Never say never. Andy Lee took his supporters and himself to the very edge in the early hours of yesterday morning but his dramatic knockout victory over Craig McEwan won't be enough to force an immediate world title shot.
Lee had hoped that an impressive display could set up a fight with the WBC middleweight world champion Sergio Martinez -- who cemented his credentials as one of the world's top pound-for-pound boxers with a ruthless knockout display in the main event at the MGM Grand Arena at Foxwoods -- but Lee's promoter Lou DiBella swiftly ruled out the possibility after the fight.
"I'm going to be honest, Andy's not ready for Sergio," he said. "That's not going to be the next fight. Andy has the ability to be the middleweight champion, he has the heart to beat anybody but right now Martinez is the best fighter in the world and I don't think that fight makes sense for Andy yet."
It was a sluggish performance by the Limerick man, who relied too heavily on single shots and his lead right hook, and for the majority of the fight, McEwan appeared the sharper, more accurate puncher.
Some huge hooks to the head in round four drew gasps from the crowd as Lee struggled with McEwan's speed. In fact, so great was the pressure on Lee towards the end of round five, referee Steve Smoger appeared to contemplate stopping the action.
Well behind on points and with his career on the line, Lee produced a thrilling final two rounds, dropping McEwan heavily with a right-left combination in round nine. He survived, but suddenly all the momentum was with Lee, and McEwan looked like he was ready to go.
With a vocal Irish crowd urging their fighter to press forward, Lee ended the contest with a vicious overhand left that didn't require a count from the referee and left McEwan on the canvas for over a minute.
"Overall I'm not happy with the performance," said Lee afterwards. "In the middle rounds it looked like I was losing the fight and I said to myself, 'what are you doing? -- this is my night and it's a big opportunity'. I said 'right, if I'm going to lose this fight he's going to have to kill me'. Even though it wasn't my best performance, I showed a lot of heart."
It was a bittersweet night for Lee. The crowd and the television networks were enthralled by a dramatic comeback, but it was a performance that will not give Martinez sleepless nights.
"I think this may have hindered me," said Lee of his world title aspirations. "I didn't impress; if it had been a dominating performance from start to finish then it would have been different. But I'll take what I've got -- maybe the time is not right."