Lee gets back off canvas to enhance his reputation
IT was a night of firsts for Andy Lee.
Going 12 rounds for the reigning WBO middleweight belt holder was a novel experience yet one which he relished, thanks in part to the physical regime encouraged by trainer Adam Booth.
On the back foot right from the very start when Peter Quillin, the unbeaten American who vacated the belt Lee now holds, sent him tumbling to the canvas, the Limerick man responded like champions should.
Quillin was knocked down for the first time in his 32-fight career in round seven yet ultimately this was an absorbing contest which was simply too close to call.
The judges scored it 113-112, 112-113, 113-113 and although the statistics showed Lee threw more punches (299-267) and connected with greater frequency (113- 103), no-one here at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn was quibbling with the result.
Neither man had ever drawn a contest before this.
Indeed, if anything, Lee could well have sneaked home had the referee not erroneously ruled the American knocked the Irishman down in the third when, in fact, he had stepped on his toe.
No title may have been on the line thanks to Quillin's inability to make the weight following the most dramatic of weigh-ins on Friday, yet reputations were still there to be broken.
Lee, though, leaves the Big Apple walking tall and will now take time to recharge the batteries before assessing his next step.
A summer clash in Ireland with the unbeaten Englishman Billy Joe Saunders, the mandatory challenger, remains the most likely outcome.
"I had to box my way back into it, I was more consistent down the stretch," admitted Lee who fought for a lengthy period with a torn bicep muscle in his left arm.
"The knock downs were silly mistakes, he caught me well but I had to get myself back into it. I think it was a fair decision at the end. If you judge it round for round it was fair.
"He caught me well and I had to regroup. I gathered my senses but he was a powerful fella.
"I'll have a few days and enjoy some time off. I am still champion of the world, Billy Joe Saunders is there to challenge me.
"Adam was preparing me to fight him knowing he wouldn't make the weight - he said a few days ago that he didn't think he would make it. Adam knew exactly how to react.
"We respected each other. My fitness got me through it and I never felt like I was going to lose. The rounds flew by, I got a bit ragged at the end but I was fresh."
The way Lee responded to what could have been a fateful early flooring in the first was hugely impressive and encouraging as eyes turn to bigger prizes in the future.
Quillin was rocked in the seventh and, on another day, Irish eyes could have been smiling even longer into the New York night.
"I have never worked with a fighter who responded to those early hits like Andy," said Booth.
"The judges have to accept what the ref said but Andy would have otherwise won the round and that would have then affected the decision.
"It was still an immense performance considering the hole Andy found himself in early on. He didn't get anxious or reckless.
"A close decision isn't a bad decision.
"He is still world champion and is in a great position. If you are an entertaining fighter, people are going to watch you.
"If you show heart like Andy did after being put down by a big puncher, if that doesn't garner money and be a bargaining chip , then what does?
"He was much taller than I expected and surprised me," added Quillin who looks destined to move up a weight, therefore nullifying any chance of a rematch.
"I can only see good in Andy Lee. He has been the underdog so many times and become a spectacular winner. He has my respect."