Billy Joe Saunders called for the winner of Mexican star Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Liverpudlian Callum Smith – who fight in Texas on Dec 19 – after outpointing granite-like Martin Murray to retain his World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight title and his unbeaten record at Wembley Arena on Friday night.
Southpaw Saunders claimed a 30th straight career victory on the judges’ cards – 120-109, twice, and 118-110 – showing his array of skills and movement, although the 31-year-old was unable to find the finish. But this was also a distinguished performance by St Helens’s Murray, now 38, in his 46th professional fight.
Saunders had been poised to face Alvarez, boxing’s most-watched fighter, in May this year in the United States, but Covid-19 put paid to the encounter. Now he will watch with interest as his route is plotted by promoter Eddie Hearn. It could also be Gennady Golovkin, or even a rematch with Chris Eubank Jr.
For Murray, this was his fifth attempt at a world title against the versatile stylist from Hertfordshire. Murray was as cagey as the champion in the opening round as both fighters felt each other out. Saunders used his jab effectively in the second round, and let his hands go more freely in the third as two fine uppercuts landed, but in the fourth Murray found success with his counterpunching, as both men warmed to their task.
But it was the champion who found his rhythm as the fight wore on, landing the most powerful combinations and dominating the contest. Murray was undeterred, walking into the punches to take the attack to Saunders’ body, but the champion was too young, too fast and too skilled for the old fox in the opposing corner.
Shannon Courtenay had earlier returned to winning ways with a seventh-round stoppage against 31-year-old Dorota Norek, of Poland, in a bantamweight contest, following her first professional defeat on points to Rachel Ball during Eddie Hearn’s “Fight Camp” events.
The 27-year-old Briton used her superior speed and skills before dropping her rival with a huge lead right hand on the jaw that knocked the visiting fighter off her feet. “I want the rematch with Rachel Ball. If she thinks she won that last fight, let’s do it again,” Courtenay said.
In the chief support event at Wembley, Belfast’s James Tennyson was in spectacular form, winning a World Boxing Association lightweight world title eliminator against previously undefeated James O’Reilly inside three minutes. Heavy-handed Tennyson dropped O’Reilly twice with clubbing assaults before Marcus McDonnell, the referee, stepped in to halt the barrage.