Andy Lee surrenders WBO World middleweight to Billy Joe Saunders in Manchester
Andy Lee surrendered his WBO World middleweight crown in Manchester last night going down to England's Billy Joe Saunders.
Lee endured two knock downs in the third round after being on the receiving end of two vicious right hooks from Saunders. He recovered well but couldn't deliver the knock out blow which he needed to end the ambitions of the British fighter who psychologically had the upper hand after those early knockdowns. The judges scored it 113-113, 114-112, 115-112.
Before an estimated attendance of 7,000 this was effectively an 'away' contest for the defending title holder.
Twenty-six-year-old Saunders is in the stable of fight promoter Frank Warren; the three ringside judges all hailed from England as did referee Steve Gray.
Six year older than Saunders, Lee had the edge in height - he was three inches taller than the challenger and, perhaps more importantly in experience. Indeed, Lee had achieved more knockout 24 than Saunders had fights (22)
As befits two southpaws the early exchanges were cautious with neither boxer willing to take any risks. There was hardly a punch of consequences thrown though Saunders did get through with one decent right which probably give him the round.
There was a brief flurry of exchanges at the end of the second which Lee possibly shaped but the silence of the crowd indicated that the fireworks had still to commence.
But Lee was in real trouble in the third round taking two separate counts of eight. He hung on grimly but was taking real punishment from Saunders. The champion survived but Saunders' big right hand was threatening to bring a premature end of the contest.
Saunders' took a breather in the fourth as Lee recovered his composure - after all he had been in this situation in his three previous fights and recovered to win two of them and draw the other. Lee was scoring in the fifth until he was stunned by another ferocious left hook but he still might have done enough to take it.
At the half time way point in the contest Saunders was probably marginally ahead. But the hope was that Lee who showed signs of ring rustiness in the early stages after an eight month lay-off would finally unleash his trademark knock out punch.
However, while he worked hard he couldn't penetrate Saunders' defences and there was no sign of the challenger running out of stamina. Lee had probably his best round in the tenth as he began to score more regularly.
Saunders was again in retreat in the 11th round and he was caught with a left. Predictably the last round was a slug feast with both scoring regularly and predictably at the final bell they both celebrated as if they had won.
After his two previous losses Les has rebuilt his career but this one could be one too too many for the Castleconnell native. Retirement looms though the contest was so close that Lee might be tempted back to the well again.
Sunday Indo Sport