Billy Joe Saunders defeated fellow British teammate Martin Murray by unanimous decision to retain the WBO superweight title at Wembley Arena.
It was the 30th win in his unbeaten professional career Saunders, who entered the world title frenzy and rated him as a 1-25 favorite by bookmakers.
Saunders took the fight 120-109 120-109 118-110 on judges’ cards.
The 31-year-old is now eyeing the winner of Callum Smith’s match with Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez on December 19.
“I’ve been out for over a year and it was like boxing in a cemetery,” Saunders said.
“I love to perform to the crowd and try to put a beat but it’s a sly old fox and it connects you well.
“Maybe I need the rounds in the new year and I hope he has a good birthday and is back with his family. The main thing is that I’m 30-0.”
It was Murray’s unsuccessful fifth shot in a world title, and the 38-year-old admitted afterward that it could be his last fight.
Let’s get the big names out there.
Saunders put on a controlled and confident show, achieving success with the overhead shots and body shots as the South dominated the early exchanges.
Murray stumbled upon the canvas in the fourth round, and although no knockout was called, the veteran fighter clearly felt the strong combination of Saunders.
“It was an obvious knockout,” Saunders said. “That would have changed the whole battle, if it had been called a knockout.”
Murray continued with a blow in the seventh round and was a contender the whole time, despite saying his back went in the eighth round, but Saunders was the dominant fighter and he remained disciplined in the 12 rounds.
Saunders then said his next round “has to be a big battle”.
He was on the verge of securing a battle with Alvarez in May prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Then the Hertfordshire fighter was considered an opponent of the Mexican in September, but withdrew from the talks, indicating that he did not want such a fight to be fought without sufficient preparation, even if he was offered big money.
Instead, fellow Briton Smith agreed to face Alvarez shortly later this month.
“It’s very important for me to stay in the gym now because I’m not getting younger,” Saunders added. “Let’s shoot the big names out there. I need a big fight to get ready for that. I don’t want to sit in the dressing room, sing and dance.”
What next for Murray?
As he headed to the match, Saunders said he was looking forward to his opponent’s “retirement” and while Murray did not commit to whether he would fight again, he conceded that this was his last chance to win a world title.
The 38-year-old has won 11 different belts during his career, but the Dodging World Crown has always proven beyond the reach of the St. Helens man.
After a controversial draw with Felix Sturm and a similarly controversial defeat by Sergio Martinez, Gennady Golovkin caused the first hiatus in Murray’s career in 2015.
His fourth title shot, against Arthur Abraham, ended with a split decision victory for the German at home, and finally, five years later, this defeat to Saunders appears to have shattered the England player’s hopes.
Murray had feared that the coronavirus pandemic had ended his career but he was back in the ring after a 13-month absence saying he had a big fight left in him.
“Five times for the world title and five times I will not get six times,” he said. “I am 38 years old, I just want to spend time with my family now – never say, but I think that’s it.
“It took a lot of wear and tear on my body, Never Never Say But I’m ready for a good rest.
“I had a colorful past before I became a professional. When I became a pro, I said I didn’t want any regrets, and I did. I could have been a double-weight world champ if I had referees or luck on my side but it didn’t work that way.”
On the bottom card, Belfast fighter James Tennyson He did a short job for Canadian Josh O’Reilly knocking out the WBA Lightweight Title, halting his opponent after 2 minutes and 14 seconds.
British Pant Weight Shannon Courtenay She recovered from the first defeat of her professional career in August to stop Polish Dorota Norik in the seventh round.
What did the critics say …
BBC Boxing Expert Steve Pons: “It was a tough 12 rounds. It was a classic Billie Joe performance, not the most intelligent we’ve seen, but he did what he had to do.”
“It was ugly, it wasn’t amazing, but it was a big, solid screen. Martin Murray, even at age 38, isn’t a fluke that you can easily blow up.”
Andy Lee, former world middleweight champion, on BBC 5 Live Sports Extra: “ Saunders always did what he did, which was enough to win.
“ Although what we saw tonight might not have been enough to beat Callum Smith or Kanelo, when he faces them in the ring Billy Joe Saunders will be different.
“He will raise the level of his game. He always fights at the level of the person facing him.”