If Mick Nee happened to be the culprit, the cereal box leprechaun wouldn't need to ask "The Irishman" what he had done with his lucky charms.
They are written all over his face.
Nee, a dashing gentleman-type from Galway, Ireland, is one of the four final heavyweights part of local promoter Bob LeCoure's documentary film project, "Butte — The Making of a Heavyweight Contender." But the 29-year-old has a bit of a different story from the other fighters involved in the film. Not only is Nee a fighter in the ring, he's also a fighter right down to the heart and soul, having grown up "dirt poor" in a tough city of western Ireland, one of seven children in a single-mother household.
"Aw yeah, she's my biggest fan," Nee said fondly of his mother, who still resides on The Emerald Isle along with the rest of his family. "I've got three brothers and three sisters. Mom raised us all, working originally as a dressmaker. She was married twice, but both of them were (asses). We were dirt poor as kids." Galway — a town of around 70,000 located due west across the island from Dublin — is where Nee was born and is also where he first kindled his love for the sweet science. He remembers getting hooked on the sport after watching Irish boxing legend Sean Mannion stretch Mike McCallum to the distance in a hard-fought losing effort to win the world junior middleweight title back in 1984. Mannion was also from the Galway area.
"He was huge back then," Nee recalls. "They still talk about him. I remember I met him right after See IRISH, Page B5 the McCallum fight and that's when I really first became interested.
Nee started his amateur career in the ring shortly after the experience at the tender age of 17 — around the same time he began working as a brick and stone mason. " "I fought 17 fights over the next 10 years," he said. "I always was working for a living. Boxing was a hobby that cost me, if you know what I mean." The young Irishman worked from Galway to London in the trowel trade over the next 10 years, entering the ring in amateur boxing, kick boxing and one ultimate challenge match whenever his schedule allowed. Nee compiled a respectable 10-7 fight record, not counting the countless battles he encountered during the six years he moonlighted as a bouncer in Galway.
When asked if the stereotype of the Irish folk being a drinking, fighting lot were true, Nee had the following response: "Let's just say I understand why there's a need for several bouncers in each place, I'll leave it at that. I had to deal with loads of enormous escapades." Nee said he temporarily retired from boxing about five years ago on "a bitter note" after losing back-to-back fights he thought he should have won. During that time he said he was having trouble physically, constantly battling unexplained illness. Then one day a dentist diagnosed Nee's health problem on account of his wisdom teeth. "I was getting these incredible headaches and awful sore throats every three weeks, not knowing what it was," he said. "After getting them removed, within a month's time I was like a new man." It was only a year after his "cure" that Nee decided it was time for a temporary retirement from masonry and to give boxing another try.
"I'm quite happy not to be doing it at the moment," he said of his layoff from the scaffolds. "It gets to be monotonous at times, although getting punched in the face isn't much fun either." Not wanting to struggle through the amateur ranks in Ireland, the then 28-year-old decided last summer it was time to try his luck in the United States and chose San Francisco from "a notion in his head." After a week of scouring the Bay Area for fighting prospects, Nee concluded there was no action to be had in the lack of profession boxing scene in California and came to Bozeman to visit an acquaintance he'd met a few years back in Ireland. From there Bob LeCoure and his current situation were only a short right away.
"While I was in Bozeman, I was introduced to Bob LeCoure," said Nee. "Somebody heard what I was looking to do and said, ‘You should go meet him.'" The lanky 6-foot-2½-incher strolled into LeCoure's camp last July, originally working with the Butte promoter's group of fighters strictly as a sparring mate. But as it became apparent that finding four hungry prospects willing to work was easier said than done, the strong-willed Nee rose to the top of obvious replacements for LeCoure's numerous abandoners.
"Nobody was lasting with the program," said Nee. "Everybody kept dropping out. I suppose Bob knew I was the determined type and asked me to stay." Nee broke into the Club Boxing scene with a resounding — and bloody — unanimous decision over Allen Gilbert during an Evel Knievel Days card in July and has compiled a 15-3 record since. In addition to his drawing to the ring, the Irish native said he loves the people of Butte and enjoys taking in the fabulous architecture of the historic Uptown with his mason's eye.
"I love it here," Nee said. "I can't believe how much support I've gotten. I wasn't expecting such a nice reception — I'm not a child anymore, you know. Children always seem to be welcomed when they go somewhere, but I thought maybe people here would think I was too old for that." In addition to enjoying Butte's character and historic craftsmanship, Nee is also steeping himself in the rich Irish heritage of the town, having read most of David Emmons, "The Butte Irish," given to him by a local fan.
"The Irishman" will face off against his roommates — Matt Peterson and Andy Petek — as well as Butte's own Tom "Two Guns" Putra in Bozeman's Valley Ice Garden on April 2 for his dream opportunity — a hefty prize purse and the guarantee of one bout in the professional heavyweight ranks. Nee said his mother, sisters and brothers — who have given their faraway sibling "great support" during his stay in Butte— and a few of his hometown friends are all planning to make the trip across the Atlantic to see him fight in the documentary's final test.
Until then, the Butte Irish, his growing number of local fans and the hard work of training he's accustomed to will have to do.