After a Covid-19 disrupted 2020, WBO super-middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders made good use of an end of year run-out by comprehensively outpointing five-time world title challenger Martin Murray at the SSE Arena in Wembley on Saturday night. Scores were 120-109 (twice) and 118-110.

It was pretty much a no-win situation for the gifted Saunders (30- 0, 14 KOs) who has yet to nail down a career-defining mega-fight and saw a May clash with Canelo Alvarez disappointingly fall through due to the intervention of the Coronavirus.

This was a low key defence against a 38-year-old veteran in a contest no-one really wanted to see outside of the Murray camp, but the Hatfield southpaw dictated on the front foot and got in 12 much-needed rounds after a 13-month absence.

“I wasn’t really happy with that performance,” said Saunders afterwards. “I’m not taking anything away from Martin, he came with a good gameplan. He got through it. He tucked up and survived well. I can only be a bit critical of myself because I had a bit of ring rust. My jab was there but there was just that bit of snap missing. I was trying to look for stuff when naturally it’s there. 

“When you’re in a training camp getting ready for Canelo Alvarez and you’re in the biggest fight of your life, you’ve got that fear factor and everything there, and then the pandemic came and I can only be thankful to be out this year. But then you’re back in camp and it’s a defence against Martin Murray, I was pencilled in to fight him twice in 2018. It was sort of like a hard kick in the teeth. But look, I’ve got to be thankful to my management team MTK that I’m even out this year. 

“It is what it is, and we move on. I’m 30-0 and still unbeaten and still world champion. I’ve been world champion now since 2015. People can run my performance down but let’s make the big fights, because it’s certainly not me turning them away. Eddie knows that I’m always there to sign. I had the Canelo fight signed and it fell through, that’s nobody’s fault. 

“Fair play to Callum Smith and I really do wish him all of the success in that fight. I think he’s got the tools to do the job. Canelo would have been training since May for this fight. He would have had Smith in his eyesight from day one. It’s been sprung on him at five or six weeks. They’re very clever in the way they work. If Smith has done his homework and prepared well then I give him a good chance of winning the fight. We are pushing for big fights constantly. After the Canelo fight I want to know my next date. I’m not getting any younger and I want to show my full potential.”

Somewhat surprisingly, Saunders was forceful and aggressive from the early exchanges. Murray (39-6-1, 17 KOs) wasn’t letting his hands go and Saunders clearly fancied the job. In the third, the champion began to sparkle, uncoiling a sweet left uppercut that drew applause from those few in attendance.

An aggressive Saunders (right) cruised past veteran Murray.
Photo: Dave Thompson/Matchroom Boxing.

A physically dominant Saunders buzzed Murray with a straight left in the fourth and the St. Helens man dropped to the canvas soon afterwards, but referee Phil Edwards ruled it a slip. The signs were ominous. Saunders was far fresher, faster and in full command by the fifth.

Murray threw some smart counters and touched the body effectively at times, but they were single shots. In a fight where he needed to unload with everything, his work was sparse. He was simply outslicked and outhustled, without enough left in the tank to turn the tables.

In the eighth, Murray was given time to recover after a low blow, but later in the same round Saunders detonated a hefty right uppercut. Most of the quality emanated from the fists of Saunders.

Murray was as tough and committed to the cause as always, but this fight was too late in his career to make any indent on an up-for-it Saunders. The champion was in full flow in the 11th and reeling off crisp cameos.

Ultimately, Saunders’ exquisite shot selection and incision saw him emerge a handy winner. Bigger tests await though, on this form, he still has a part to play on a grander stage – if given the opportunity. 

Saunders (left) now wants the big fights only.
Photo: Dave Thompson/Matchroom Boxing.

Make no mistake, Belfast’s James Tennyson can punch through walls. But his Canadian opponent Josh O’Reilly was little more than a fall guy in a fight that was naughtily dressed up as a WBA 135lbs title eliminator. O’Reilly looked like a rabbit in the headlights as he was blown away effortlessly in a solitary round.

Threshing machine Tennyson (28-3, 24 KOs) won on auto-pilot. He buzzed an overwhelmed O’Reilly (16-1, 6 KOs) with a right uppercut in the opener and dropped his shellshocked foe soon afterwards with a right hand. It was immediately a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’. A thumping left hook dropped a bemused O’Reilly a second time and, though he rose once more, he was wobbled by a right hand when referee Marcus McDonnell wisely intervened. 

Tennyson (left) blew away the hapless O’Reilly.
Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

“It was sort of nip and tuck and then I think I caught him with a left hook. I saw him go a wee bit so I thought, ‘you know what’, and just put it on him and it paid off,” said Tennyson. “We came out and there wasn’t too much to see between the two of us until I clipped him with that one shot. I got the win and an early night.

“I’m feeling like I’m going to go all of the way here at lightweight. I’m feeling a heck of a lot stronger and sharper. Eddie just mentioned about Jorge Linares at The SSE in Belfast and the thought of nights like that make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Those are the sort of fights that I’m in boxing for. Given the opportunity, I can put my name right up there and mix it with the top names. The lightweight division is red-hot. There’s Teofimo Lopez, Gervonta Davis and Devin Haney. I’m here and I’m going to start making some noise.”

The opponent was below standard, but the power of Tennyson (right) was again in evidence.
Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

Watford bantam Shannon Courtenay (6-1, 3 KOs) bounced back from her narrow defeat to Rachel Ball at Matchroom’s Fight Camp in August to halt limited Pole Dorota Norek (6-2, 1 KO) in the seventh round. The raw Norek was aggressive and committed early but ‘slap happy’ in her offense with the sweet science rarely in evidence.

The better quality work always stemmed from Courtenay, who was technically superior if a little porous defensively. Norek switched tack to box on the back foot to no avail. In the seventh, Courtenay unleashed a heavy right hand to bowl over Norek by the ropes. The Pole rose, out-of-sorts, but the fight was rightly waved off by referee Bob Williams. A Courtenay-Ball rematch should take place in 2021.

Courtenay (left) scored a morale-boosting stoppage following her first defeat.
Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

Promising Sheffield featherweight Donte Dixon (5-0, 3 KOs) outscored Carmarthen’s Angelo Dragone (5-2, 0 KOs) in a good fight that was promoted to a TV spot after Zach Parker’s super-middleweight contest fell through at the last moment due to Covid-19 in his opponent’s camp. Referee Bob Williams scored it 58-56. The game Dragone came to fight, but the talented Dixon’s fast hands, workrate and combination punching always held a clear edge. The Sheffield southpaw almost scored a stoppage in the last minute with a feverish late burst of punches, but Dragone just about survived the late onslaught to deservedly finish on his feet.

Former British 168lbs champ Lerrone Richards (14-0, 3 KOs) won his first fight with new trainer Dave Coldwell against 36-year-old Finnish survivor Timo Laine (28-15, 12 KOs) in a glorified spar that was, if we’re honest, unworthy of its televised spot. Referee Bob Williams scored 80-72. Coldwell will improve Richards, Sky should improve their choice of televised fights. It was simply not good enough for a TV subscription service.

In the show opener, Southampton super-middleweight prospect Lewis Edmondson (3-0, 1 KO) scored two knockdowns in halting Manchester’s John Telford (11-3-1, 2 KOs) in three rounds.

Main image: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.