Following his concussive counter-right hook for a sixth round technical knock-out that crumbled the dreams of two-time world amateur champion Matt Korobov, Andy Lee has finally launched a career that doubters believed was entering its twilight hours.
It has taken the Limerick southpaw about 10 years and 36 professional bouts to finally become an overnight sensation. Just reward for a popular, articulate fighter who never stopped believing, when many had.
The middleweight will now arrive back to Ireland with the WBO world title that Dubliner Steve Collins once owned and with some lucrative fights ahead.
Already the names of Gennady Golovkin and England's Billy Joe Saunders have been mentioned. Saunders, who beat Chris Eubank Jr on a split decision last month, is the mandatory challenger for the new WBO title holder.
In the aftermath of the emotional win, Lee declared that he would like to defend his title at home.
“I am champion now and I want to defend my belt in Ireland,” he said.
If that can be negotiated it would be the first time since Bernard Dunne faced off against Panamanian WBA super-bantamweight world champion Ricardo Cordoba in 2009, that big time boxing would come south of the border.
Two world champions
Ireland now has two professional world champions in Lee and IBF super-bantamweight title holder,
, who won his crown against
in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter this year.
But Lee’s magical win over Korobov was as much unforeseen as it was incontrovertible. He had spoken before the bout that defeat this time would have pushed him closer to retirement.
It was also a big gamble for Lee as the Russian was a class boxer and a two-time world amateur champion. His amateur record was an impressive 300 wins and 12 defeats and he was being groomed to take the middleweight division by storm. He had 14 knockouts in his previous 24 wins. Lee’s right hand delivered his first professional defeat.
Lee went into the meeting with belief and purpose and beforehand had pointed to his greater experience, especially in the later rounds, where he noted the Russian had never been. As it unfolded he did not have to draw on that bank of knowledge.
The fight started off at a slow pace as Korobov set about building his points and inching ahead, while Lee was unable to get anything of real substance to land.
Then in the third round Lee rocked Korobov with a combination adding the freight of scoring to the belief he could win it. But Korobov, confident to the point of arrogance before the bout, recovered well and came back at Lee, probably outworking him for a spell.
It was then Lee brought the crowd to their feet. Down 50-45 on two of the judges' scorecards, he delivered a career defining shot that would surely have made his late trainer and father figure, Emanuel Steward, proud.
During a furious exchange, the Irish man unleashed a right hand that arced into the side of Korobov's head and visibly rocked him. Sensing that his opponent was hurt, Lee swarmed him and continued to land. Dazed Korobov was in no position to defend himself prompting referee Kenny Bayless to call a halt to the bout at the 1:10 mark.
Lee immediately jumped on to the ropes raising a clenched fist to the stunned crowd in The Cosmopolitan’s Chelsea Arena.
“When I thought about this moment, I had a speech in mind,” said Lee afterward.
“I would like to say thank you to my manager, who has done so much for me over the last couple of years. But it’s also for the man who made me, Emanuel Steward. We spent seven or eight years together and he said I would win a world title.”
The highly popular boxer pulled off the startling win in front of Marie, the widow of Steward, who he had lived with when he first left Ireland for the Kronk gym and the dream of a world title back in 2002.
It was Steward who guided Lee through his formative years as a professional and up until his first challenge for a world title, the unsuccessful attempt to prise the WBC title from Julio César Chávez Jr in 2012.
Steward had never lost faith in Lee’s ability to win a world title, the pity of it now that he did not live to see his protege claim it in the home of boxing.
“His wife Marie came here today, flew all the way from Detroit, so everybody from Detroit and Kronk, thank you very much,” said Lee.
“Matt Korobov was giving me nightmares but I could hear all the cheers from all that came to see me from New York and Detroit. We were trading and a lot of the times he was having the better of it but my right hook is a killer punch. I thought he wasn’t going down but I wasn’t taking any chances.”
If the London-born boxer can now generate a fraction of the interest Collins did when he defended the belt 20 years ago, there could be a chain of fruitful events for him.