19 July 2008 – By Mark Doyle
Andy Lee got his career right back on track with a thrilling tenth-round stoppage of Willie Gibbs before a raucous crowd in his home town of Limerick on Saturday night.
The 24-year-old Irish middleweight, in his first outing since suffering a shock knockout defeat at the hands of Brian Vera in March, produced a brilliant display, dominating nearly every single round before stopping his rated American opponent with just over four seconds of an incredible final round remaining.
Gibbs, who knew that he needed a knockout in the tenth to snatch an upset win, had come out swinging and connected a number of times and appeared to have Lee – bloodied by the result of a second gash caused by the umpteenth clash of heads – in real trouble.
However, Lee bided his time, weathering the onslaught, before unloading on Gibbs, flooring The Gladiator with a massive right hand.
Gibbs somehow managed to beat the count but Lee was not about to pass up an opportunity to force a knockout in front of his home fans and he moved in for the kill.
The former amateur star pinned his dazed opponent against the ropes and then, after landing a number of clean shots, the referee Emile Tiedt stepped in just as the towel from Gibbs’ corner was flying into the ring.
That prompted understandably wild celebrations – both outside and inside of the ring. As Lee later admitted, he went into the fight under an enormous amount of pressure, firstly because he was coming into the bout on the back of a shock defeat, and secondly, he was doing so in front of his home fans.
He showed no signs of nerves, though, and boxed beautifully right from the off. Lee was a tad cautious in the opening round but it quickly became evident that he was far, far quicker than Gibbs, whose sole game plan seemed to be to try to land his big right hand.
He achieved that goal – but only sporadically. Lee dominated the tempo of the fight, repeatedly pawing and teasing Gibbs with his lead right hand before connecting with his left.
Gibbs did succeed in opening up a cut above Lee’s right eye early on but that was through his repeated use of the head. It was only a minor gash, though, and Lee shrugged off and continued to dominated the fight.
He really hurt Gibbs for the first time in the fifth and perhaps should have finished it there and then – but failed to find the right combination. He rocked Gibbs again in the sixth but the American refused to go down.
Indeed, in the seventh, Gibbs even threatened to get himself back into the fight with some huge right hands which acted as a timely reminder that he remained a constant threat. This, after all, was a man who had 16KOs on his record.
However, his stamina betrayed him down the stretch and Lee’s jab continued to keep him at arm’s length.
Gibbs, credit to him, summoned up the energy for one last assault in the final round but his use of the head ultimately proved his undoing, because, after splitting Lee open (again, this may have been a headbutt rather than a right hook), he led with his crown once more, prompting the referee to intervene and give the local boy some valuable time to recover.
Lee used it to good effect, allowing Gibbs to charge forward before eventually putting him away in scintillating fashion.
Meanwhile, in the chief supporting bout, Paul McCloskey racked up the 17th straight win of his professional career, but the IBF international light-weltweight champion was made to work hard for his win by English titlist Nigel Wright.
The Dungiven native claimed victory 97-93 on the referee’s scorecard after an absorbing 10-round contest.
Indeed, McCloskey was taken into the trenches by Wright, who consistently landed with his jab. McCloskey also showed remarkable resolve in overcoming a nasty clash of heads early on the fight which badly reduced his sight out of his right eye.
The opening round served little notice of the war that was to follow, with McCloskey starting in his typically composed and confident manner. However, Wright, gradually drew McCloskey into a brawl.
Indeed, by the third, McCloskey knew that he was in a real fight, not least because of the aforementioned clash of heads, which had led to a large amount of swelling around his right eye.
That handicap might have explained why McCloskey looked less elusive than usual. He was continually tagged by Wright’s right hand. Wright was also using his head with real menace, much to the disgust of McCloskey’s cornermen, and he received a warning for doing so.
McCloskey began to assume more control, though, through the middle rounds, but had now decided to work mainly on the inside – perhaps because he was struggling to dominate on the outside with Wright’s jab never out of his face. McCloskey was still taking shots but his superior speed was leading to terrific combinations which were undoubtedly winning him rounds. His left hook was also causing Wright no end of trouble.
McCloskey looked more than a little tired in the eighth, though. His punches lacked pop and he grew increasingly erratic.
Indeed, Wright looked the far fresher in the ninth, and was still working with clear-eyed conviction. However, McCloskey, must clearly have been taking a breather, because he came storming back in the tenth, rocking Wright midway through the round and very nearly forced a knockdown.
Wright regrouped and, deservedly, saw out the round – and the fight. He also appeared to think that he had won it, which was understandable given that he had enjoyed perhaps more success than any other fighter against McCloskey.
However, McCloskey was a clear winner. He has demonstrated his class and skills many times before but on this occasion, he displayed his toughness, strength and resilience. The future remains very bright indeed for the unbeaten 28-year-old.
Further down the bill, welterweight Stephen Haughian survived a flash first-round knockdown to record a 78-73 points win over a very tough and durable Giuseppe Langella.
Haughian was floored less than a minute into the bout. He never looked like being stopped but, as the bout wore on, Haughian’s corner became increasingly frustrated by their man’s worryingly listless display.
However, Haughian, whilst guilty of allowing himself to be drawn into a battle on the inside, did manage to regain a modicum of control of the fight and eked out the win.
If only the same could be said of Keith Cresham. Like Haughian, he found himself on the canvas in the first round of his clash with Georgi Iliev.
However, unlike Haughian, light-heavyweight Cresham was severely rocked by the punch which levelled him. He did extremely well to even beat the account but, in truth, should not have been allowed to continue. He was clearly punch drunk.
He took another flurry of shots to the head – shots he shouldn’t have had to take – before the referee eventually stepped in a called a halt to the contest with four seconds of the round remaining.
Elsewhere, local favourite Jamie Power nearly brought the house down after winning all four rounds of his light-heavyweight clash with Sandris Tomson.
Power, who entered the ring wearing a Limerick jersey, was left with a bloody nose after the bout but he was not in the least bit concerned and stopped to soak up the applause of his fans on his way back to the dressing room. He later reemerged with a tricolour around his neck, which prompted another great roar from his loyal following!
Meanwhile, John O’Donnell took his record to 17-1 when the referee stepped in to save Sergey Volodin in the fifth round of their welterweight clash.
Finally, in the opening bout of the night, Lurgan McGuinness made a winning start to his professional career, the Ontario lightweight of Irish extraction easily outpointing Juris Ivanovs (40-36) in a four-round lightweight contest.