Boxer Mike Lee Talks Health, Fitness, and Achieving Your Goals

Boxer Mike Lee

Monday, September 26, 2016

Given his tendencies in his early sports career in suburban Chicago, it's no surprise that Mike Lee found his way to boxing.

"I was about 8 or 9 years old — hockey was one of my main sports. I basically was getting into a lot of fights. I played goalie, and I had the most penalty minutes on the team, which is pretty rare," Lee says. "I was always very calm outside of boxing, and very aggressive in sports,"

It was around that time that he first visited a boxing gym with his cousin, and by his teenage years he was training regularly in the ring — not the rink. "Once I started fighting the amateurs and having success, I fell in love with that adrenaline rush and just got really good, really fast," Lee says.

While Lee continued to train and work toward his ultimate goal - becoming a world champion — he tackled a more immediate and important goal: his college education. He earned a degree in Finance from the University of Notre Dame in 2009, and later that year he won his class in the Chicago Golden Gloves tournament before turning pro.

Lee currently holds a 17-0 record, including 10 knockouts. This Friday, Sept. 30, Lee will be taking on Chris Traietti for the IBF USBA Light Heavyweight World Title at the UIC Forum. Before the bout, he took some time to chat about how he stays healthy and keeps committed to achieving his goals.

QUESTION: This is going to be your third fight at the UIC Forum. What do you like about fighting in front of a home crowd?

ANSWER: I love it. I love the support. I love the energy. It gets me excited in training camp and gets me excited walking out and seeing familiar faces, and feeling the love and energy in the room for the hometown kid. I've fought all over the country in some of the biggest stadiums — Cowboys Stadium, Madison Square Garden — and there's just nothing like fighting at home. It's awesome to show all your friends and family and your town what you've been working so hard for.

Q: You played a lot of sports growing up. What turned you onto boxing?

A: Unlike football, unlike baseball, unlike basketball, unlike hockey, you have no other players to lean on. At the end of the day, it all comes down to you. I love that aspect of it because there are only two guys going at it in the ring. Who prepared and who worked harder — mentally and physically — will come out victorious in the ring. That always heightened the excitement.

Q: What about taking up the sport was difficult?

A: There were some difficulties in the learning process. Really, it's mental things more than anything because great fighters will have terrible days in the gym, and you get beat up, and it's how you bounce back from that. Teaching myself that not every failure in the gym meant something more than what it was. It really taught me that everything was a learning process. While I'm undefeated and I haven't failed in the ring in a competition, I've failed many, many times in the ring sparring and training and trying things. Those failures and tough days have prepared me and made me the fighter I am today.

Q: In college was it difficult to balance academics and boxing?

A: It was very difficult at times. I was training and fighting and studying at the same time, but it made me a more disciplined fighter and a more disciplined student. I don't do well with free time, so I enjoyed the busy, structured life of training and going after a goal in the ring and also attending the No. 1 business school in the country.

Q: What advice do you have for students here at UIC trying to balance their academic and extracurricular work while taking care of health and well-being?

A: I think that people — especially students — trying to accomplish anything should set small and big goals. I think people often fail and set themselves up for failure by saying, for instance, "OK, I want to lose 30 pounds." OK, that's great; that's an ultimate goal. My ultimate goal is I want to become world champion, but I know that there are steps, and I'm setting up small goals. So I literally will say: This week, I have this goal. This week, I have a goal of winning this fight and then becoming Top 15 in the world. I think setting attainable, small goals along the way really keeps you on track, keeps you motivated. Whether it's in the classroom or health and well-being, it's good to set an ultimate, lofty goal, but in the interim it's really important to set attainable, smaller goals that you'll reach because you get this sense of accomplishment. People are happy when they're progressing, when they feel they have progress. When you're learning and you're becoming better at something — even if it's 1% better! — you're still taking that right step forward. 

Q: College kids often are surrounded by unhealthy food. How did you combat the bad with some good?

A: I always tell people that are trying to get in shape or trying to stay healthy: Everything in moderation. People that go crazy on these certain diets where they're eating no carbs or they're juicing for four days straight — they tend to fall off the wagon because, once again, they set goals that were way too high or just unattainable. I think it's healthy sometimes, to do things that are stress-relieving, whether that's eating junk food or going out and having fun with friends. I think everything in moderation keeps people happy and keeps people sane.

Q: Did you do intramural sports when you were in school?

A: I played intramural basketball, I played one year of intramural football. Then boxing really started to consume my life as I started fighting in the amateurs and realized I was getting good enough to turn pro.

Q: UIC Campus Recreation has dozens of intramurals, sports clubs, programs, and classes. How do you encourage someone to try something new, especially if they're feeling apprehensive?

A: Do it now because you never know when that chance will be gone. One day you're going to be in the professional world, and you're going to wish you had this free time. I'm eight years removed from college now, and I still wish I did more. Say yes to it, and try as many different things as you can because one day you'll regret not doing it — I promise you that.

Q: Why is boxing a good workout?

A: Oh, it's phenomenal. I train with some of the top athletes here in LA, and they always come out of a boxing workout and say, "That's toughest workout I've ever done." I think that's why people have so much respect for fighters. You put on the gloves and you hit the bags or you even spar, you will see how demanding it is, both physically and mentally. So, I think it's a phenomenal workout for people because it's by far one of the toughest, exciting workouts there are. The other thing, too, is people don't want to sit on the treadmill or Stairmaster for 30 minutes. It's fun to mix it up.

Q: If someone does their first boxing workout today, where are they going to feel it most?

A: I think your arms. It's a full-body workout, but I think definitely your core and your arms is where you will feel it the next day!

Q: Besides boxing, what are your favorite workouts?

A: I love swimming, and I love yoga. Those are two staples in my camp that my strength coach has me doing a lot of. I'm a big fan of the hot yoga and the swimming. I do them each twice a week, plus strength-conditioning session almost every day.

Q: You've remarked that as your success in the amateurs continued to build, you knew you had a shot to go pro. What advice do you have for younger folks on setting and achieving goals and keeping moving forward?

A: Ultimately, this is my message: Find your passion. Find what you're good at. Find what you think you can add value to in the world. Ultimately, there are some days I don't want to get out of bed — I'm so sore and tired. These are moments that everybody has. But the underlying thing is that I have a profound passion and a love for this sport. And I think that people should try to find that. Find their passion. Whether it's shooting a basketball or helping people or building something. It doesn't matter When you find something that you love and, in turn, you can use that to help other people or inspire other people. Those days where you just don't want to do it or have so much work that you're going to go crazy — it makes them manageable.

Q: How do you recharge after a fight?

Traveling. I love to travel, it's something I do in between fights a lot. I love to travel and I love to try new things. That's one thing I've done throughout my whole career — I've had long training camps and had big fights, so I've tried to travel to different crazy places. I'm an adrenaline junkie, basically! I think that I'm so entrenched in the fight mentally and physically in training camps that you mentally need to take some time off to let your body heal, let your mind heal. If anything, when I get back to training, it just makes me more hungry.

Q: You've been extremely charitable to your alma mater. Can you talk about why the importance of making an impact in your everyday, nonprofessional life, not just in your work?

I think its important that if you achieve success, to pass it on. Not even in a financial way, but in a way where you feel like you can help. For instance, I've been involved with Big Brother programs in Houston for years when I was training down there. It was just giving my time on a pretty consistent basis. It was just one of the most rewarding things I've ever been a part of. Tony Robbins always talks about the satisfaction and pleasure you get out of helping other people, and I find that to be very true.

Mike Lee will be fighting for the IBF USBA Light Heavyweight World Title at the UIC Forum on Friday, Sept. 30, at 7 pm. UIC students, faculty, and staff can receive $5 off any ticket by showing their i-card at the gate. For more information, visit Round 3 Productions or call 630.400.4380.