“and the new”
Billy Joe Saunders (23-0, 12KOs) achieved a fighter’s ultimate ambition Saturday night, ripping away the WBO world middleweight title from Andy Lee (34-3-1, 24KOs) in a huge night of boxing in Manchester.
The former British, Commonwealth and European champion made the final step up to world honours, dramatically dropping former champion Lee twice in round three. Saunders escaped from a brief clinch and as both fighters turned in the transition, Saunders unleashed a wicked right hook which floored the Irishman.
Lee made the count and stepped gingerly towards referee Steve Gray who waved the fight on; Saunders pounced again and another flurry of punches had the former Kronk fighter down for a second time, this time with a long right hook. The fight looked to be over as Lee beat the count and Saunders stepped to him in energetic fashion once more, but Lee weathered the storm and saw the bell to end the round.
Saunders boxed to a strict game plan devised by veteran trainer Jimmy Tibbs throughout the contest, always wary of the right hook counter which had ended the hopes of several of Lee’s recent victims in brutal fashion. The footwork of the Hatfield native was at times a sight to behold, carefully offsetting Lee with small movements and relieving pressure when maneuvered against the ropes.
The champion came on strong into the championship rounds, but at times the dual southpaw stances limited the action to a vigorous chess match of feints. Both fighters came out fired up in the twelfth round and Lee tried to take it to his challenger, ultimately Saunders was too cute up close and stifled his on rushing attacks getting close to the body and tying up.
At the final bell, both fighters raised their arms aloft to signify their confidence in victory but it was Saunders who took the spoils with a majority decision victory, attaining scores of 114-112, 115-111, 113-113.
A rematch could make sense for both parties, but likely Saunders will wish to unify titles with WBA regular champion Daniel Jacobs mooted stateside on a major TV network.
Liverpool’s Liam Smith (22-0-1, 12KOs) retained his WBO super welterweight title with a seventh round technical knockout over Manchester’s Jimmy Kelly Jr.(16-1, 7KOs).
In what was built as a northern derby between two forever feuding football cities, Smith dominated and stalked his opponent from first minute to last, well almost. Kelly showed glimpses of potential which could be there with time left to marinate, but Smith was just too much for his man on the night.
Forever appearing to smile behind a menacing jab and straight right hand, Smith silenced the rowdy home crowd as they became aware of the true size of the mountain their man Kelly would have to climb to snatch the world title.
Frustration set in for Kelly in round six, as he launched a menacing headbutt from around three foot away, so blatant that referee Marcus McDonnell was forced to deduct two points from the former WBC youth champion – nobody complained about the decision.
Ultimately, trainer Ensley Bingham was to throw the towel in to save his man during round seven to fight another day. The correct decision and a good enough performance to firmly establish Kelly as a contender on the domestic British scene at 154 pounds.
For Smith, the big fights await after the New Year. Possible matchups with WBA champion Erislany Lara and former champion Shane Mosely have been mooted for the Gallaghers Gym fighter, with negotiations reportedly already taking place for a fight in the US in the first quarter of 2016.
Clydach Vale native Liam Williams (13-0-1, 8KOs) captured the vacant British as well as defending his Commonwealth 154 pound title with a devastating two round knock out against over matched Kris Carslaw (22-6, 5KOs).
A hook-come-jab ended the hopes of Scotsman Carslaw, who fell face first into the canvas and will struggle to come again at national title level.
Williams looks a solid prospect at super welterweight, providing injuries don’t scupper his progress, a shot at European title could be on the horizon for the Gary Lockett trained fighter.