LAS VEGAS -- Andy Lee spent most of his career at the side of the late, great Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward. They traveled everywhere together and became almost like father and son.
Lee even spent several years living in Steward's Detroit home when he moved from Ireland to the United States. In their first title shot together, Lee got knocked out by Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in the seventh round in 2012. A few months later, Steward died from cancer.
Vowing to win a world title in Steward's memory, Lee knocked out Matt Korobov in the sixth round to win a vacant middleweight world title on Saturday night on the Timothy Bradley Jr.-Diego Chaves undercard at the Cosmopolitan.
Lee, 30, of Ireland, and Korobov, 31, a 2008 Russian Olympian now living in Florida, were both tentative early in what was a jabbing contest between southpaws as they each tried to establish control. It was a close contest all the way and neither man had taken control when the fight suddenly came to an end.
Out of nowhere, Lee (34-2, 24 KOs) landed a tremendous right hook that badly staggered Korobov. He did not go down, but he was in terrible trouble and Lee jumped all over him. Lee landed numerous punches until referee Kenny Bayless had no choice but to stop it at 1 minute, 10 seconds.
"We were trading and a lot of the times he was having the better of it but my right hook is a killer punch. I thought he wasn't going down but I wasn't taking any chances," Lee said.
Lee said during the lead up to the fight that he wanted to win the title in Steward's memory and then he paid respects to him in victory.
"When I thought about this moment, I had a speech in mind," Lee said. "I would like to say thank you to my manager [and trainer Adam Booth], who has done so much for me over the last couple of years, but it's also for the man who made me, Emanuel Steward.
"We spent seven, eight years together and he said I would win a world title. His wife, Marie, came here today, flew all the way from Detroit, so from everybody from Detroit and Kronk [Gym], thank you very much. Matt Korobov was giving me nightmares but I could hear all the cheers from all that came to see me from New York and Detroit."
Korobov (24-1, 14 KOs) was ahead on all three scorecards, but had no complaints about the stoppage.
"I've never been hurt before but he got me with a tremendous hook," he said. "I was stunned. I couldn't continue."
Said Charles Mooney, Korobov's trainer, "He should have taken a knee but it didn't happen and he couldn't continue."
Lee won the fight with titleholder Gennady Golovkin ringside and they could meet in a unification bout.
"Great performance and strong performance," Golovkin said of Lee's knockout.
Before a Golovkin fight, however, Lee had something else in mind.
"I am a champion now and I want to defend my belt in Ireland," he said.
Lee and Korobov were fighting for the 160-pound belt that Peter Quillin vacated rather than defend against Korobov, the mandatory challenger, for a career-high purse (about triple) of $1,428,630 under the terms of a purse bid won by Roc Nation Sports. Lee, the next leading available contender, quickly accepted the fight.
Controversial decision for Benavidez
Junior welterweight Mauricio Herrera (21-5, 7 KOs) looked like had easily outboxed inexperienced Jose Benavidez Jr. (22-0, 15 KOs), but he lost a shocking unanimous decision and his interim title.
One judge had Benavidez winning 117-111 and the other two had him ahead 116-112. ESPN.com had Herrera winning 117-111. The ringside media overwhelmingly had Herrera winning.
"Nothing new. It happens all the time," said Herrera, who lost a controversial majority decision to world champion Danny Garcia in March. "I win a fight and they take it away from me. They must not count body shots in this commission. I hit him with everything. We did our job.
"I think he stole some rounds but I was doing all the work in there."
After the loss to Garcia, Herrera got a shot at an interim titlist belt and outpointed Johan Perez in July. He was making his first defense against Benavidez, of Phoenix, a prodigy as an amateur who turned pro at age 17 and was stepping up to face by far the best fighter of his pro career.
Herrera, a battle-tested veteran with tons of pro experience against quality opponents, showed what experience can mean in a fight. He was busy and accurate with his jab and Benavidez, who had never even been in a scheduled 10-round bout before this 12-rounder, looked tentative and unsure of himself. Herrera easily beat him to the punch in the early rounds as Benavidez continued to go to the ropes and not throw many punches.
But Benavidez, who had never been past eight rounds, eventually made it more competitive with good rounds in the sixth and seventh, when he landed some hard body shots and began to be more aggressive.
Herrera, 34, of Riverside, California, again drove Benavidez to the ropes and landed a lot of shots while Benavidez covered up in the ninth and 10th rounds. Benavidez seemed to be going for a knockout in the action-packed 12th round, but he never landed anything big enough to do any real damage, although Herrera had a bruised eye.
Still, the judges gave him the fight.
"I had a three-month training camp, the biggest camp I've ever had," Benavidez said. "Everything went well in camp. He was very aggressive, I kept catching him. I know I won this fight. Everything worked for me, all my combinations, all my uppercuts, all my body shots."
For the fight, Herrera landed 285 of 870 punches (33 percent), according to CompuBox, and Benavidez landed 250 of 647 (39 percent).
• Russian lightweight contender Denis Shafikov (34-1-1, 18 KOs) laid a sustained beating on Miguel Angel Mendoza, of Mexico, in a one-sided, eight-round decision victory. All three judges scored the fight 79-73 for Shafikov, whose white trunks were covered in Mendoza's blood at the end of the fight.
The victory was Shafikov's second in a row since he lost a unanimous decision to then-lightweight world titleholder Miguel Vazquez in Macau, China, in February. Mendoza lost his third fight in a row.
• Junior welterweight Jose Ramirez (13-0, 10 KOs), the 2012 U.S. Olympian from Avenal, California, beat and battered Antonio Arellano (7-3-1, 3 KOs), of San Ysidro, California, in a one-sided, sixth-round knockout. Ramirez walked him down the whole fight, fired hard left hooks and right hands and never let Arellano into the fight.
When Ramirez landed a hard left hook and Arellano buckled into the ropes in the sixth round, referee Pat Russell stepped in at 2 minutes, 50 seconds. Ramirez will next fight April 4 in the main event of a UniMas-televised card in Fresno.
• Canadian welterweight prospect Mikael Zewski (26-0, 20 KOs) got a serious test from Jeremy Bryan (17-5, 7 KOs), of Paterson, New Jersey, in a 10-round majority decision. Two judges favored the harder-punching Zewski 97-93 and one scored the fight 95-95. Zewski suffered a cut over his right eye from a punch in the first round but his corner did a fine job of keeping it closed for the rest of the fight.
Bryan, whose movement gave Zewski problems, has lost three of his past four bouts. "That was the first time I've ever been cut," Zewski said. "It took me out of my game a little bit. I didn't know he was gonna run so much."
• Light heavyweight Seanie Monaghan (23-0, 15 KOs), of Long Beach, New York, rolled past Daniel Regi (20-12, 9 KOs), of Hungary, with ease in a third-round knockout victory. Monaghan worked Regi's body throughout the fight and dropped him three times in the third round. Regi beat the count, but referee Russell Mora thought he had taken enough punishment and waved off the fight at 2 minutes, 52 seconds.
"I'm gonna ask Top Rank to make a fight with [Julio Cesar] Chavez Jr.," Monaghan said when asked what he wanted to do next. "He will get the same kind of punishment I dished out tonight. He's a tougher cookie but he will get the same thing."
• Welterweight Egidijus Kavaliauskas (9-0, 8 KOs), a two-time Olympian from Lithuania now based in Oxnard, California, destroyed Jaime Herrera (12-3, 7 KOs), of Franklin Park, Illinois, in a second-round knockout. Kavaliauskas scored three knockdowns in the second round before referee Pat Russell stopped it without a count at 46 seconds.