By Jake Donovan
A marathon card dedicated in memory of longtime boxing luminary Dean Powell ended in fitting fashion, with Billy Joe Saunders barely edging out John Ryder in a draining battle between unbeaten middleweight prospects.
Scores 115-113 (twice) and 115-114 in favor of Saunders, who pulled ahead in the later rounds to take a close but well-deserved win.
Momentum never lasted more than a round for either fighter at any given point in the contest. Ryder was stepping way up in competition, but was game for the cause against his countryman, who served on the 2008 Great Britain Olympic boxing squad. His confidence was evident in his performance, jumping out to an early lead against a seemingly caught off-guard Saunders.
The middle rounds told the tale of the roles in which the fighters intended to play. Saunders was the better of the two when able to keep it to purely boxing, while Ryder consistently landed the more telling blows.
Ironically, it was Ryder's deceptive power that changed the course of the fight in his opponent's favor. Saunders was briefly stunned in round seven, a point in the fight in which a minor upset was very much on the table.
The former amateur star changed gears in round eight, boxing and moving effectively enough to avoid significant incoming. Whenever Ryder landed, the damage was minimized by Saunders maintaining proper distance to no longer feel the full brunt of his foe's power shots.
Though only regional titles at stake, the pair of prospects both offered world class efforts in the championship rounds. Ryder stepped up his game in the 11th after appearing to have fallen behind, creating an air of nervousness for Saunders and his supporters. A strong finish by both fighters made for nail biting moments prior to the final scores being read.
In a year when officiating - both in ring and on the stools - has taken a dramatic turn for the worse, all three judges were in agreement of a close and thrilling contest offered by the British middleweights. Saunders' stronger performance in the back six kept his unbeaten record intact, as he improves to 18-0 (10KO).
Ryder suffers his first loss, but his stock soars in defeat as his record moves to 15-1 (9KO).
The bout topped the longest card ever presented in the brief history of BoxNation, with the entire show presented in memory of Dean Powell. The longtime fixture of Frank Warren's promotional company tragically passed away earlier this month.
Powell's influence was felt throughout the night, well beyond the dedication t-shirts worn by all of Warren's fighters during the evening. No greater evidence of additional inspiration amidst the devastating loss was displayed than in the emotionally charged performance offered by Dereck Chisora.
The normally brash Brit was at his leanest and most subdued, coming in at a career-lightest 235 lb. in dismantling Edmund Gerber inside of five rounds. A full recap of his performance as well as the entire undercard can be found HERE .
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox