Lee gets the ultimate test on road to redemption

Andy Lee had his expected win in this high-profile middleweight contest in Belfast’s Odyssey Arena on Saturday, but not in the expected manner.

Not even nearly in the expected manner.

Lee is recognised as world-class and this was seen as an easy comeback fight after his loss to hard-hitting Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr in the WBC world title fight last June. A journeyman, that was Dublin’s Anthony Fitzgerald, a decent but extremely manageable step back on Lee’s road to redemption.

No-one told Anthony. On the sound of the first bell in the first round he was straight across the ring and into Lee’s face; for the next half-hour and more, all ten rounds, that’s where he stayed, a relentless all-out all-action attack.

Probably the least surprised man on the night, however, was Lee himself. “Technically he didn’t surprise me, he’s a good fighter, but he was very determined. I mean he’s a hard man, had a lot of motivation coming into this fight, this was a big opportunity for him. He has a big fan base, I knew he was going to be determined but he’s a tough fella, it’s hard to put a man like that away. He fought hard, stuck in there.”

Two judges scored it a four-round win in favour of Lee, two-round win said the third; harsh, thought the many Fitzgerald supporters who had travelled in strength up from Dublin, and they waited in line to tell him so afterwards.

“That’s how they feel but look, there’s no point crying over spilt milk. I’m going to go forwardnow.”

The hope was that in the face of this non-stop attack Lee would throw in the towel; he faltered alright, reckoned Anthony, but ultimately the Limerick man is made of the right stuff. “He lost heart once or twice in there and I should have copped that. Unfortunately I didn’t. Overall he boxed well, it was a great fight, I enjoyed it.”

Given his many bumps and bruises afterwards it’s doubtful that Lee would say the same thing, though most objective observers would agree that the better boxer on the night did win.

Mind you, there was even more in Fitzgerald, reckons trainer Phil Sutcliffe. “Without trying to offer any excuses, five weeks ago he hurt his neck and we had to take him out of sparring for a while — we lost 30 rounds of sparring and that would have made a difference.

“In the clinches for example, he could have been a bit busier — it had an impact on the fight. We did have some fantastic sparring, don’t get me wrong, but we could have done with that bit extra. We had to mind his neck though, we really wanted this fight.”

It’s not total loss for the man they call Fitzy, however — far from it. Given that it was shown live on Sky Sports, this performance will surely have put him on the map.

“Everyone had him down to stop me in two or three rounds but we knew that wasn’t going to happen — he’d have to have had a shotgun in there to stop me in two rounds.

“It’s a loss but sometimes that can be better than a win. I look forward now to seeing what the future holds. That was the ultimate aim, to get my name in there between them all. I’ve shown there tonight, I’m at world level now, I can handle myself with any of them.”

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