Mike Lee is an atypical athlete. The undefeated boxer has interests outside of the ring. Business ventures, philanthropy, a passion for natural, plant-based medicine, Lee’s résumé resembles that of an industrialist more than that of a fighter. In a sport that values brute force and physical agility, he appears to give equal weight to the mental side of things. When you hear Lee’s story, it seems as if it were made for the movies, which is convenient, considering Lee is currently in Los Angeles training for the most important boxing match of his career.
This Saturday, Lee, 31, will be contending for the IBF super middleweight title. The undercard to the main event featuring Manny Pacquiao and Keith Thurman, Lee will face off against Caleb Plant at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. “An incredible road of a lot of ups and a lot of downs” prepared Lee for this very moment.
In an interview with Generation Active, Lee provided some insight into this complex journey. The Chicago-born boxer began his career almost a decade ago. 21 fights later, he looks to remain undefeated and add a championship belt to his list of accomplishments.
The first thing you notice when talking to Lee is that he speaks in paragraphs. (Remembering he has a finance degree from the University of Notre Dame certainly alters expectations.) He has the gift of foresight that behooves most boxers. Yet he also has a level of self-awareness that is not usually associated with professional fighting.
To qualify for the title fight this weekend against Plant, Lee has to drop a weight class. An established light heavyweight boxer, Lee thinks he can best the super middleweight champion. The weight drop presents an exciting opportunity. It also calls for an intense training regimen. Like millions of Americans looking to become leaner and more fit, Lee has adopted a workout program that works best for him and his body.
Lee might not be a typical boxer. But in a way, he’s no different than your average Millennial embracing a healthy, active lifestyle – excluding the fact that he can knock a pro fighter out in the blink of an eye.
The following is a lightly edited transcript.
Mike Lee vs. Caleb Plant; the MGM Grand in Las Vegas; a world title on the line. How do you feel about the upcoming fight?
Incredible moment. Really, it’s one fight, but ultimately, it’s a culmination of years and years of hard work. I think in any sport, whether you are at a world title, Super Bowl, when you are at the pinnacle of the sport, it’s the years and years of hard work, pain and sacrifice that you put in that people didn’t see, when the cameras weren’t on and no one was watching. For me, this is such a dream come true to be the main event. Fox, millions of people watching for a world title because I’ve worked so hard to get here. I am just really excited and grateful, and it has been an incredible road of a lot of ups and a lot of downs, and for it to all kind of culminate to this one moment on July 20th is really a beautiful thing.
You’ve dropped a weight class for this chance at a championship belt. What’s your training regimen look like? Talk about your day-to-day preparation.
We have been training for a while because I knew about this fight months ago. Basically, standard training camp is 8-10 weeks. My everyday now is two-a-day workouts six days a week. Every day is boxing; a few days a week is sparring; other days it’s just boxing technique, hitting the pads, the bag, working with coach, watching film. The other days are strength and conditioning. That workout looks like bike rides, swimming. We work out at the beach a lot, which I love, just phenomenal for your endurance, stability, strength. I love running and sprints in the sand and drills in the sand, so we definitely utilize that. I’ve also integrated a lot of recovery stuff to my training camp. Almost every day, whether it’s hopping into the sauna, or a massage, it’s all about recovery for my body. They are pretty full days. All of this is just towards getting in better shape and becoming a better boxer.
You mentioned film. How instrumental is that aspect of your training? How much film do you watch of your upcoming opponent?
We definitely watch film, but I don’t get overly obsessed with it. Every style is different. No matter what I look at, I need to understand their basic style. But at the end of the day, they have never fought me, so what they are going to do, I cannot rely on other fights. Do we watch film and learn general tendencies? Absolutely, but at the end of the day I have to focus on being the best boxer I am. If you get too lost on what they are going to do, you forget about yourself. Really tapping into my identify, and what makes me the best fighter, is so important. I think some guys get lost on what someone else is going to do, and then they are just reacting. There is an element of film, for sure, but I am not overly obsessed. I just know that when Mike Lee shows up that I win. And that’s what we’ve done for 21 fights and it’s worked for every single one.
How do you mentally prepare for a fight?
I do a lot of visualization. There are a lot of drills that I work with different sports psychologists. I think you are seeing a lot of professional athletes getting into this, whether it is meditation or visualization. I will visualize round by round what I want. That way, I’ve gone over it so many times in my mind, when I get there in person, my body has already experienced it. Knowing that gives me a sense of calm when I am in the ring. It’s all about being present in that moment. And it’s all being present that round because anything can change in the blink of an eye. It’s about focusing exactly on what’s going on and sticking to the game plan regardless of how good or bad the last round was.
Does your finance degree help with the mental side of boxing?
I have been involved in a lot of different things. Boxing has always been a huge passion of mine, but some of my opponents see it as a weakness that I have started other businesses or gotten involved in other things outside of boxing. I have different interests. But the fact that I have excelled in a lot of them only speaks to the fact that I can concentrate on each one individually. But all these things that I have from business school…it’s that I am definitely a thinker. I think that really helps, not just in business, but in sports. When you get to that top level, what separates the good from the great is your mindset.
You’re a boxer, businessman, celebrity speaker… can you tell me a bit about your business, Soul CBD?
I started the business a year ago with my sister. I have gone through a lot of health issues throughout my life. In and out of training, being a professional athlete. I was also diagnosed with an autoimmune disease a few years back that really kept me out of the ring for a couple years. It was really a rough moment in my life. It was some of the darkest moments of my life. While I still deal with it – there are times when it is tough because there are flare ups with joint pain, back pain, inflammation, whatever issue arises – I have really gotten ahold of it. I really credit that to changing my diet, changing my mindset, and CBD. CBD is all natural, comes from the hemp plant. Really helps me out with anxiety, pain, inflammation. So, initially, we started the company because I wanted to help other people. Millions of people now are learning about the benefits of natural plant medicine versus pharmaceutical drugs. While pharmaceutical drugs have their place, there are also a ton of side effects and I think that ultimately it’s putting a band-aid on a health issue. I wanted to spread that message and the company has taken off in the past year. It has exploded overnight. And it’s been really, really exciting.
You obviously have a unique background, but one thing I noticed is that you don’t have a nickname. Why is that?
I have never had a nickname. You can’t give yourself a nickname, right? It doesn’t really bother me. There has been nothing that has stuck. I don’t really have an answer.
Do you see yourself as an ambassador for healthy living? You’ve done national commercials for Subway, which markets itself as a healthy option when eating out. You are an influencer for Generation Active. How important is a healthy, active lifestyle for people?
I think it is very important. I think going through not only training, but the ups and downs of being a professional athlete, I’ve learned how important health and wellness is. Most importantly, not just the workouts you do, but what you consume. That’s part of the reason I started my CBD company. I think that, ultimately, so much of your health and lifestyle comes down to your diet, not just exercise. I want the health and wellness aspect to be part of my brand and my identity after boxing.
Some people say this is a great time for boxing. Fox is broadcasting some huge fights. There are now platforms such as DAZN and ESPN+ hosting matches. A lot of money is flowing into boxing at the moment. Do you agree that boxing is on the up?
I really think it is. It is a really exciting time for boxing because as you mentioned there are all these new platforms like DAZN, ESPN+. And there’s obviously Fox. To have boxing on free TV is huge. I think people are really starting to love the sport again. And you have some of these heavyweights that are really phenomenal. You have a handful of heavyweights that are really making boxing exciting. Obviously, boxing had a heyday in the 70s, 80s, and 90s with Tyson, Holyfield and Ali (and all those heavyweights). Now you are seeing a resurgence of heavyweights that have just given boxing in general a huge comeback. It’s exciting that the mainstream is covering it again.
What’s the difference between the Mike Lee of 2019 compared to the Mike Lee of nine years ago when you first started out?
You learn so much in your 20s. I am 31 years old right now. As a fighter, I am the best I’ve ever been. I am the strongest, the fastest, have a lot of experience. As a person, I have been through so much that I know how strong my will to win is. Through all the ups and downs, it is never as good as you think; it is never as bad as you think. It’s just important to ride that out. I am just a different person in a better way, in a good way, than I was right before I turned pro. When you become a pro, you don’t know much about the game. You have to learn how to fight on the job. It’s been quite a ride. I’ve gotten to do Super Bowl commercials, national Subway commercials, fights in the world’s biggest arenas. All of them have just been incredible memories all along the way. I think nine years in, I am proud of everything I have accomplished – all of the initiatives I have done to give back as well, all of the charitable aspects and foundations I’ve been a part of throughout the years. It’s been a wild ride and I am definitely more mature than I was nine years ago.
Are there any charities you want to give a shout out?
One in particular called Family Reach. They help families with kids that are dealing with cancer and any other kind of sickness. I’ve been involved with Family Reach for a few years now and it is a great group and a great cause.
Obviously, you are busy preparing for the upcoming fight, but do you ever get the chance to enjoy any free time?
Honestly, I’ve been so busy lately, between boxing and media and running Soul CBD. In my free time, I love to spend time at the beach, hangout with friends and be outside and relax. You don’t get a lot of free time during training. I love to travel, which I will do after the fight. Right now, though, all of my hobbies have been dedicated to Soul CBD. But now that the business has become more established, I can hopefully start focusing on other things.
Boxing is a part of culture. It is often dramatized on TV and in film. Do you have any favorite boxing movies?
“Rocky” is an all-time classic. But I think “Southpaw” was one of my favorites with Jake Gyllenhaal. I also liked “The Fighter” with Mark Wahlberg. I have been a big Micky Rourke fan for quite a while. Those are probably my top favorites.
Can you give a shout out to your team? Lots of boxers talk about their team. Who’s a part of your team that helps prepare you for a fight?
Everyone has a role. Especially in boxing, you need to trust and love your team. I have two trainers, Jamal Abdula and Julian Chua, and both of them are phenomenal. They are my eyes. When I am out there, they are with me every single day. It’s become more than a team. It’s a family. We are going to war in there. Between them and my strength coach, it is all family. We are with each other every day and we grind through the tough days and the bad days. Ultimately, yes, they teach me to be a better boxer, but at the end of the day we are there for each other. Boxing is more mental than it is physical at times. That’s what’s important: having a team that enjoys each other and loves striving for the ultimate vision, the ultimate goal of winning a world title.
You have your trainers and strength coach on your side. But you also have a growing fanbase. What do you think the turnout will be for the upcoming fight?
I haven’t really thought much about it. I do know the Notre Dame family has really supported me. The city of Chicago supports me. Whether I fight in New York, Las Vegas, or Chicago, they have really come out and supported me. I expect the same July 20.
Do you have a prediction for the fight?
I predict I am going to win. I know I am going to win. I feel it in my heart. I am too strong, and I am too fast. I am going to win and become a world champion. That’s my destiny. I am working incredibly hard towards that. And even though I am the underdog, I don’t care. I love it. I love being in a position when people don’t believe in me. It’s been my entire career. No one thought I could get to 21-0 and here we are. No one thought I could get to a world title and here we are. I get to tell my grandkids about this one day. I am coming in there with everything I got and it is going to be too much for him. I am bigger and stronger. He has never been hit by a true light heavyweight and July 20th everybody is going to see that.
Best of luck to you. We hope you get your hand raised at the end of the fight.