By Jack Price @PriceyJ97.
As expected, Saunders retained his title and picked up the new one, but it was not the easy ride that we were all expecting.
Saunders started fast and simply out-classed Blackwell in the first two rounds. The rapid and powerful punches coming from the 23-year old could have troubled any domestic middleweight around right now. At this point it looked like we were on our way to another Saunders KO victory. However, Blackwell refused to back off and met his physically larger opponent head on. The 22-year old gritted his teeth and pushed Saunders onto the back foot. At first Saunders handled this well and caught Blackwell coming in. But as the fight progressed momentum shifted towards the underdog and he brought the fight closer.
The middle rounds were extremely competitive and really could have been scored either way by the judges at ringside. The more eye-catching work was coming from Saunders but Blackwell, who boasted a pretty tight defence, had the higher work rate and was applying a lot of pressure on Saunders. This continued into the later stages and at one point Saunders looked very uncomfortable in the ring for the first time ever in his career. This gave Blackwell some much needed confidence and helped him put on the performance of his career in the last few rounds. If it wasn't for the second wind that Saunders got in the 9th round and the strong finish he put on, the fight could have easily gone the other way.
The three judges all gave the fight to Saunders but by close scores of 117-112, 117-113, 115-114.
We learned a lot about both men in this fight. Blackwell may have lost, but I'm sure his fan based would have increased in this fight. This will probably be the highest level he'll ever compete at but I'm sure we'll see him in some more exciting fights in the future.
As for Saunders, this may have been the gut-check that he needed at this stage of his career. Before this fight, nobody had really come close to troubling him so we've learnt a lot about him too. We've learnt that he can handle someone who brings the fight to him, but we can also see that he can be troubled by someone at a higher level with this sort of style.
There will be some people who will criticise him for his average performance in this bout, and whilst I agree that it wasn't the best we've seen him fight, I don't think we should make too much of it. Every fighter has a bad day when they're on their way up, and it shows that he can perform below his average and still get the win. This is just another step in the journey to the big things that we are all expecting for Billy Joe Saunders, and even after tonight I still think he will fulfil those expectations!