Andy Lee looks to make the first defense of his WBO middleweight title against Billy Joe Saunders on Saturday. The evenly matched bout takes place at the Manchester Arena (Formerly M.E.N Arena) and airs live on BoxNation in the UK at 5:00 p.m. (including full supporting undercard) and on Showtime Extreme in America at 5:00 p.m. ET/PT.
Both fighters were very cordial towards each other in Box Nation’s “Head to Head.”
As Lee (34-2-1, 24 knockouts) touched upon, although both are southpaws they have very different styles. Lee the taller, rangier puncher while his mandatory challenger, Saunders (22-0, 12 KOs) is a smaller, more compact, busier fighter.
Lee, at 31, is five years older than Saunders who turned 26 back in August. Interestingly, Lee is also Tyson Fury’s cousin, though, unlike the heavyweight champion, is far more reserved and respectful of his opponents.
An interesting subplot appears to be that both are from travelling backgrounds, adding extra spice to an already well matched 50/50 bout.
The twice-postponed fight has given both men and their highly-respected corners, Adam Booth with Lee and Jimmy Tibbs with Saunders, further time to analyze each other.
Online gambling group bet365.com lists Lee at Evens (+100), while Saunders is priced at 4/5 (-125).
RingTV.com asked 17 boxing insiders for their picks:
Anthony Crolla, WBA lightweight titlist
A genuine 50/50 fight with two fantastic fighters. It’s so hard to pick a winner. Does Billy Joe build up a lead and hold on to it in the second half of the fight or does Andy Lee catch up to him in the second half of the fight? Either way, I see the first half of the fight being Billy Joe’s and the second half being Andy Lee’s. I can’t pick a winner; it’s such a close fight.
Stephen Edwards, trainer of junior middleweight Julian Williams
Billy Joe Saunders UD 12 Andy Lee: I like Saunders to outbox Lee and win a unanimous decision.
Norm Frauenheim, The Ring/15rounds.com
Andy Lee TKO 11 Billy Joe Saunders: Saunders has a chance to catch Lee early with a big shot. But the resilient Lee knows that. Look for Lee to give away a few early rounds in an attempt to stay out of range when Saunders figures to possess all of his energy and most of his power. After the fifth, the momentum figures to swing in favor Lee, who will capitalize with a punishing attack for a late stoppage.
Jeffrey Freeman, KODigest.TV
Billy Joe Saunders SD 12 Andy Lee: It would be easy to see Andy Lee getting his Irish socks boxed off by Billy Joe Saunders on Dec. 19 before relying on his superior reach and punching power to land a knockout blow, thereby saving himself from defeat yet again. Against lesser caliber opponents John Jackson and Matt Korobov, that comeback formula has suited Lee well. In Saunders, the defending WBO champion is facing a world-class middleweight upstart with superb southpaw skills and a sturdy chin. Saunders will box smartly and look to score a win on points. Lee will hunt for bombs but never squarely find the target. Firefights will be rare in this one but, when they do break out, Saunders will be more capable of imposing his will. The pick is Saunders by split decision in a title bout that looks closer to the judges than it does to the fans in Manchester pulling for their challenger.
Joe Gallagher, trainer of the Smith brothers, Crolla and Scott Quigg
Billy Joe Saunders PTS 12 Andy Lee: It can go one of two ways: Billy Joe was a very good amateur. He does well with southpaws; he beat Tony Hill very quickly (TKO 1). Andy Lee has grown into the role of world champion and a very good world champion, good wins away from home in America, got dropped, got up and knocked a good fighter out (Matt Korobov) and went the distance then with (Peter) Quillin. It’s a tough fight. I just think Billy Joe sets about Andy Lee early and really gets into a groove. I really think Andy Lee’s in trouble. I think Billy Joe can go through the gears. On the other hand, I do feel if Andy Lee keeps upsetting Billy Joe and doesn’t allow him in, I think Andy Lee can pull away on a points win. I can’t see it being a stoppage. I think it’s gonna be points, tight, either or, I don’t think it’s gonna be an exciting fight either. I think it’s gonna be a very tactical fight. Andy Lee’s a champion with power but Billy Joe obviously he’ll be on a high after beating (Chris) Eubank (Jr.), full of confidence, determined. I think if it goes to the scorecards, I think Saunders might nick it, it’s the toss of a coin.
Tom Gray, RingTV.com
Billy Joe Saunders SD12 Andy Lee: Truthfully, I have no idea who wins this fight. I can make a compelling case for both men and the only result that would surprise me is a stoppage win for Saunders. As it is, I’m going to pick the challenger via split decision. I think, as the fresher fighter, he can perform with more consistency through 12 rounds and his motivation will be sky high. Lee has a major edge in experience and he’ll have his moments but I see Saunders with a razor-thin edge at the final bell. This is a great fight between two excellent technicians.
Lee Groves, RingTV.com
Andy Lee W 12 Billy Joe Saunders: A tough fight to call. Lee is more experienced in terms of opposition faced and miles traveled, plus he is three inches taller and packs the far bigger punch. His left cross is among boxing’s most lethal weapons and it can strike at any moment whether he’s leading or behind. Saunders is younger, quicker and will probably have more crowd support in Manchester. Both are southpaws, so neither will have that advantage. Also, both will be somewhat rusty since this will be the second fight for both in more than a year. I’ll go with the bigger puncher and the more seasoned campaigner amidst an explosive and nerve-rattling atmosphere.
Daniel Jacobs, middleweight contender
Andy Lee to defeat Billy Joe Saunders: I’m rooting for Andy Lee because I think that’s a bigger fight for me. Doing something in the US between the two of us would make a lot of sense. He has a huge following here in New York, just like me obviously. It would be a classic showdown that Brooklyn would appreciate. May the best man win between the two of them but, if Andy wins, I think it would be very interesting for both of us.
Reggie Johnson, former middleweight and light heavyweight champion
Andy Lee KO Billy Joe Saunders: I like Lee in this fight. I think his makeup, skill set, height and range will have his hand raised at the end of this fight. Lee by early/mid-fight KO.
Tom Loeffler, managing director of K2 Promotions, which promotes IBF/WBA middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin
Andy Lee PTS 12 Billy Joe Saunders: This looks to be a very competitive fight but I would lean toward Andy Lee because of his greater world title experience and power by decision.
Glenn McCrory, former cruiserweight champion and Sky Sports commentator/pundit
Andy Lee PTS 12 Billy Joe Saunders: I can see Andy Lee coming through on points in a very close, hard-fought fight. I think it’s an excellent fight. Billy Joe Saunders is a good talent. He’s young. It would not surprise me if he did beat Lee; it’s that sort of fight. I just think Andy Lee’s been there a bit more, the big KO to win the world title has obviously elevated him, so he’ll be on top of his game. He’s in the Adam Booth camp, which has helped him after (trainer) Emanuel (Steward’s passing). It’s been a lift to him. He’s flying high and I expect a close, hard-fought fight with Andy Lee coming out on points.
Jolene Mizzone, Main Events matchmaker
Billy Joe Saunders PTS 12 Andy Lee: I may be the only one picking Saunders but my feeling is that Saunders is the hungrier fighter. I also think Saunders’ southpaw style will benefit him in this fight. I take nothing away from Lee; he has the power. The question is: Does Saunders have the chin? I think it will be an interesting fight but, again, I’ll go with Saunders in a 12-round decision.
John J. Raspanti, Maxboxing.com/Doghouseboxing.
Billy Joe Saunders SD 12 Andy Lee: Boxing is all about styles. Billy Joe Saunders is a slick boxer. Andy Lee can slug. The question going into their bout is: Who has the advantage? Saunders is younger but Lee is taller. Saunders is the quicker man. Lee can end the fight with one punch. I have a feeling that Saunders will get off to a lead and hang on to win a razor-thin, split decision.
Lee Selby, IBF featherweight champion
Andy Lee KO Billy Joe Saunders: I’d say either Saunders points or Lee KO. If I had to pick, I’d say Lee.
Ronnie Shields, trainer of junior middleweights Erislandy Lara and Jermall Charlo
Andy Lee PTS 12 Billy Joe Saunders: Both guys are really good fighters and both guys are smart and really tough. The only reason I’m gonna give Andy Lee the edge is that he’s the champion. Andy Lee’s a different fighter now than he was, say, a year-and-a-half, two-years ago. Being champion has really molded well for him. He’s one of these guys, he’s always been a puncher but now he has confidence in his hands. He has confidence in his ability. You can’t take nothing away from Billy Joe Saunders because this guy can really, really fight but I would have to give the edge to Andy Lee because of the power and because of the confidence right now. I’m gonna say points because I think Saunders is gonna really put up a great fight. I think Andy Lee’s gonna outpoint him.
Paul Smith, former two-time world super middleweight title challenger
Andy Lee PTS 12 Billy Joe Saunders: I think it’s a really good 50/50; every time I’ve leaned away from Billy Joe, as in the [Chris] Eubank fight, he’s come out and proved everyone wrong and won well. I thought he done great against Eubank and really stamped his authority in the division. I think Andy Lee’s a very good fighter. I think he’s pretty vulnerable, at times, which makes him exciting but he’s a big puncher and awkward, strong southpaw, as is Billy Joe. It’s a close fight; if I had to toss a coin and put my money somewhere, I’d probably stick with the champion. Both nice lads, nothing would surprise me at all.
Final tally: 9-7 (and one undecided) in favor of Andy Lee to win Saturday’s middleweight title showdown with Billy Joe Saunders.