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Saunders retains titles

By Rachel Aylett: Tonight at the Copper Box Arena in London, defending British and Commonwealth Middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders successfully retained both titles against his biggest domestic rival, John Ryder. In a tense, grueling and highly entertaining fight, Saunders took a unanimous but close decision to move one step closer to winning the British Lonsdale belt outright. He now needs one more successful defense in order to do so.

Due to the longevity of the show, the fighters ended up coming to the ring at 12.20 a.m. Despite the late hour there was still a large expectant crowd there to witness this local derby. Both fighters had their fan base, but Ryder seemed to have the larger cheering section. The fight proved well worth waiting for.

The expectation was that Saunders would box on the back foot and the super-strong Ryder would be pushing forward looking to get inside to land his heavy shots. However, Saunders came out clearly wanting to stand his ground and go on the offensive. This seemed to take Ryder by surprise and Saunders managed to take the opening two rounds in this manner. The tactics changed in the third. Ryder was now getting the better of the infighting exchanges and took the round, from then on forcing Saunders into the role of boxer, as had previously been expected. When Saunders is in boxing mode he is a joy to watch, his speed of hand and foot is very difficult for opponents to deal with and, sure enough, he took the next few rounds to be well ahead in the fight at the halfway stage. His nagging jab and constant movement was proving too much for Ryder to deal with.

The fight swung at the halfway stage and, with Billy Joe unable to maintain his pace, Ryder slowly got to grips with him. He was getting inside more and more and, when he did so, was taking advantage of his superior strength by landing energy-sapping shots to the body. In rounds 9 and 10 Billy Joe got his second wind and was able to keep Ryder at bay in these rounds, sometimes landing three or four jabs in a row to nick these rounds and put himself in an unassailable lead on the scorecards. This effort left Saunders spent however and Ryder came on like a train, with rounds 11 and 12 being his best of the fight. By the end, he had almost punched Saunders to a standstill, but his rally had come too late.

Both corners celebrated at the end but the reading of the cards left Ryder and his team disappointed as two judges had seen it 115-113 and the other 115-114, all for Saunders. I agreed with the former score.

Ryder must be congratulated for his tremendous effort here. He was far less experienced than his opponent, a former GB Olympian, who had fought four full 12-round fights before tonight. Ryder had never fought past round eight previously, but it was he that seemed full of energy at the end. Is it possible that he held back slightly because of uncertainty over doing the distance? If so, this may have proved the decisive difference on the cards. Indeed, it is Ryder who will perhaps come out of this match with more credit. Saunders was a heavy favourite to win, and probably in an easier fight than this proved. In fact, on several occasions during the intervals between rounds there was real concern in Billy Joe’s corner, as the fight occasionally looked as though it might be slipping away. Just prior to the last round, Saunders’ veteran trainer Jimmy Tibbs was heard to plead with his fighter “please, please please use the jab”

With Saunders determined to win that Lonsdale belt outright, it would seem that the only other worthwhile domestic opponent at the moment would be Chris Eubank Jr. Interestingly though, both Saunders and Ryder suggested in the immediate aftermath of this fight that they would be happy to rematch. I think almost everyone who saw this fight would love to see an immediate return. It was interesting to note Saunders’ promoter Frank Warren’s comments though. When asked about a rematch he responded, “somewhere down the line”. Perhaps Ryder had made it too close for comfort for the jewel in his crown.


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