By Joe Scalzo
After losing an IBF middleweight title fight to Sebastian Sylvester on Jan. 30, Billy Lyell wasn’t sure he wanted to keep fighting.
“When I was down, I wanted to heal up and not make any quick decisions,” the Niles native said. “After a few weeks, I felt better and said, ‘Hey, I’m 25 years old and this is still something I love to do.’”
So, Lyell (21-8, 4 KOs) got back in the gym and, tonight, he’ll get back in the ring when he faces North Carolina’s Martinus Clay (13-24) in a junior middleweight fight in Morgantown, W. Va.
At 5-foot-9, Lyell is better suited for the 154-pound division and is hoping if he’s lucky enough to get another title shot it’ll be at the lower weight.
“That’s my natural weight,” he said. “That’s where I’m going to try to get ranked.
“But, obviously, if I get a big opportunity at 160, I’ll take it.”
That’s what happened in January as Lyell was set to fight a minor bout in Morgantown, only to get a last-minute call from his manager, Pat Nelson, about a title opportunity in Germany. Lyell jumped at the chance and lost by 10th-round TKO. Lyell earned a No. 14 ranking by the IBF with an upset of previously undefeated John Duddy in April, 2009.
“It’s kind of a Catch-22 because I was ranked at 160 and that’s where I had my opportunity, but if you look at guys like Kelly [Pavlik] and even [Sergio] Martinez, they’re a lot bigger,” Lyell said. “In the back of my mind I knew that wasn’t my best weight.
“But once you get a title shot, it opens some doors and it’s easier to get a second one. People see I went 10 rounds on a week’s notice.”
Clay, 28, has lost six straight bouts and won’t exactly put Lyell back on the map, but he has a solid resume that includes bouts against fighters such as WBC welterweight champion Andre Berto and middleweight contender Kassim Ouma, who lost a title bout to Jermain Taylor in 2006.
“I know he’s tough,” Lyell said of Clay. “He’s a journeyman, but he’s beat some good guys and he’s a tough, durable fighter.”
Although Lyell trains under Keith Burnside at the Burnside Boxing Club, he’s spent most of his career with Pavlik’s trainer, Jack Loew. Burnside trained Lyell before the Sylvester bout but wasn’t able to work his corner because he didn’t have a passport, so Loew stepped in. Afterward, Loew said he though Lyell should stop fighting.
“That’s just Jack,” said Lyell. “I go back 15 years with him and he’s like a dad to me but he speaks his mind.
“That’s the way he is.”
Lyell, who also works as a substitute teacher at Niles, believes he can fight a little while longer provided he keeps winning.
“I don’t think I’ll do it much longer than a couple more years,” he said. “Obviously, if things didn’t work out and God forbid something happened this weekend, that changes things.
“But I don’t have any set date right now.”
And while Lyell probably won’t ever be a millionaire from boxing, he does have one financial goal.
“The goal is to make enough to get my nose fixed,” he said, chuckling. “Absolutely.”