Billy Joe Saunders poor in decision victory over Artur Akavov
Unbeaten British middleweight Billy Joe Saunders looked positively woeful in posting a 12-round unanimous decision over the undistinguished Artur Akavov, but still managed to retain his WBO title in Paisley, Scotland, on Saturday. The official scores were 116-113, 116-112 and 115-113.
Saunders, who is rated No. 3 by THE RING at 160 pounds, looked sluggish from start to finish in this battle of left-handers. His speed of hand and foot was non-existent, sharpness gave way to lethargy and in the face of a more experienced foe, the Englishman would have been in serious danger of losing his title.
“I stunk the place out tonight but I still got the win,” Saunders said after taking the announcers mic to address the crowd. “I shall be embarrassed to talk about (Gennady) Golovkin on that performance but, trust me, he keeps talking about wanting my belt … I want his belt(s). But not on that performance.”
The first half of the fight was relatively even, which was an unwelcome surprise for an expectant Scottish crowd who responded with constant silence. It was clear that Akavov was the sharper fighter and the plucky Russian was finding flaws in Saunders’ game that have rarely been exploited.
The defending titleholder did take control at the midway point and landed some brisk left hands but Akavov (16-2, 7 knockouts) was going nowhere.
In the championship rounds, Saunders looked absolutely exhausted and out of ideas. The challenger opened up to head and body and was busier and more eager down the stretch. It was not enough on the scorecards but Akavov’s stock will surely soar now that he has tested one of the best middleweights in the world.
Saunders (24-0, 12 KOs) won the title by scoring a 12-round majority decision over Andy Lee last December. The one-year layoff has been a product of training injuries and failed negotiations, which ruined fight dates in April and September.
The 27-year-old stylist, who was without career-long trainer Jimmy Tibbs in his corner, will need to regroup and discover his old form in a hurry.
Saunders weighed in officially at 160 pounds with Akavov slightly less at 159.75.
British junior welterweight contender Jack Catterall (17-0, 9 KOs) overcame a stubborn challenge from Argentina’s Diego Gonzalo Luque to prevail by 10-round unanimous decision. The official tallies were 100-90, 100-89 and 99-91.
Catterall, who is rated No. 7 by THE RING at 140 pounds, got off to a great start and hurt his man with sharp flurries out of the southpaw stance. Unable to finish, however, the Englishman resorted to coasting for most of the rounds, although it appeared that he may have hurt his left hand. The bout was devoid of drama and Catterall definitely requires a stern test.
Former IBF bantamweight titleholder Paul Butler (23-1, 12 KOs) won a 10-round unanimous decision over rough and rugged Mexican Alexander Cazares. The scores were 100-90 twice and 100-91.
The visitor kept the action tight in the early sessions but Butler’s class and experience kept him a step ahead. He pulled away in the later rounds and was very unlucky to sustain a nasty cut over his right eye in the final session. Butler is looking for a world title shot in 2017.
Tom Gray is a UK Correspondent/ Editor for RingTV.com and a member of THE RING ratings panel. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing.