Boxer Is a Quick Learner, In and Out of the Ring

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MikeLee.jpg Crain's Chicago Business - It's hardly a shock that boxing is filled with people angling to take advantage of young fighters. John Lee, the father of Mike Lee, said the business aspect of the sport is "like the Wild, Wild West."

"Anything goes," he said.

Yet even though Mike Lee , who graduated with a degree in finance from the University of Notre Dame, had a good inkling of what was coming when he turned pro in 2009, there's still nothing like actually going through it.

"You take these business-ethics courses and you're surrounded by all these good people at Notre Dame," Mike Lee said. "The real world (the boxing world) has more of a cutthroat mentality. I've had people going behind my back trying to get higher percentages. It happens all the time. You learn quickly how to read people."

Thus far, the light heavyweight from west suburban Wheaton is winning big. His 7-0 record has earned him a slot on the undercard Saturday for the Miguel Cotto-Antonio Marqarito fight at New York's Madison Square Garden. HBO will show the bouts via pay-per-view.

It's a significant jump in prestige for Mr. Lee, who already has received plenty of hype because of his unusual background. Name another white university grad on the boxing circuit these days.

Now he has to make the most of it.

"I feel like I've got 20 years worth of business experience in the last two," Mr. Lee said. "I've learned what comes out of people's mouths often isn't the truth. I see it as a positive. I'm learning what human nature is all about."

Added his father: "Mike's gotten a first-class education about how tough people are in and out of the ring. I'm shocked at how well he's handled it."

Fast-food chain Subway already has latched on to Mr. Lee's story. He's been featured in a series of ads that include prominent athletes--another big break for a second-year boxer.

"I turned down a lot of offers that didn't fit what I was or where I see myself going," Mr. Lee said. "Subway is a huge national brand that promotes healthy eating. It's a great fit for me."

The Fightin' Irish connection obviously helps from a marketing standpoint. Mr. Lee even had a fight at Notre Dame earlier this year.

But as Mr. Lee goes deeper into his career, with the victories (he hopes) piling up, he wants to be known for being more than a white kid with a finance degree.

"I'm at the point in my career where I want to show people that I'm a good fighter," Mr. Lee said. "I feel like I'm getting better and better. Not to distance myself from Notre Dame, but I want to become more than a Notre Dame boxer. As the fights keep coming, it'll be less about Notre Dame, and more about being a light heavyweight contender."

- Ed Sherman

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