By John J. Raspanti
Crafty Billy Joe Saunders (23-0, 14 KOs) captured the WBO middleweight title by boxing his way to a tactical 12 round majority decision over Andy Lee (34-3-1, 24 KOs) Saturday night at Hunts Bank in Manchester, England.
Saunders almost stopped Lee in round three when he scored two knockdowns. The 10-7 scoring proved to be the difference on the judges scorecards.
The scores were 113-113 a draw, 114-112 and 115-111 for the new champion.
Maxboxing and Doghouseboxing scored the bout 114-112 for Saunders.
In the opening stanza, the two southpaws sized each other up. Lee, the taller man by three inches, prodded with his right. Saunders used his legs. He popped double jabs. Saunders landed a cracking right that likely won him the round.
Lee came out more aggressively in round two. He used feints to try and set-up his big right hand. Saunders bobbed and weaved. He had no desire to taste the power of Lee. Saunders connected with a long left. Lee countered back.
The first two rounds had shown how closely matched the fighters were. The respect was obvious. Lee connected with a big left hand in round three. Saunders bounced on his toes.
Suddenly, a check right hook put Lee down on his side. The defending champion willed himself up, but was obviously hurt. Saunders made every attempt to take him out. A big right hand caught Lee. Another hook put Lee on his derriere. He got up again and fought back hard. Saunders ran into a left hand that stopped his onslaught.
In round four, Saunders pressed the action, but with caution. Lee is dangerous when hurt. Just ask John Jackson and Matt Korobov. Saunders boxed and looked for an opening. Lee stuck out his long jab. He appeared to have fully recovered from the knockdowns.
In rounds five and six, Lee continued to battle back. Most of the action was happening in the center of the ring. Saunders jabbed. A big left stunned Lee. Lee went to the body. Saunders faster hands and feet were keeping him out of harms way.
In round seven, Lee, likely behind, pressed the action. Saunders connected with a pretty lead left hand. Lee’s jab was clipping Saunders, but he couldn’t follow-up with something hard. Saunders educated jab was teaching Lee a lesson. Saunders was reminded by his corner to maintain his focus.
Lee pressed forward. Saunders moved side to side and stuck out his right.
With three rounds to go, Saunders appeared to have the edge. Lee would need to mount a comeback. His power could change a fight in seconds. Saunders boxed and moved. Lee was looking to time Saunders. Lee dangled his right on his hip like a dangerous weapon.
Saunders kept his guard high. He was content to jab, Lee connected with a good left. The sneaky Saunders rolled with the blow and moved away.
Saunders came out more energy in round 10. He connected with a good right to the chin. Lee missed a big left. Saunders went back to the head and body. Lee fired back. He was coming on.
In round 11, Saunders circled. Lee inched forward. He landed a right. Seconds later a big left also connected. Saunders absorbed the blow, and found Lee with a right, but the defending champion was having a good round.
Both boxers came out firing in the 12th and final round. Saunders landed a crafty left hand. Lee wanted a firefight. Saunders boxed and punched. He jabbed and ducked. Lee fired a sweeping left. It missed. He did land a big left at the bell.
“I want to thank God for this victory,” said Saunders after the match. “Andy Lee is a very good champion. I used his power against him.”