Alan Dawson – London
British middleweight phenom Billy Joe Saunders, 22, enhanced his already respectable reputation as a multi-dimensional boxer by overseeing Bradley Pryce in each and every round of their 12 round Commonwealth title tussle at York Hall, Bethnal Green in East London on Friday, June 1. Pryce had no answer for Saunders’ jab, was bedazzled by the Londoner’s exquisite technique and could barely see out of his left eye by the end of the fight.
Official verdict: Saunders wins UD (120-109, 120-108, 120-109).
“I got it all perfect, the game-plan was unbelievable,” said Saunders (14-0-0, 9ko) to Box Nation in speech as controlled as his boxing. “I knew Pryce was strong, he was compact and kept coming [but] I outboxed him.”
Aesthetically-pleasing southpaw Saunders got off to a technically-dominant start as he peppered Pryce (33-11,0, 18ko) with portside jabs whilst keeping himself out of harm’s way. Showing speed of foot, he was able to back away from Pryce’s shots while also employing a loose Philly-guard posture. A combination-puncher, Saunders’ speed of hand was far superior to Pryce who, judging from the first stanza alone, was completely out-classed.
Like the first, Saunders bossed the tempo and style of the fight in round two. He controlled the space and was comfortable with anything Pryce attempted to offer. Whether it was orthodox jabs he was able to see coming, or more forceful straight lefts, Saunders proved a frustrating target as he made himself – particularly his head – small. Pryce was a single-fire fighter who operated behind the jab and seldom anything else as he just couldn’t put his punches together. This was a contrast to Saunders, who not only jabbed, but one-two’d and even put as many as three and four shots together in any one move.
There may have been an element of surprise over Saunders’ approach as the North Londoner was controlled, rather than gunning to send his opponent to sleep in the first round (like he had done in his most recent outings against Tony Hill and Tommy Tolan), but Saunders and his corner will have been preparing for what was their first encounter scheduled for 12 rounds and had only once before been past six (a ten round points win over Gary Boulden when Saunders collected his first professional prize – the Southern Area middleweight belt).
The tactics were inspired. Saunders’ defence baffled Pryce and his offence was just as spectacular as he jabbed, double-jabbed and treble-jabbed, busting up Pryce’s eye which had begun to swell so grotesquely that, by the end of the fourth round, it was fast closing and threatened to impair vision. Saunders’ technical skillset was underlined further by his ability to lead with the uppercut.
Pryce gained enough confidence in the fifth round to throw a lot of shots… he backed Saunders onto the ropes and went to work, especially with uppercuts and straights, however, Saunders blocked the uppercuts with the gloves while it was rare that a straight would penetrate his peek-a-boo.
The swollen eye became target practice for Saunders in the second half of the bout. While Saunders’ elusiveness was diluted after 18 minutes of boxing, his accuracy remained on point, if not further enhanced, notably on the right side, as Pryce leaked considerable southpaw shots as his left eye was virtually sealed by the end of play in the seventh.
While Saunders’ jabbing ability will be rightly lauded, the fighter himself expressed regret post-fight that he did not incorporate his left hand more into his repertoire: “I won every round, I was comfortable. I didn’t use my left hand often enough but that’s 12 round experience. I know I can bring it in more next time. Because my jab worked so well, I switched off with the left.”
Saunders’ authority was further stamped in the championship rounds. Pryce’s corner attempted to motivate their man by reminding Bradley he wouldn’t want to look in the mirror in the morning, see his eye, know he lost and to go out there and come back to the corner with a winning score. That, though, proved an impossibility as Saunders simply out-techniqued his first challenger for his Commonwealth title throughout what had largely been a tactical battle.
In round 11, the referee paused the fight to ask Pryce how many fingers he was holding up. It was a question to test his vision, one he passed whether by knowledge or guesswork and, when fisticuffs resumed, Saunders went after the eye with a further flurry of jabs. In the final round, Saunders showed sheer quality by striking Pryce with three-punch combos that included southpaw jabs, straights and left hooks and took the final ten score even though Pryce will have wanted to at least land one meaningful power shot but, such was Saunders’ talent, Bradley couldn’t even light the fuse let alone launch a bomb.
With the classy victory, there will be much clamour to see Saunders matched even tougher, against a plethora of strong middleweight contenders from Britain and Ireland including current European champion Kerry Hope, former world title challengers Darren Barker, Matthew Macklin and Martin Murray or even Andy Lee, John Ryder or Craig McEwan.
Said Saunders: “Nobody is going to be taking this title off me any time soon. Ryder, Macklin, Murray… I’m coming after them [but] I want the British belt next.”
Francis Warren of Queensberry Promotions added: “I think he’s ready for any of those guys. The guidance he’s getting around Jimmy [Tibbs] and Mark [Tibbs]… the sky is the limit for this guy.
“He looked like a world class operator.”