Saunders now looking at future bouts with the likes of Miguel Cotto and Saul Canelo Alvarez.

Billy Joe Saunders won the WBO World Middleweight Championship after he outpointed Andy Lee last night at the Manchester Arena.

He became the 12th reigning British world champion via a tight majority decision with scores of 115-111, 114-11 and 113-113.

Saunders, 26,  dropped Lee twice in 3rd round, but went on to out box the Limerick puncher for the remainder of the fight.

The opening couple of rounds were tentative; Saunders wary of Lee’s power and Lee wary of Saunders’ counter attacking speed. Rounds one and two passing by without so much as a meaningful punch being thrown. It wasn’t until the third session when the bout exploded into action.

Saunders smartly ducked a wild swing from Lee and popped up with a crisp right hook sending Irish crashing to the canvas.

“Boom!” said Saunders watching the shot back after the fight: “I used his power against him.”

Lee, got back to his feet and tried to use his experience and tie up Saunders as referee Steve Gray waved the fight on. In the ensuing grapple and flurry of punches from both fighters, it was Lee who came off second best, again, this time with a left hook which put him to the ground. Saunders screamed into the crowd sensing the title was his, but credit must go to Lee, as he got up for a second time and saw out a huge round.

Saunders, gifted Lee the fourth round allowing him to recuperate but now the game plan was clear; having gone into a points lead after that 10-7 round, Saunders would look to stick and move and counter attack to nick the close rounds just as first thought.

Lee, 31, was on the receiving end of an overhand left in the fifth round but this time stood up to it. The following three rounds were similar to the first two, they could all have been scored even with neither fighter willing to risk making a mistake but probably the Englishman just edging a couple.

LIKE US ON TWITTER @britishboxers – For your British Boxing Updates

Lee’s best shot came in the ninth when he finally caught Saunders with a glancing left hand blow. The Englishman though, was unconcerned, show-boating in a bid to disguise any look of pain.

Going into the final three rounds and “Irish” just couldn’t catch the quick footed Saunders as he tried to press the fight and a fascinating bout came to a close and went to the scorecards. In truth it wasn’t the classic that the fans had hoped for, but it was a very interesting fight and the better man won in the end. Now both boxers must look to the future.

For Andy Lee, the fact he has been dropped so early in his last few fights he really must consider whether it is worth stepping back in the ring again. He may struggle to find another world title fight due to his own success. The power he possesses means he is a risky fighter for anyone to face and now that he has lost his title there is not much reward to do so. However, he may be one of the few men in the 160lb division man enough to face Gennady Golovkin next year, so that is a possibility or he may look for a few domestic fights to build his confidence.

As for Saunders, a lot of doors are now open to him. A rematch with Chris Eubank Jr. has been suggested by promoter Frank Warren but in many ways Eubank Jr. has hasn’t done much to warrant a shot.

Eubank Jr., who has already been beaten by Saunders and is getting hype from looking flash against former Saunders victims: Gary O’Sullivan – who Saunders beat two years ago, and a potential bout with Nick Blackwell – who Saunders beat three years ago.

The ageing Miguel Cotto has also been touted as a big money fight and a possible unification fight with Daniel Jacobs is also an option.

With another world champion from a travelling background, the mainstream media may be reluctant to give any credit to a man with such forthright opinions, but in a society that idolises arrogant footballers who live in expensive mansions, one must respect the humility of a world champion who will take his title home to a humble caravan.

A much deserved victory for Billy Joe Saunders your new WBO middleweight champion of the world.

Saunders, a 2008 Olympian and a former British, Commonwealth and European Middleweight Champion, said, “I can’t believe that I’m finally world champion.!

“It’s been my destiny to win a world title and I always knew that I would do it, but it’s unreal that I finally done it.

“Andy Lee has my full respect, he a true fighting man and the better man won, I know he will come again, he must be disappointed losing his world title, but he’ll come again.

“He was a hard man and I thought I had him in the third round, but he showed what a tough man he is and made me rethink my plans, but it showed I can adapt at world level.  I’m having a good rest over Christmas with my kids who I haven’t seen over the last six weeks and then I’m ready to look forward to a big 2016 and I’ll fight anybody out there.

“I’d like to thank my promoter Frank Warren who has been with me since day one and delivered everything he said he would. Also a big thanks to my trainer Jimmy Tibbs and his son Mark who have been with me since the beginning and for this fight we’ve been together for 24/7 for six weeks and they have put me through hell, but I know everything they did was for my good.”

In the joint top of the bill, Liam Smith successfully defended his WBO World Super-Welterweight title for the first time against Jimmy Kelly.

In the first Manchester v Liverpool world title showdown in over 80 years, Smith blasted out his unbeaten rival with a seventh round stoppage.Smith-v-Kelly-The unbeaten Liverpool ace broke down Kelly with powerful body shots and showed his power and accuracy.

He put together some hard, close, combination punching that sapped Kelly’s strength and resolve.  In the sixth with Kelly getting desperate, he launched a head butt on Smith and was deducted two points.

In the next round the referee called a halt when Kelly’s trainer Ensley Bingham waved the towel signalling his man had had enough.

A delighted Smith said afterwards, “Kelly put up a tough challenge, but I knew that I was levels above him.  I was comfortable in there and I started breaking him down from the beginning and I knew I was hurting him when I was landing the body shots.

“He was a hard man and was hanging in there and I said to his corner to pull their man out.  They did in the seventh, I’m sure Kelly can build himself back up again.  As for me, I’d love a unification fight in 2016, I know there are big fights on the horizon and I can’t wait.”

FULL RESULTS ROUND-UP FROM THE MANCHESTER ARENA

6 X 3 Minute Rounds Super-Welterweight Contest

JOE SELKIRK WKO1 (2:20) ZOLTAN TURAI

 

4 X 3 Minute Rounds Light-Heavyweight Contest

ANTHONY YARDE WKO1 (1:35) CURTIS GARGANO

 

4 X 3 Minute Rounds International Super-Bantamweight Contest

RAZZA HAMZA WTKO1 (0:25) MICHAEL STUPART

 

4 X 3 Minute Rounds Super-Middleweight Contest

DALE COYNE WPTS4 (40-36) JAMIE AMBLER

 

6 X 3 Minute Rounds International Middleweight Contest

VIJENDER SINGH WTKO2 (0:35) SAMET HYUSEINOV

THE VACANT WBO EUROPEAN LIGHTWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP

 

10 X 3 Minute Rounds

TOM STALKER MAJORITY DRAW (94-96 Evans, 95-95, 95-95) CRAIG EVANS

 

THE COMMONWEALTH AND VACANT BRITISH SUPER-WELTERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP

12 X 3 Minute Rounds

LIAM WILLIAMS WTKO2 (0:10) KRIS CARSLAW

 

THE VACANT WBO EUROPEAN SUPER-FLYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP

10 X 3 Minute Rounds

PAUL BUTLER WTKO6 (2:45) SILVIO OLTEANU

 

THE WBO INTERCONTINENTAL SUPER-LIGHTWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP

10 X 3 Minute Rounds

JACK CATTERALL WTKO3 (2:38) NOE NUNEZ RODRIGUEZ

 

THE WBO INTERCONTINENTAL SUPER-FEATHERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP

10 X 3 Minute Rounds

MITCHELL SMITH LPTS10 (94-98, 94-96, 93-97) GEORGE JUPP

 

THE WBO WORLD SUPER-WELTERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP

12 X 3 Minute Rounds

LIAM SMITH WTKO7 (2:35) JIMMY KELLY

 

THE WBO MIDDLEWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP OF THE WORLD

12 X 3 Minute Rounds

BILLY JOE SAUNDERS WPTS12 (112-114, 111-115, 113-113) ANDY LEE

 

THE WBO INTERCONTINENTAL MIDDLEWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP

10 X 3 Minute Rounds @ 160 lbs

TOMMY LANGFORD WTKO5 (0:39) ROBERT SWEIRZBINSKI

 

4 X 3 Minute Middleweight Rounds Contest

JACK FLATTLEY WPTS4 (40-37) DAN BLACKWELL