Boxing

Andy Lee has the tools to see off Saunders says Adam Booth

Ireland's middleweight world champion Andy Lee faces one of the biggest tests of his career when he defends his title against unbeaten star Billy Joe Saunders in Manchester on Saturday night, but the Limerick man's trainer Adam Booth is very confident of success, as he told Andy Watters...

Billy Joe Saunders (left) and Andy Lee during a pre-fight press conference ahead of Saturday night's WBO title fight
Andy Watters

ANDY Lee’s coach Adam Booth predicts that the Limerick man will have too much for Billy Joe Saunders as he looks ahead to Saturday night’s WBO World middleweight title rumble.

The clash between champion Lee and challenger Saunders is an intriguing clash of southpaw styles and Booth is confident his man will hold on to the belt.

With his sledgehammer right hook, Lee is now rated as much as a puncher as he is a boxer while Saunders is an all-action dynamo who’ll throw punches in bunches from the first bell at the MEN Arena in Manchester.

Lee (34-2-1) won the title with a stunning knockout win against Matt Korobov in Las Vegas a year ago and his coach Adam Booth is confident that the London-born Limerick native will be a step too far for unbeaten Saunders (22-0).

“They have styles that are difficult for each other because they are the opposite,” said Booth.

“Billy Joe is a fella that likes to let a lot of shots ago and take advantage of moments and befuddle people with his handspeed.

“Andy is a clean, well-timed, hard-puncher. We’ve worked on understanding what makes Billy Joe tick and how to take that advantage away from him so that Andy can do what he has to do.”

Saunders knows all about the danger Lee poses with his fabled right hook – the shot won him the title against Korobov who was ahead in the fight until he was stopped in his tracks in the sixth round.

“I expect Billy Joe to have his left hand locked tightly against the side of his head,” said Booth.

“I think a lot of people have misread Andy’s recent performances based on what they heard the commentators say but we’re 100 per cent confident that, at this stage of his career, Andy is improving mentally and physically and he’s excited to show what he can do.”

Lee turned 30 recently but there is no sign that his skills are on the wane. In fact Booth says that the form he showed in a recent sparring session was the best he has ever produced.

“He sparred 12 rounds on Saturday lunchtime and his brother Roger who has been with him throughout his career – he lived with him in Detroit and was with him in every corner with Emmanuel Steward – said it was the best he’d ever seen Andy spar or fight,” he said.

“That let me know that even at the age of 30 that there are still different levels that he can achieve.

“They were two very clever and very quick fellas and I kept them fresh and in and out constantly and every time they were in front of Andy they were full of energy.”

Saunders will be full of energy from the start on Saturday night. The former Olympian who had the second fight of his professional career in Belfast, has gone 12 rounds six times, Lee has gone the distance just once – against Peter Quillin last time out. Booth says: “It’s not a factor.

“They’re championship fighters and championship fighters are supposed to be able to do 12 rounds. If a fighter starts talking about doing the 12 rounds then he doesn’t have confidence in himself, we take it as a given that 12 rounds is Andy’s job.”

Against Quillin, Korobov and John Jackson (who had Lee down early on before he was knocked cold by Lee’s right hook) the former Irish super-middleweight champion started slowly and found himself behind on the scorecards.

Saunders says he’ll be “switched on from one to the last” and he is expected to look to come out blazing and build up a lead. However, Booth feels his frenetic workrate could actually count against him in the fight.

“He is programmed from a very young age to keep punching,” said Booth, also coach of Belfast bantamweight Ryan Burnett.

“It’s not even about his engine, it’s about how frequently he lets his hands go. In a fight the safest place to be is out of distance with your hands up.

“The most dangerous place to be is in distance with your hands away from your face and if he is programmed to throw lots of punches he’ll be in Andy’s range with his hands away from his face and that’s what we want.”

Saunders throws a lot of shots, that’s his style, but he is a thinking fighter who rates himself a better boxer than Lee.

Booth certainly respects his record but says he has broken him down the Jimmy Tibbs-trained European, Commonwealth and British champion and warns that “he has never been up against someone like Andy Lee”.

“He has beaten some very good fighters and we don’t underestimate the quality of opposition he has beaten – Chris Eubank jnr, Nick Blackwell, John Ryder, ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan…,” he said.

“So he has proved that he can beat competitive, decent men and he belongs as a mandatory challenger and it’s a great match-up in that sense because they’ve both proved their worth.

“But I know that Andy’s style isn’t good for Billy Joe and we are confident that all we have to focus on is what Andy’s going to do in that ring. In my mind’s eye – when I match up what I see with Andy with what I see with Billy Joe – the problems are in their court.

“It’s about having the right things and I believe that Andy has the right things to beat Billy Joe. What makes me confident is that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get my head around Billy Joe – not just watching his fights but understanding how a style like that evolves from when he first put his fists up against somebody.

“I’ve seen nothing throughout the course of his career that has changed – it’s not like he has done an Arturo Gatti and completely changed his style. He has just become a more experienced, better version of what he has always been which has been more than enough to get him into a mandatory position to fight for a world title.

“But he has never been up against someone like Andy Lee.”

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