Saturday 24 February 2018

Crushed Andy Lee no longer master of his own destiny

Andy Lee is caught by the right hand of Billy Joe Saunders during Saturday night’s WBO World middleweight title fight Photo:Sportsfile
Andy Lee is caught by the right hand of Billy Joe Saunders during Saturday night’s WBO World middleweight title fight Photo:Sportsfile
The Limerick boxer shows the scars of battle after relinquishing his world middleweight belt in the Manchester Arena Picture Photo:Sportsfile

Sean McGoldrick

The Pogues' haunting Christmas song 'Fairytale of New York' was aired in the Manchester Arena just before Andy Lee and Billy Joe Saunders made their way to the ring to fight for the World middleweight title on Saturday night.

Kirsty MacColl's line 'you took my dream from me' will surely resonate with Lee as he endures the festive season without the cherished WBO belt having surrendered the title to the unbeaten British challenger on a majority decision (115-111, 114-112, 113-113).

That's exactly what Beijing Olympian Saunders did to the Irishman in Manchester. Lee had harboured ambitions of defending his crown against the unbeaten Gennady Golovkin in the United States next year and avenge the loss he suffered to the Kazakh boxer at the World amateur championships in Thailand in 2003.

Now, however, his future in the ring is in doubt. Even though this is only the third defeat the 31-year-old has endured in his nine year career in the professional ranks, unquestionably it is the most damaging.

A crestfallen Lee made only a brief appearance at the post-fight press conference. Essentially he came to pay his respect to his opponent - both are members of the travelling community.

"It was close but the two knock downs cost me the fight. So I cannot complain about the decision. He deserved to win. But I would like another go at it. I finished stronger but congratulations (to Saunders) and well done.

"That's all I am going to say," said Lee who then left without taking any questions.

While 26-year-old Saunders, who was extending his unbeaten run to 23 fights, indicated that he wasn't adverse to the idea of a rematch against Lee in London, the chances of such a fight actually happening are remote.

Realistically Saunders could now challenge either of the unbeaten World middleweights champions Golovkin or David Jacobs in the United States next year in a lucrative unification bout. The difficultly for Lee is that, once again, he is no longer master of his own destiny.

After his previous defeats against Brian Vera in 2008 and a World title fight loss to Julio Cesar Chavex in 2012, Lee was still young enough to rebuild his career. But time is no longer on his side.

Worst still, in three of his last four fights Lee has hit the canvass in the early rounds. He recovered to beat John Jackson in 2014 and salvaged a draw in what turned out to be a non-title fight against Peter Quillin - who failed to make the weight - last April.

But there was no reprieve for him on Saturday night after Saunders - who, in the space of 60 seconds, made a mockery of suggestions that he didn't possess a killer punch - flattened the defending title holder with two vicious right hooks.

Lee might have been dazed after being on the receiving end of the first as he engaged Saunders straight after a count of seven and found himself back on the deck again. The scoring would indicate that he lost the round 7-10 on all three judges' cards and effectively this decided the outcome.

At worst, he would almost certainly have salvaged a draw and kept his title had he avoided those two knock downs. But in front of a disappointing attendance of around 7,000 Lee displayed immense courage in not alone surviving the third round but fighting his way back into contention.

Ironically, it was Lee's right hook which had delivered him the title a year and a week ago against Matt Korobov in Las Vegas but on this occasion he was never able to nail Saunders with that particular shot.

Psychologically the third round had a big impact on the pattern of a rather subdued contest. Saunders knew he was ahead on points and as a southpaw it suited him that Lee was forced to come forward because Lee's natural instincts is to score on the counter as well.

One the three British judges, Marcus McDonnell marked the contest a draw which suggests that he gave Lee seven of the 12 rounds; the other judge marked it 114-112 which split the rounds six each while the third judge voted decisively 115-111 in favour of Saunders.

Saunders suggested afterwards that there was more than just a world title at stake.


"I have the height of respect for Andy but there is no room for a loser in our community."

From Lee's perspective this fight was ill-fated from the outset. Originally scheduled as a home-coming coronation in Limerick's Thomond Park in September it was postponed because Lee was reported to have a virus. It was postponed a second time when Saunders cut his eye in training.

This meant that Lee was out of the ring for eight months and this ring rustiness showed in the early stages of the fight. A first successful defence of his title would not alone have been a personal triumph for Lee but would have crowned a wonderful year for Irish boxing at both professional and amateur level.

But instead of celebrating Christmas without a care in the world Lee will have to endure the demons that a defeat of this magnitude generates and that's even before he begins contemplating what future, if any, he has in the ring.

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