Boxing

Billy Joe Saunders lands WBO middleweight glory after Manchester points win

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Billy Joe Saunders captured the WBO middleweight title after knocking down Andy Lee twice en route to a majority decision victory at the Manchester Arena.

In a bout billed as the first world title fight between two Travellers, Saunders was given the nod 114-112 and 115-111 by two of the judges, with the third scoring it a 113-113 draw as the 26-year-old extended his perfect record to 23-0, with 12 knock-out wins.

The Hertfordshire fighter, who competed at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, came flying out of the blocks and a punishing right at the end of the first round served notice of his intent.

Irishman Lee, making the first defence of the title he won by beating Matt Korobov a little over 12 months ago, was twice knocked down in the third following a couple of thunderous right hands from the challenger.

The champion weathered the storm over the next couple of rounds, with Saunders perhaps wary of Lee's renowned concussive power to go all out for the stoppage.

Gradually, Lee gained a foothold in the bout and came on strong in the final rounds of an increasingly cagey bout. A solid left hand from Lee forced Saunders onto the back foot but the Briton did not look seriously hurt.

Lee, perhaps knowing he needed a knock-out, hunted down Saunders in the final round and while he probably took it, it was not enough to stop him slipping to the third defeat of his professional career and first since 2012.

Earlier in the night, Liam Smith retained his WBO light-middleweight title with a seventh-round stoppage of Jimmy Kilrain Kelly.

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