Andy Lee wins by unanimous decision after 15 months out of the ring
Andy Lee returned to the ring with a whisper more so than a bang following a 15-month absence.
Limerick's former WBO World middleweight champion scored a unanimous decision victory over unheralded American KeAndrae Leatherwood (now 19-4-1, 12KOs) in a fight which could scarcely have produced less high-octane action, but one which saw Lee shake some of the inevitable rust with a commanding final three rounds.
Despite a rousing reception for Lee on the undercard of Gennady Golovkin's World middleweight title showdown with Danny Jacobs in New York, a premature chorus of boos punctuated his opening round with Alabama's Leatherwood - the infamously impatient New York crowd not taking kindly to the pair trading little more than glares for three minutes.
A strong right hand by Leatherwood annoyed Lee at the tail-end of the second, and – for a moment at least – the 'end of the road for Lee' narrative reared its head beneath Madison Square Garden's blinding lights.
By round six, however, a more confident Lee had begun bouncing his younger opponent's head like a ball on a string, his feared right hand eventually finding its target at will having enjoyed nothing but the occasional blast of fresh air earlier in the contest.
Tidier footwork and head-snapping shots ultimately swayed the judges towards the Irishman, who took it on scores of 80-72, 78-74 and 79-73.
“It’s always good to come back to New York and it’s always a pleasure to fight here," Lee said.
"It took me a while to get going but he was a tough and awkward opponent. He stayed in his shell and he wouldn’t really open up and I could see he was very wary of my right hook. He was protecting that side all the time, but it took me a while to get into it."
"I think there was a bit of ring rust, but I was just getting back into it. It’s been a long time. I’ve been completely out of boxing for a year. I was at home and I wasn’t in the gym, but it’s good to be back and I think the rounds will stand to me more than if I had finished him in a round."
In truth, Lee's tentative performance will have little effect on his clamour for one last world title shot; frankly speaking, the former champion has sufficient credit in the bank to remain in fringe contention, and was primarily included on Golovkin's card as a suitable contingency opponent should Triple G's opponent, Danny Jacobs, have picked up an injury.
The 32-year-old said he remains keen to fight Golovkin, who retained his title on points after a sensational scrap with the Brooklynite, but has more pressing matters to attend to back home.
"The first baby is on the way… in June," Lee said with a grin. "I’ll just look forward to that, enjoy it, and I’ll be back in the gym in September and I hope to fight maybe in Ireland."
Lee's trainer, Adam Booth, added: "He will be in and out while I will pop over [to Ireland] as well - to help celebrate the baby. While we’re celebrating we will probably do a bit of drunk pad work."
"I took a new approach here. With the experience that he’s had and the hard fights that he’s had - with Jackson and Peter Quillin notably - and also the tortuous preparation that he had for Billy Joe, with the fight being cancelled, it was important that this one felt light and happy. The preparation for the Billy Joe fight was just like pulling teeth every day and I wondered if it was going to happen."
Lee certainly cut a contented figure outside his Madison Square Garden dressing room as he contemplated the winter of his boxing career.
Given his history, and even Saturday night's tentative display, it would be foolish to rule out an Indian summer.