On 19th of December in front of a sell out crowd at the Manchester Arena, history was made. For the first time ever two boxers from the Travelling community fought for a world title.
Going in to the fight Andy Lee, the London born, Irish raised fighter was favourite to beat the Hatfield based former Olympian Billy Joe Saunders. Lee who won the WBO belt against Russian matt Korobov via a TKO in 2014 was defending the belt for only the second time against the unbeaten Saunders.
In the lead up to the bout, proceedings were kept very respectful between the two fighters. The usual trash talking was thrown out of the window in favour of praise. Both men were quietly confident of a victory.
The two southpaw boxers couldn’t be any more different in styles and demeanour. Lee who is 31 and 6ft 2in is five years older and 3 inches taller than his opponent. In the ring, Lee has an all action Rocky Balboa style boxing with big punches, big knockdowns and winning against the odds. He is the antithesis of Saunders who fights a very defensive tactical game, a disciple of the old boxing mantra of hit and not get hit. Outside of the ring it’s the same, Lee who is softly spoken and all quiet menace is the polar opposite to the outspoken and sometimes brash Saunders.
Prior to the fight commentators were expecting a blood and guts tear-up, this wasn’t to be. The bout was a master class in technical boxing, between two highly skilled competitors. The big shock came in the third round when after a tetchy start Saunders landed a thundering hook to Lee’s head for a knock down, Lee managed to get up and beat the count but a few moments later Lee was back on the canvas. Again he got back to his feet, Saunders tried for the KO but Lee weathered the storm. After the knockdowns, the fight progressed it as it started, a tactical battle of the wills, a mental game of chess.
The bout went the whole 12 rounds, as the bell rang both men raised their hands in victory after a hard fought battle. It now all came down to the judge’s decision. The official scores were: Marcus McDonnell, 113-113, while Bill Edwards (114-112) and Dave Parris (115-111) had it for Saunders. Saunders was named the victor and is now the new WBO middleweight champion of the world.
After the contest, Saunders had this to say: “I will say nothing bad about Andy. He’s a true champion but there’s no room for a loser in our community – and I wasn’t being no loser tonight. I’ve had my son here with me since Friday, hadn’t seen him for two months. And I was never going to get beat in front of him tonight. Never in a million years.”
When asked what’s next for the boxer’s; Andy Lee has stated that he would be up for a rematch. Saunders has said he want’s to fight the former Puerto Rican former world champion Miguel Cotto.