The man accused of bashing Simon Cramp in a late-night attack that ended with him being placed on life support in hospital has pleaded not guilty.
Daniel Angelos, 24, of Haymarket, has been charged with assault occasioning grievous bodily harm and affray, following the attack outside a McDonald's outlet near The Rocks end of George Street, in June.
Mr Angelos' lawyer, Ben Archbold, said his client had offered to plead guilty to a lesser charge of recklessly causing grievous bodily harm, but the Director of Public Prosecutions rejected the offer.
Doctors said Mr Cramp, 26, of Cremorne Point, was lucky to survive after he was allegedly punched by Mr Angelos and fell back, smashing his skull on the pavement in the early hours of June 2.
Police said in a statement tendered to Central Local Court that Mr Cramp was "an innocent bystander who was violently attacked without provocation and as a result has been hospitalised with significant and life threatening injuries".
But last week, outside the court, Mr Archbold said the incident was "not a one-punch matter" but "a melee between groups of drunken males".
Mr Archbold said court documents showed Mr Cramp's girlfriend, Laura Symes, told police that Mr Cramp threw the first punch after he was pushed by Mr Angelos.
"The alleged victim's girlfriend actually states that the first punch was thrown by the alleged victim in the matter, so there's a clear issue in relation to self-defence," Mr Archbold said.
In her witness statement, Ms Symes said she saw Mr Cramp's head hit the ground and she feared he had died or would die as she cradled his head, which was bleeding heavily.
A planned bail application was withdrawn, meaning Mr Angelos will spend Christmas in custody.
After Mr Cramp was well enough to be taken off life support, he spent time at the Royal Rehabilitation Centre at Ryde before being allowed home.
The matter will return to court on January 24 for a trial date to be set.