by Cliff Rold
Two knockdowns and a lot of jabs.
A lot of jabs.
That’s what most will probably remember about Saturday’s battle to for a title and the right to be called, at best, the fourth best middleweight in the world. Despite a winning streak, and some dramatic knockout wins along the way, Andy Lee remained suspect.
He’s never quite lived up to the early hype around him. That’s okay. To his credit, he’s made the most of his combination of talents and flaws, won a belt, and will likely be in another memorable fight or two. It wasn’t Saturday.
Credit for that goes to Billy Joe Saunders.
Saunders nearly had Lee out early and then did just enough to outbox Lee and capture his first title. For Saunders, it was a step up in class (though Chris Eubank Jr. is showing he may be right there at the world level too). He has room to grow. Where will that growth come?
Let’s go the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Lee B; Saunders B/Post: B; B+
Pre-Fight: Power – Lee A; Saunders C+/Post: A; B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Lee B-; Saunders B/Post: B-; A-
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Lee B; Saunders B/Post: C+; A
Going into the fight, it looked like Saunders had a slight edge in hand speed. It turned out to be more than that in the ring. Saunders isn’t Meldrick Taylor or anything but he gets off quicker than most of the division and is clever. His power isn’t going to get a lot of knockouts but he showed that, masking it and setting up his shots, he could score big on a world-class guy like Lee. That he couldn’t finish reflected both his finishing rate and Lee’s guts.
He didn’t come to be stopped again.
Lee respected that early onslaught too much perhaps and never went for broke either. With the fight up for grabs on some cards late, Lee needed to go all out but didn’t. Perhaps he couldn’t. His temperament is a counter punchers and Saunders is no easy target. It’s not like Lee can’t punch; his power is proven.
He couldn’t use it. Again, credit the foe.
Saunders again showed really good head movement. He rarely gets caught twice. His feet kept him just out of danger and forced the fight to constantly come to him. It was excellent game planning.
No, there wasn’t a ton of leather landed as the fight wore on but for Saunders that wasn’t a problem. He came to win and executed a winning game plan. After the knockdowns, it was up to Lee to dramatically change the fight. He couldn’t.
The future for Lee is a little cloudy. He could pursue a rematch of find himself an option for Daniel Jacobs or Gennady Golovkin as both bide time for something bigger. Jacobs could also figure as a foe for Saunders in 2016, though Golovkin-Saunders seems to be a long shot.
Saunders has expressed more than once that Golovkin is not on his immediate radar. Take him at his word. There are easier ways to make a living and have people call him ‘champ’ than having to tangle with the division’s best.
Report Card and Staff Picks 2015: 95-26 (Including staff picks for Ortiz-Jennings, Concepcion-Marquez, Barthelemy-Shafikov, Rosado-Clottey, and Walters-Sosa)
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]