Billy Joe Saunders put on a masterful performance to win a narrow majority decision against Andy Lee to secure the WBO World Middleweight title.
The fight was cagey throughout, save for an explosive third round where Saunders dropped the champion twice, once with a huge right hand. Both men showed clear respect for one another through 12 absorbing rounds, Saunders showing magnificent footwork and movement, Lee always remaining a threat with his one punch knockout power.
After two quiet rounds, the fight burst into life in the third. As Lee over-committed, Saunders thundered home a big right hook to send the Irishman to the canvas. Lee made the 10-count, but, looking shaky, was dropped for a second time as he was left to cling on desperately for the bell.
The Irishman recovered well and enjoyed the spoils in the fourth round of this compelling showdown.
The middle rounds fell a bit flat as we headed for pulsating championship rounds where both men would trade. Lee grew stronger as the fight went on and finished the 12th round at full throttle, but it was Saunders who was awarded a majority decision win 114-114, 115-111, 114-112.
Andy Lee faces undefeated challenger Billy Joe Saunders for the WBO World Middleweight title as he makes the first defence of his belt in a huge domestic showdown on December 19.
The Manchester Arena will play host to the biggest domestic fight of the year as these two middleweight stars go toe-to-toe.
Lee, 31, claimed the vacant title in December 2014 by defeating heavily favoured American Matt Korobov by technical knockout after 6 rounds.
The London-born Irishman was scheduled to make his first title defence against Peter Quillin in April 2015, however Quillin was unable to make weight and the contest went ahead as a non-title bout. The fight ended in a draw, bringing Lee's record to 34-2-1 (24 KO).
Lee will be eager to win a convincing victory over Saunders to cement his place as a world title holder as he travels to Manchester.
However, fellow southpaw Billy Joe Saunders is not to be underestimated and boasts an impressive 22-0 record with 12 knockouts. He currently holds the Commonwealth Middleweight title and will be eager to finally challenge for a world title.
Saunders' biggest test to date came in November 2014, a bitter contest with Chris Eubank Jr. The Hatfield ace claimed victory by way of split decision.
Saunders is the number one contender for the WBO Middleweight title and these two southpaws appear evenly matched, making the outcome difficult to predict in a genuine 50/50 fight.
In July 2015, Saunders took a giant step towards regaining his sharpness for the Lee enoucnter with a consumate disposal of France's Yoann Bloyer in four rounds.
The southpaw had not been in action since his November 2014 victory against Chris Eubank Jnr and it was clear that he was shaking the rust off. Bloyer landed a few big shots in the early rounds but was dropped three times during the encounter, with the last causing the referee to stop early. Saunders can now devote his full attention to the Lee encounter.