's a good chance I could fight Jorge Sebastian Heiland, who was the WBC No. 1 contender and beat [retired former title challenger] Matthew Macklin [in Dublin] a couple of years ago."

What Lee, owner of a devastating right hook, really wants is the fight few others dare ask for -- one with Golovkin (36-0, 33 KOs).

Had he defeated Saunders, Lee would have looked to unify with Golovkin without issue, unlike Saunders, who has blatantly avoided the fight.

In early 2014, several months before Lee won a vacant middleweight world title with a one-punch, sixth-round knockout of Matt Korobov, Lee had agreed to challenge Golovkin in an HBO headliner slated for April 26 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York. However, the fight was canceled just before the fight was set to be announced because Golovkin’s father died and he returned home to Kazakhstan to tend to his family and to his father’s affairs.

Lee still hopes that fight will come about eventually.

"That's a fight I'd like [with Heiland] and a fight that would make sense for me,” Lee said. “It would lead to a possible title fight with Golovkin, so that's what I'm hoping is in the works.”

After Lee beat Korobov for the belt, he fought to a split draw with Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin in April 2015 in a fight in which Quillin failed to make weight. Then Lee lost the title to Saunders in his next fight.