Saunders downs Lee in Manchester
Andy Lee (34-3-1, 24 KOs) recovered from two heavy third round knockdowns before dropping a majority decision victory to Billy Joe Saunders (23-0, 12 KOs) who was crowned the new WBO middleweight champion of the world at Manchester Arena.
The bout started in cagey fashion as both fighters felt each other out early on. It suddenly exploded into life as Saunders caught Lee with a massive right hook that floored the Irishman in the third. He followed up with another right hook to put the champion down again. The fighters touched gloves at the end of the round, classy stuff.
Both men pawed with their southpaw jabs as Lee looked to recover from his disastrous third round. The challenger landed another quality left hand in the fifth but Lee showed resolve and returned quality work of his own during the middle rounds. Saunders controlled the action but Lee remained in the fight as he tried to control the range. It was Saunders' speed which was the key during the midway point in both his defence and offence.
The pace slowed down into the latter stages with both men not committing when coming forward. The tempo rose in the twelfth as both fighters took a few risks. Lee came on stronger down the stretch winning the last round. Both fighters believed they had done enough to win at the final bell. Judges scores were 113-113 (even), 114-112 and 115-111 as Saunders was crowned the new WBO middleweight champion.
What’s next? Saunders will be looking for big fights in 2016 and could rematch Lee. The Chris Eubank Jr fight will always be there as will the possibility of some big unification fights stateside. Lee will likely want a rematch or may return Stateside himself.
Liam 'Beefy' Smith (22-0-1, 12 KOs) retained his WBO 154lbs strap in devastating fashion against the game Jimmy Kelly (16-1, 7 KOs). The opening stages saw both fighters land meaningful punches. Smith and Kelly showed variety in their attacks. Manchester's Kelly looked good when boxing from range; however, 'Beefy' was the stronger of the two especially when on the inside. Both men traded from the outset, however Smith’s shots seemed far more effective.
The weight of Smith's punches showed at the end of the fifth as both fighters traded body shots with the champion's appearing to hurt more. Kelly was deducted two points in round six for a blatant headbutt. Many had scored every round to Smith by this point so the headbutt looked to be a tactic to upset the champion’s effective rhythm. Kelly was down in the seventh but was not given a count yet seconds later the towel came in after relentless body shots from Smith. Kelly gave a good account of himself, but the champion illustrated that he is at least a level above in a fine display of pressure fighting.
Smith will now look to kick on to the bigger names in the 154 pound division. He has spoken about the possibility of fighting the likes of Shane Mosley and talked up the idea of travelling stateside for a dream showdown with Miguel Cotto. It may be back to the drawing board for Kelly who will look to rebuild at the correct pace and look to challenge for British and Commonwealth honours in the coming year.
Liam Williams (13-0-1, 8 KOs) dismissed Kris Carslaw (22-6, 5 KOs) in just two rounds for the Commonwealth and vacant British 154lbs titles. Williams took charge of the fight from the opening bell against the tough Scot.
Carslaw was down in the first with a left hook to the body. A stiff left jab in the opening 10 seconds of round two left Carslaw face down. Referee Michael Alexander waved the fight off as Williams becomes British Champion to add to his Commonwealth strap. The impressive Williams will aim to push on to international honours.
Thomas Stalker (10-1-3, 2 KOs) rematched Craig Evans (14-1-2, 3 KOs) for the vacant WBO European Lightweight title. In another evenly matched contest that consisted of a quick pace, high work-rate and total commitment from both boxers, neither fighter could be split at the final bell with the judges scoring the fight a majority draw.
It could be argued that Stalker won the fight through his volume of punches or that Evans won it by landing the cleaner shots. A third fight will likely be in the works for the early part of next year as both men displayed improved performances from their last contest.
Former IBF bantamweight champion Paul Butler (20-1,11 KOs) stopped tough Spanish-based Romanian Silvio Olteanu (15-9-1, 6 KOs) in six. Both fighters started quick looking to establish themselves in the contest. The Ellesmere Port man landed the more accurate punches early on against his visibly smaller opponent.
Butler spent the early rounds boxing and moving well until round four when he stepped on the gas throwing uppercuts and left hooks which shook Olteanu. He hurt Olteanu in the sixth round after the tough Romanian took a count from a right hand. Butler finished well after the knockdown and becomes the first man to stop the former European flyweight champion.
The Scouser looks to have set up a clash with Ireland's unbeaten Jamie Conlan for the early months of next year. Butler impressed and could fight Conlan for a vacant world title.
Jack Catterall (14-0, 9 KOs) made short work of Noe Nunez Rodriguez (15-3-1, 12 KOs) stopping him in the third round. Catterall started fast, loading up with big shots and put the taller Nunez under pressure early. The Mexican responded, however, and had some success in the second. Catterall went through the gears quickly in the third; unleashing a massive flurry of hooks to the head forcing referee Phil Edwards to jump in and stop the contest.
Mitchell Smith now (13-1, 7 KOs) was shocked by a cracking performance from George Jupp (13-2, 4 KOs). Smith never really got going in the fight as he attempted to walk down Jupp's superior jab all night. The betting favourite did have some success to the body; however, it was Jupp who worked well off the jab and landed the superior punches.
The mid-rounds were close as Smith tried to put his foot on the gas, but Jupp stuck to his box and move gameplan perfectly as Smith tired later in the fight. Underdog Jupp shocked the champion by finishing strong and recorded a unanimous decision victory against the previously undefeated Smith to gain the WBO Inter-Continental super featherweight title.
Smith will need a career rebuilding job early in the New Year as big domestic clashes are put on the backburner for at least six months.
Tommy Langford (15-0, 5 KOs) pole-axed Robert Swierzbinski (15-5-1, 3 KOs) as he retained his WBO Inter-Continental Middleweight title. The Devon native started strong against the Pole, controlling the fight with his left hand and blocking all coming his way.
Swierzbinski was floored in the second, but the knockdown was not given by referee Terry O'Connor. The tough Pole touched down again in the fourth as Langford looked to take him out. Swierzbinski was knocked down again in the fourth and, a minute into round five, referee O'Connor had seen enough as the game Pole was saved from further punishment. Langford will continue his learning process as he looks to maintain his high cement his high ranking with the WBO.
The night’s action at the Manchester Arena opened with Indian middleweight superstar Vijender Singh. Singh displayed controlled power as well as a great jab to move to 3-0, 3KOs with a second round TKO victory over Samet Hyuseniov who dropped to 7-8, 2 KOs. Singh will look to enhance his popularity with a British and Asian audience in the coming year.