Alan Dawson – London
Well conditioned middleweight Gary Boulden showed good durability and a tremendous chin against an authoritative Billy Joe Saunders who out-worked Boulden in nine of the ten rounds at Wembley Arena in London on Saturday, November 5. Saunders claimed the Southern Area championship by bedazzling Boulden with his classic southpaw stance, accumulation of punches and ring generalship.
Referee’s verdict: Saunders victory.
Walking with a swag that befitted his entrance music (James Brown’s ‘Paid the cost to be the boss’) Saunders, an exceptional prospect blessed with boundless technical ability, strutted to the Wembley Arena ring kissing his red gloves and saluting to a swiftly-filling stage ready to witness his challenge of the Southern Area middleweight championship. Defending titlist Gary Boulden, from London like his dance partner, eyeballed Saunders when he made it to the canvas for the official introductions and the commencement of play.
From the off, Saunders came out the traps with intent. Showing great footwork and a mature appreciation of range/distance, Saunders refused to allow Boulden to find his own groove by popping him with his trademark southpaw jabs and right hand short-range hook shots that were accompanied with left uppercuts. When Saunders unleashed the trigger, he could pound Boulders’ frame with eight punch combinations. To give Boulden a fair shake, he was no mere heavy bag… no, he fought back. He showed good ability with three punch flurries, kept a conventional two forearm’d shield protecting his tucked-in chin but, from the opening round alone, it was obvious that Saunders was at least one clear level above.
Saunders changed to an even higher gear in the second round, peppering Boulden with face-crunching punches at will. He boxed to the body, firing either side of the defending champion’s midsection before returning his attention upstairs to clobber his noggin’. Not only was Saunders’ offensive artillery outstanding, but his defensive capability was on point too as his upper body movement was straight out of the textbook. His ability to evade was highlighted when he turned his shoulders to force Boulden into missing and swinging at air instead of flesh; this meant he lost enough balance to end up on the canvas (no punch/ no knockdown).
A proven puncher to the body from past wins (he stopped Kevin Hammond with body-work), Saunders again pummeled Boulden’s midsection with hard leather. In an attempt to fight fire with fire, Boulden sought to unleash his own body shots but Saunders took a step back to make his man miss – again. In the final minute of the third round, though, he landed a strong right hand; the perfect foil to an awkward southpaw. Saunders even returned to his stool with swelling below his right eye that was perhaps a byproduct of Boulden’s stiff right cross.
Saunders upped the tempo even further in the fourth, landing two right hooks from point blank in swift succession before connecting with a left uppercut. Sensing a potential knockdown or finish, Saunders began letting his fists go, and go, and go, and go until eventually, Boulden was bleeding from the brow. Saunders finished the round by sending left hands into Boulden’s belly and another round had to go to the Hatfield 22-year-old dubbed Superb.
In the fifth round, Saunders eased off the gas a touch, perhaps because the flurrying from round four had taken something out of his lungs. Boulden was therefore able to take advantage and sneak a bit of momentum. Such was the confidence that Boulden obtained from the fifth, he began showboating by leaning forward and sticking his chin out with his gloves behind his back – much like Joe Calzaghe did versus Roy Jones Jr.
Boulden was buoyed by his previous success and boxed well at the start of the sixth but Saunders stole the momentum back by the second minute due to his southpaw jabs and his relentless one-two combinations that involved the left cross attached to the right hand jab. In the seventh, Boulden thundered an uppercut into Saunders’ chin that had such power it forced Billy Joe’s bonce back but his legs remained strong.
The seventh featured some bizarre lateral movement from Boulden who seemed to be under the impression that running away from Saunders in side to side motions with a joker’s expression on his mush would embarrass his opponent, rather than himself. Unfazed, Saunders just shrugged his shoulders and continued to work. Boxing in a loose fashion, Saunders’ corner implored their ward to get the hands higher and become tighter – something the 22-year-old took heed of immediately.
In the penultimate round of the bout scheduled for ten, both fighters sported bruises and darkening around the eyes. Head movement ensured Saunders was able to duck under Boulden’s left hooks but the prizefighter from Shepperton was mostly fighting on the backfoot. Saunders stunned Boulden with left uppercuts and left hooks and forced Boulden into survival mode… he wasn’t just back-stepping, he was jogging in retreat before clinching in a last ditch effort to hear the bell signaling the end of the ninth.
In the final round, Saunders sustained the pressure he built up in the ninth, catching Boulden well. All of Saunders’ good work in the preceding rounds culminated in the final stanza as he bombarded Boulden and never left him off the hook, however, the 25-year-old stood up to the onslaught despite all the wear and tear that was evident on his face.
A distance fight is something that had been lacking from Saunders’ education as a professional. He handled his first ten-rounder well, showed occasional signs of fatigue – particularly after his attack-happy fourth round – but overall harassed Boulden in a near non-stop fashion. Saunders, though, a modest prizefighter, claimed he was three marks away from a perfect score: “Out of ten, I’d give myself seven for performance,” he said to Box Nation.
“This is the first of many [titles],” he added. “It’s something I’ve missed my career – ten rounds. Money can’t buy that, it’s better than all the stoppages in rounds one and two. I hit him with something… I’ve got to go back to the gym and learn how to deal with that better, when someone doesn’t go down. His experience as champion, he knew how to weather the storm.”
Saunders’ trainer, the renowned Jimmy Tibbs, said: “I wanted to congratulate [Joe], when you’re fighting a man who is continually getting knocked about a bit then going backwards, he did well, all I can say is this is the first of many [titles].”
Billy Joe concluded by declaring his ambitions of climbing the domestic rankings in Britain: “There’s still the English title, Nick Blackwell is a good fight. I’ll have a week off then go back to the gym.”
With the win, Saunders moved to 11-0-0, 7ko while Boulden dropped to 5-3-2, 0ko.