The Niles boxer enjoyed a big win over a European in 2009.
By JOE SCALZO
Vindicator sports staff
The last time Billy Lyell fought a highly-ranked European fighter, the Niles native stunned the boxing world by handing Irishman John Duddy his first loss.
On Saturday, Lyell will be in a similar situation and he’s hoping for a similar result.
“It doesn’t matter who is supposed to win,” said Lyell, who will meet IBF champion Sebastian Sylvester in a 12-round middleweight bout in Germany. “When the bell rings, it’s only me and him in the ring.
“All that other stuff goes out the window.”
The title shot will cap a terrific nine-month stretch for Lyell, whose career was struggling at this time last year.
After losing to Vanes Martirosyan last February — his fifth loss in 10 bouts — Lyell went into the Duddy fight as a huge underdog. But he outworked Duddy in a 10-round bout in Newark, N.J., dropping the Irishman’s record to 26-1.
Lyell has since won twice more in classic “stay busy” bouts and now has a chance every boxer dreams of. And while Sylvester holds one of the four major middleweight titles, he’s widely considered the most vulnerable of the three champs.
Youngstown’s Kelly Pavlik, who holds the WBC and WBO titles, and Felix Sturm (WBA) are ranked 1-2 by Fight News, while Sylvester is just sixth. Sylvester lost to Sturm by unanimous decision in November of 2008.
“Sylvester is not an unbeatable guy,” said Lyell’s trainer, Jack Loew, who also trains Pavlik. “He’s the weakest link of all of [the middleweight champions].
“He’s nothing fancy. Just a straight up and down fighter with a big right hand who comes to fight.”
At 5-71‚Ñ2, Sylvester is actually 11‚Ñ2 inches shorter than Lyell. That’s good news for Lyell, who considers junior middleweight his ideal weight class but fights at middleweight because he’s got a world ranking (No. 14 by the IBF) at that weight.
“He’s pretty good — to be a champion, you’ve got to be good,” Lyell said of Sylvester. “He’s not real big. I’m a small middleweight, so I like my chances against a guy like that.
“When you see me next to Kelly [who stands 6-2 1/2], it looks like we’re in two different weight classes.”
Lyell was a last-minute replacement for Pablo Navascues, who tested positive for a banned substance. But Lyell was already scheduled to fight Bruce Rumbolz (22-19) in Morgantown, W.Va., on Friday so the timing was perfect.
“He’s actually got a winnable fight,” said Lyell’s manager, Pat Nelson. “Most of those [last-minute fights] are pretty one-sided.
“They [Sylvester’s handlers] like Billy because he’s right-handed, he’s only got three knockouts and they feel he’s safe.”
Sylvester got his title shot when German Arthur Abraham vacated the belt in July to move up to super middleweight. Sylvester then defeated Giovanni Lorenzo for the vacant belt in September and has not fought since.
“He’s not a fancy guy,” said Loew. “He’s going to meet in the middle of the ring and Billy fights the same way.”
Lyell and Loew will fly to Germany on Monday. The bout will be held about an hour from Sylvester’s hometown of Greifswald.
“It’s in Germany, so I think I definitely need to be him very convincingly [to get the win],” said Lyell, who has never been to Europe. “But I’m no stranger to going into someone’s backyard.
“I’ve just got to fight my fight.”
Top Rank is continuing to negotiate for Pavlik’s next bout and it seems likely he’ll meet Sergio Martinez on April 17 in an HBO middleweight championship bout.
Anthony Mundine has also been discussed as an opponent. The location is still undecided but Atlantic City is probably the front-runner, Loew said.