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'I agreed to let Andy fight for this world title' - Gambler Saunders thinks he's on a roll

English challenger banked on Lee coming through Stateside bouts to set up Ireland v England title showdown.

Lee (left) defends his WBO title against Saunders in Manchester
Lee (left) defends his WBO title against Saunders in Manchester
Image: Peter Byrne

THE BOOKIES CAN’T separate Andy Lee and Billy Joe Saunders ahead of their world-title showdown this weekend, but the challenger believes he is on a roll when it comes to gambling on his career choices.

Limerick’s Lee defends his WBO world middleweight crown against England’s Saunders at the Manchester Arena on Saturday night, and bookmakers have it slated as a 50-50 fight with each fighter priced at less than even money to emerge victorious.

Saunders was already the WBO’s number 1 contender at the time of Lee’s world title win over Russian Matt Korobov this time last year, but negotiations between his promoter, Frank Warren, and Lee’s trainer/manager, Adam Booth, led to the Limerick man’s shot on the basis that he would defend the belt against Saunders should he win.

Lee duly dispatched Korobov, and later managed to fit in a fight against Peter ‘Kid Chocolate’ Quillin (which ended in a draw), while Saunders took care of some domestic business with a win over British rival Chris Eubank Jr last year.

Saunders insists that his tactical gambles in ‘allowing’ Lee to run the risk of winning or losing the belt Stateside is a sign of his own confidence that it is only a matter of time before he wins a world title.

“What people are forgetting is that I was supposed to fight Korobov. I agreed to let Andy fight for this world title. If I was anxious, I wouldn’t have done that,” claimed Saunders.

“Financially, it made more sense for me to do that. It was a big gamble because if Andy Lee would’ve lost, that meant me going to America to fight for it but I gambled and that worked out because Andy’s still world champion.

I sat and weighed it up. I got offered money to fight Korobov. I got offered treble that to fight Chris Eubank… I have two little sons and I want to do what’s best for them.

“So I thought, ‘I can always be world champion. Do I stop off, take the money and beat him, put my name higher as well?’

Then I thought ‘If Andy Lee don’t win, I’ve still got to fight Korobov anyway’ so it wasn’t really a situation. So I boxed Chris Eubank and obviously Andy came through with the win which I was delighted for,” added Saunders.

Source: HBOBoxing/YouTube

The Englishman also agreed to Lee facing Quillin in Brooklyn last April in what was meant to be the Limerick native’s first title defence, but ‘Kid Chocolate’ lived up to his nickname on the scales and failed to make weight.

While that fight went ahead as a non-title bout, Saunders has faced a longer wait than expected to meet Lee in the ring after their showdown was delayed by two postponements.

“They (promoters) offered me to step aside money, and I got paid more to step aside (for Lee v Quillin) than some people make for fighting for world titles,” explained Saunders, who was also briefly involved in negotiations for an abandoned rematch against Eubank Jr.

It was a no-brainer, but the biggest gamble was, ‘Do I let Andy Lee go to America to fight Peter Quillin when he could get beat?’ I thought he was gonna get beat.

I wanted him to win because I didn’t want to go to America… And I got paid very well to step aside and when the draw came out, I was over the moon.”

Source: Heavy Bag/YouTube

Lee and Saunders finally get it on this weekend, with the bout live on subscription channel BoxNation on Saturday night.

Andy Lee: ‘I have the title – the pressure is all on Billy Joe to try and take it off me’

Eubank Jr takes aim at Lee-Saunders winner after seeing off Spike

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Ciarán Gallagher

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