Boxing - Saunders retains titles with slender decision over Ryder

Hatfield's Billy Joe Saunders (19-0) retained the British and Commonwealth middleweight titles at the Copper Box Arena, but the champion was pushed all the way by an excellent performance from the challenger, Islington's John Ryder (15-1).

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Billy Joe Saunders (left) fights John Ryder (right) (PA)

Judges recorded a unanimous decision with scores of 115-114 and 115-113 twice. As several observers remarked, there was a 'fag paper' between them.

By the time the pair came into the ring for the highly anticipated, bill-topping trade clash at the Olympic venue, it was well past midnight, and many had started to make their journey home.

Saunders (11st 5lbs 8oz) just about edged a fast-paced opening round despite shipping some solid jabs from Ryder. The Hatfield traveller demonstrates breathtaking hand speed when he throws in bunches, but Ryder did well to slip a lot of the work coming in from the champion, and was busier, and heavier handed, when the pair were in hold.

Ryder's jab was effective in the third, and his forward march gave Saunders problems while trying to  launch combinations from the back foot. It was difficult to split them in the fourth. Ryder tried to pin Saunders back but deft footwork from the champion, who waited for Ryder to advance before launching counters, helped escape the heavier shots.

The Islington fighters' sound defensive stance, where he keeps his chin very close to his chest, negated Saunders attempts to connect with anything meaningful. When backed up, Ryder was comfortable slipping punches from the ropes in the fifth.

The pace dipped a little in the sixth, with Ryder gaining the upper hand in the last minute. He went on to land two right hands in the seventh that sapped Saunders energy, and the Islington middleweight, nicknamed 'The Gorilla', looked to be in control of the fight.

The eighth was closer, with Saunders taking the advice from trainer Jimmy Tibbs to be more mobile. Good combinations from Saunders caught the eye in the ninth, which was new territory for Ryder. Although he kept coming forwards, his work rate had now started to dip below Saunders, who was just ahead on my card at this point, and edged the tenth despite starting to look a little ragged.

A concerted effort in the closing minute from Ryder was enough to nick the eleventh round. The pair embraced before the final session got underway, and Ryder piled on the pressure. He took the round and had more left in the tank, while Saunders was tired and holding to smother Ryder's efforts.

Both fighters rightfully did a victory lap at the final bell. Judges scored a unanimous decision (115-114, 115-113, 115-113) for Saunders, who keeps hold of the British belt - just. BoxRec News couldn't find any fag papers, and scored 114-114 each. 

If Ryder got the nod, Saunders would have little to complain about. He was pushed all the way, and a rematch, perhaps at a more sensible hour, would be welcomed by fans, even if Saunders now has little to prove at British level.

Saunders becomes the first traveller to hold the Lonsdale belt outright, and said after the fight: "He pushed me to the wire. 12 rounds of non-stop grit."

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