Andy Lee’s hopes of a world title shot by the end of the year have been left in tatters by a shock seventh-round stoppage defeat at the hands of Brian Vera, in Connecticut on Friday night.
The Limerick middleweight went into the bout with the former contender star as the heavy favourite and started promisingly, flooring his opponent in the opening stanza with a stunning left hand.
However, an early knockout never looked on the cards, with Vera responding superbly to the knockdown and, by the third, he had established a firm foothold in the fight.
Lee, betraying a worryingly poor defense and surprising unwillingness – or perhaps inability – to dominate Vera with his jab, was drawn into a brawl and was continually caught with some vicious right hands, leading to a cut developing over the former Olympians right eye.
Lees fitness also began to betray him and, by the end of the sixth, he was breathing heavily. In the seventh, Lee, who had won all 15 of his professional bouts before this, was caught by a succession of big shots and the referee called a halt to the proceedings with just under a minute of the round remaining.
The stoppage was not without its controversy as Lee had responded to Vera’s finishing flurry with a big shot of his own and did not appear ready to drop. However, tellingly, neither Lee nor his highly-respected trainer, Emmanuel Steward, disputed the referee’s ruling after the bout.
Quite where Lee, perhaps Ireland’s brightest middleweight prospect and one of the most-hyped young fighters in the world, goes from here is unknown but, at 23, the hope must be that this defeat will actually prove beneficial as it exposed a number of glaring deficiencies in his defensive armour that clearly require attention.