FROM STEVE BRENNER IN NEW YORK
ANDY LEE simply cannot lose.
The 30 year-old arrived in New York in the shape of his life and ready to mount a solid first defence of the title won so brilliantly in Las Vegas before Christmas.
And the Limerick warrior had a an unexpected spring in his step last night after Peter Quillin failed to make 160 pound weight forcing WBO officials to deem the bout a non-title fight.
Quillin, who had been out for a year, initially hit the scales at 161.9 and even though a rapier fast session on the treadmill saw him register 160.6 , it was not enough.
It was a bitter blow for the American yet what a boost for Lee.
The Irishman will still look to impress , especially with the event screened live on US TV to an expected audience of millions, though will head into ring knowing nothing can destroy his own title dream.
“He came back onto the scales and in the end it was just too much for him to lose, “ said trainer Adam Booth.
For Quillin though there was acute deflation and despair.
“I am still happy that I can fight Andy but it is disappointing, “ he said.
“I didn’t want to let down any of my fans or family who wanted me to get my title back. This won’t effect my confidence . Nothing will break me and I will always stay in the eye of the storm.”
Providing Lee comes through his fight with Quillin ,who vacated the belt won by the Irishman in order to care for his cancer stricken uncle unscathed, London’s Billy Joe Saunders is the mandatory challenger.
Despite the drama, Lee can still look back and relish his moment in the spotlight.
The 30 year-old was preparing to take on John Jackson 10 months ago knowing a defeat at Madison Square Garden could prove terminal for a career which had spanned almost 40 fights and plenty of hard yards.
After all, there is only so much a fighter can take .
The Irishman’s battered nose pays testament to that.
Yet Lee, always believed. Jackson was brilliantly disposed of by virtue of a fifth round knock-out before the coup de grace was so emphatically delivered in Las Vegas last December.
Opportunity knocked for Lee and the Limerick born battler superbly took it thanks to a flurry of right hands which forced a stoppage in the sixth.
It could have been so different.
“Looking back , did I think it was going to happen for him ? No, “ admitted Booth.
“Before the Jackson fight we said to him you don’t just need to win, you need to impress otherwise it might just be time to call it day. He’s already had a long career, lots of fights, lots of sparing, a long amateur career too.
“I knew he would be able to win a title but it’s whether or not that opportunity would have ever come up.
“He is the most professional fighter I have ever worked with. He is expressing himself like never before and it’s a joy to watch. Andy has done is proved himself to himself. Now he’s doing it for the love of fighting.”
Being schooled on the mean streets of Detroit by legendary trainer Emanuel Steward brutally helped shape his dreams.
“It was a make or break fight for me and even the Korobov fight was the same, “ he admitted. “ It was all or nothing but I have made unbelievable progress in the last year . Everything has really clicked and we are seeing the results in the ring.
“If it hadn’t gone to plan against Jackson we would have had to make some tough decisions. Boxing is a hard game and it’s tough way to make a living. I am so proud to be an Irishman from Limerick defending my title in New York City.
“It doesn’t get much better than this. It’s a lot easier pressure wise when you are in this kind of position.
“I have lived and fought in the US for years so this holds absolutely no fears for me. Some fighters from the UK may look at coming to the States and be thinking what a big platform it is and that could weigh on their mind.
“I don’t have those problems. Detroit was a tough school to learn my trade. The gym was a ‘killed or be killed atmosphere.’ There was no regard for reputation and you had to prove yourself every day.
“People there are trying to knock your head off.
“Competition like that breeds success.
“I am sure he has trained well but activity is an important thing for a fighter and could be a factor. Being as active as I have been is an advantage for me.”
Right now, nothing can go wrong for Lee. It really can’t.