Sporting Advent Calendar #21: Andy Lee’s world title dream finally comes true

Johnny Watterson on the Vegas fight that saw the Limerick middleweight silence the doubters

It came by stealth in the middle of the night. One of those occasions that the country woke up to rather than witnessed, Andy Lee and his quest for a world title that had been going on for 10 years finally ended its journey in the Chelsea Arena of the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas.

As soon as it came to an end another one instantly began. Thomond Park next year has been sketched in for the new WBO champion’s second act.

But in Vegas, few had given the Irish middleweight much of a chance against the twice amateur world champion Matvey Korobov. The Russian had accounted for most of his previous opponents with impatient ease, 14 of his 24 wins ending before the final bell.

Lee started the fight by keeping Korobov at a distance, using his jab and picking his shots. While there wasn’t much to split them, Korobov was edging the rounds and went ahead on the judge’s scorecards.


But in round six Lee stepped up and countered Korobov with a ferocious right hook which clearly stunned him. Whether it was lack of experience or the violence of the punch, the Russian tried to stay standing. He didn’t do any one of a number of things that might have slowed Lee’s momentum.

He didn’t go down on his knee and take a count. He didn’t wrap Lee up so he couldn’t hit him gain. He didn’t spit out his gum shield to buy a few precious seconds.

He continued to fight but the Irish southpaw’s shot had done the damage and, sensing that this was the sweetest opportunity to come his way in a decade, he moved in and swarmed all over his opponent.

He landed a barrage of heavy punches, 18 unanswered in total, to invite referee Kenny Bayless to stop the fight at 1.10 into the round.

It was an emotional victory for the former Irish Olympian, who had abandoned Ireland after the Athens Olympics to take up with the legendary Emanuel Steward in the Kronk Gym in Detroit.

When Steward passed away in 2012, Lee relocated to London and teamed up with another world-class trainer and manager in Adam Booth. Over the past two years, Booth has made fine adjustments both mentally and physically.

That paid off in the early hours of a Saturday morning in December, when the 30-year-old from Limerick added his name to the world middleweight championship list alongside Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Robinson.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times