Saunders dethrones Lee on points
Billy Joe Saunders (23-0, 12 KOs) outpointed defending champion Andy Lee (34-3-1, 24 KOs) to capture the WBO middleweight title on Saturday night at the Manchester Arena in Manchester.
Saunders scored two crucial knockdowns in the third round and was awarded a close points decision by scores of 114-112 and 115-111, while the third judge had it even at 113-113.
The two southpaws began jabbing from distance until he fight burst into life in the third after Lee connected with a solid straight left. Saunders then responded with a powerful right hook which floored the Irishman.
Lee returned to his feet, but he was on shaky legs and was soon on the canvas again after the British fighter landed more hard shots.
But he survived the round and recovered enough to take the next round after some good work with the jab.
In the following rounds, the bout settled into a tactical affair with Saunders tagging Lee from distance, showing good movement and keeping out of range.
Lee was busier in the late rounds and backed the challenger up with left hands but Saunders took them well and in the end, the knockdowns were the difference.
"Andy Lee is a good champion, I beat a good champion here," said Saunders.
"But I used his power against him. When I was boxing him he got a little bit careless - dropping his lead hand and I caught him with the hook.
"I'm not going to start running my mouth but it was a good shot. With someone as fast as me you've got to keep your hands up - I'm not the biggest puncher in the world but this shows you that I can punch.
"Lee showed that he can be dangerous. He actually caught me on a shot when I tried to finish him. I thought, 'I won't rush' and I got back to my boxing and recuperated.
"When I put him down twice I knew he had to come and that's when I had all the time in the world."
Also on the card, WBO light middleweight champion Liam Smith (22-0-1, 12 KOs) stopped previously unbeaten challenger Jimmy Kelly (16-1, 7 KOs) in the 7th round.
Unbeaten Smith punished his opponent with solid shots from the start. Kelly, who was deducted two points for an intentional headbutt in the 6th, tried to fire back but was outgunned by his fellow Brit and he was rescued by his corner at 2:35 of the 7th.