By Cliff Rold
The highly touted US TV debut of Ireland’s Andy Lee (15-1, 12 KO) ended in disaster, and a hint of controversy, on Friday night at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut. In an early contender for Upset of the Year, the 2004 Olympian Lee fell to the effects of too many right hands from Contender Season Three alum Brian Vera (16-1, 10 KO), saved by the referee at 2:17 of the seventh round.
Lee, 158.75 lbs., got off to a sensational start. Showing patience, range, and speed, he consistently beat Vera to the punch, dropping him with a left hook late in the round. The 26-year old Vera, 162 lbs., easily beat the count and Lee’s hopes for a best-case scenario American TV debut evaporated.
The worst case was about to unfold.
A back and forth war was birthed in a second round controlled by his opponent. Vera stunned Lee with a right hand and followed it with jarring rights and lefts to carry the frame. He gave back the advantage in the third as Lee slammed home some sizzling left hand counters. The momentum would swing again in the fourth with Vera opening a cut over Lee’s right eye and settle into a fifth fought on largely even terms.
Each man was landing harsh leather and bringing the crowd to its feet.
Then came a savage sixth round.
Lee carried the frame, hurting Vera with numerous left hooks but never landed the finishing blow he needed. Breathing out of his mouth and unable to answer Vera’s pressure on the inside, Lee let it all hang out. Vera’s perseverance in the sixth foretold the future. He never fell, never failed to answer Lee’s fire with some of his own. Lee headed to the corner at the bell an exhausted man. He didn’t know yet that he was a beaten one.
Vera let him in on that knowledge early in the seventh, landing right hand after right hand that had Lee’s shoulders slumping, head snapping, and legs shaking as he struggled to survive. To Lee’s credit, he continued to punch back but his body wasn’t keeping up with his heart. Vera landed the telling blow at mid-ring, another flush right hand that sent blood and sweat flying. A left hand counter from Lee landed a split second before referee Tony Chiarantano leapt in to stop the fight in Vera’s favor.
It was a split second too late.
The pro-Lee crowd cascaded the ring with boos, unable to understand how a fighter still punching back could be stopped. According to the television announcers, Lee’s trainer, Emmanuel Steward, did not join their discontent. While it appeared a tad premature, the stoppage may have been the best result for the long term hopes of the 23-year old Lee who was taking a beating as the fight wore on.
“I did whatever it took. It was a little sloppy, a little ugly, but I did what it took,” Vera stated, a smile on his face after the biggest victory of his young career. While he acknowledged the boos of the crowd, the Austin, Texas native also knew that he’d been part of a bout that any fight fan could embrace. “That’s what I like to show the fans…a fight like that.”
He’d earned the right to reflect. Vera was brought in as an opponent, likely considered safe fare after his sensational second-round flameout loss on the Contender to eventual finalist Jaidon Codrington. He left the ring having overcome the odds and physical disadvantages that were stacked against him. “You can’t take away the heart,” said Vera, hinting at what turned out to be the real advantage on the night.
Lee of course is not done. Still learning as a professional, he displayed good power and speed. Now begins the process of surrounding those traits with the polish of greater professionalism. Only weeks ago, Steward was talking about drawing veteran Winky Wright, or even World Middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, into the ring within the next year. Those plans for the foreseeable future will have to be shelved in favor of the drawing board.
In the featured bout of the televised undercard, 29-year old Middleweight prospect Aaron Pryor Jr. (9-0, 6 KO) of Cincinnati, Ohio picked up the duke in his first bout since December 2006 with an eight-round unanimous decision victory over Alphonso Williams (10-4, 8 KO) of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
It was an awkward, if occasionally interesting, affair.
The son of arguably the greatest Jr. Welterweight in history, Pryor, 162 lbs., was just warming up when a Williams right hand wobbled him in the bouts opening frame. His lanky 6’4 frame twisted and turned to escape further harm, but he survived the early charge and even landed some solid rights of his own late in the round. By the third, Pryor had assumed control of the bout behind his long jab. That control continued through six.
In the seventh, the 32-year old Williams, 162.5 lbs., came off the ropes with a perfect straight right-left hook combo that disconnected Pryor’s legs from his senses. Pryor stayed on his feet, barely, as Williams stalked him around the ring in pursuit of the kill. Slipping and grabbing, Pryor survived again as he had in the first. In the eighth, his legs back beneath him, Pryor managed to turn the tables, stunning Williams with a long right and left hook before cruising to the closing bell.
The Connecticut faithful had a chance to cheer on one of their own in the Featherweight division between the Pryor and Lee, make that Vera, showcases. Hartford’s Matt Remillard (13-0, 7 KO), only 21 years of age, continued his development with a unanimous decision over 35-year old journeyman Jesus Perez (25-19-3, 14 KO) of Colombia. Both fighters weighed in at five pounds over the division limit at 131 lbs. Remillard got off to a promising start with a left hook towards the end of the opening frame that sent Perez to the deck. He never dropped Perez again but continued to outwork his aged foe, landing the harder shots throughout the bouts scheduled four rounds.
The bouts were televised live in the United States on ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights series.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com