By John J. Raspanti
Was he rusty?
Or perhaps he missed his trainer, Jimmy Tibbs.
Whatever it was, WBO middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders survived a scare from unknown Russian challenger Artur Akavov—winning a sluggish 12-round unanimous decision at the Lagoon Leisure Centre in Paisley, Scotland on Saturday night.
The scores were 116-113, 116-112, and 115-113.
Saunders (24-0, 12 KOs) swept the middle rounds to secure the decision, but nothing came easy for the loquacious 27-year-old.
He admitted after the fight that his showing was hardly inspiring.
“I’m embarrassed by that performance,” said Saunders. “It was nothing there. I was flat. That was terrible.”
Brooklyn-based Akavov (16-2, 7 KOS) came to fight, but he lacked the firepower to hurt Saunders. Still, he was the aggressor and forced the action.
Both southpaws sized each other up in the opening rounds, but didn’t land much. Saunders jabbed—while Akavov pursued. Akavov did well in Round three. He caught Saunders with a left to the chin and a few other blows.
Saunders came back a little in Round four, but Akavov, who’s never been stopped in his career, absorbed whatever Saunders landed.
Akavov continued to push forward and land blows. Saunders was told by his corner to start firing combinations. The defending champion acquiesced. He connected with a pretty good one-two--giving his fans something to cheer about. Akavov feinted and worked behind his jab.
The fight was close, with Saunders looking bored.
Saunders finally woke up in Round seven. He landed numerous blows to the head. Akavov, 30, stayed close but did little. Saunders did even better in Rounds eight and nine. He continued moving his hands in the next heat. Akavov countered with a left, but Saunders had found something.
He did well in Round 10 as well, but Akavov came back in the last two rounds as Saunders ran out of gas.
Saunders has been calling out the middleweight division top-ranked fighter, Gennady Golovkin, for close to year. He’s acutely aware that his poor showing Saturday didn’t cause Golovkin to lose any sleep.
"I got the win but I have to put it behind me now and come back with a bigger and better performance than that,” Saunders said.
"I put it down to a bit of ring rust, lack of fights, and a bit of weight loss--a bit of everything really," he added.