By George Ogier
It’s that time of year when the number 12 takes on a larger significance than usual. The twelfth month, the start of the 12 days of Christmas and on Saturday night Billy Joe Saunders took a dozen rounds to become Britain’s twelfth world title holder.
As is becoming a rather unfortunate habit for me I backed the wrong horse and could not see past an Andy Lee victory. I was not the only one in that position though and not without good reason. Saunders had not fought anyone near Lee’s level and in truth had struggled against opposition he deemed to be less talented than himself.
Billy Joe has always had bags of ability but in the pros that doesn’t always manifest itself as it should, just ask Frankie Gavin. Fast hands, good footwork, but an apparent lack of power and a tendency to fade late on in fights had me wondering if Saunders would ever win the world title he told us was his destiny.
Over the course of 11 largely uneventful rounds punctuated by one crazy session Billy Joe fulfilled that destiny and in doing so dispelled at least one of my reservations. It was a bout in which the left hand carrying the most danger was thought to belong to Andy Lee. However, the Irishman found himself on the receiving end of a couple of punches he would have been proud to have thrown himself. On those two moments the fight was, in all probability won and lost.
From round three onwards Lee seemed understandably scared of getting taken out again which made him reluctant to throw a left hand in anger. In the opposite corner Saunders clearly switched back to a more economical style in a bid to steal rounds. The approach from Billy Joe was a reasonable tactic but the lack of urgency at times from Lee was baffling.
After Tyson Fury’s victory against Wladimir Klitschko I wondered if Klitschko had thrown away the fight as much as Fury had won it and I was left with a similar feeling on Saturday. It is often a very fine line between praising the victor and criticising the loser and it would be remiss of me not to salute the newest member of Britain’s world title holders club.
Billy Joe Saunders looked in the best condition of his career ahead of this fight. There was clearly a lot of mutual respect between both men but there was a determination about Saunders that I, and many others should have perhaps taken more seriously.
The biggest name on Saunders’ record to date was Chris Eubank Jr, a fighter nowhere near world level according to Billy Joe. Despite that the Hatfield man looked at ease in the ring, often beating Andy Lee to the punch and evading a lot of the champion’s work, particularly entering the championship rounds.
If there was to be one criticism of Saunders it would be that again he seemed to fade late on in the contest and that could be an issue going forward. Stamina is a huge part of any good boxer’s arsenal and against someone a little more dogged than Lee Billy Joe might well come unstuck. It’s no good having a Ferrari if it has a fuel leak and you can’t drive it more than 10 miles. For now, though let’s just celebrate another exceptionally talented British fighter becoming world champion.
The main support on Saturday involved another of our world title holders in the first defence of his belt as Liam Smith took on Jimmy Kelly. If I’m totally honest I didn’t know an awful lot about Kelly in the lead up to this contest and the pre-fight interview in the dressing room conducted with the Manchester man wearing glasses left me even more nonplussed.
However, those of us who didn’t know Kelly before certainly know him now. Tough and durable with decent hand speed, Jimmy proved to be a little more than the “Christmas wages” Smith had dismissively described his challenger as ahead of the fight. There wasn’t really a point in which Kelly had Smith in trouble but I saw enough from the challenger to be excited about seeing him in the domestic middleweight mix for 2016.
2015 has been a stellar year for British boxing and 2016 promises to be just as interesting. From Frampton vs. Quigg to the re-emergence of David Haye. The reign of Tyson Fury as the number one heavyweight on the planet and Anthony Joshua’s journey to dethrone him, fans in the UK are in for some real treats.
I’ve enjoyed the past 12 months enormously and I hope you have too. I would like to wish everyone reading this a happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year. See you all in 2016!
George Ogier is part of Boxing Scene's UK team. Follow him on Twitter @george_ogier