World champ Andy Lee gets ready to rumble in Manchester

Lee set to defend his world title
Lee set to defend his world title

The city of Manchester woke up to a gigantic hangover on Saturday morning.

Over 300,000 revellers thronged the city streets last night on what was unofficially dubbed 'Mad Friday', the biggest party night of the year.

Even the temperature obliged – it was the warmest ever December night on record. At least two males in the city didn't don the Christmas jumpers and join the party.

For Ireland's Andy Lee and the UK Billy Joe Saunders who fight tonight for the WBO middleweight title it was probably a night of fitful sleep as they contemplated what lies ahead of them tonight in the city's MEN.

Twice postponed this fight has almost been 12 months in the making. Billy Joe Saunders, indeed, could be World champion now had he accepted an offer to box the Russian Matt Korobov for the belt after the then defending title holder Peter Quillan declined to defend it against the Russian in Las Vegas last December.

Instead, Saunders decided to defend his British and European titles against Chris Eubank Jnr with the winner getting a shot at the World title. For Saunders the plan nearly came unstuck as he struggled to a split decision win last November over Eubank in London's ExCel Arena.

But Saunders' decision to decline the offer to take on Korobov opened the door for Lee to get a second crack at securing a World title. In 2012 he was stopped in the seventh round by the then defending title holder Julio Cesar Chavez Jr in El Paso, Texas.

The Castleconnell Olympian shocked the boxing world by knocking out Korobov and bringing the coveted middleweight WBO belt back on the flight from the US to Shannon Airport exactly a year ago.

Saunders then stood aside to allow Lee defend his title against Peter Quillan in New York last April. In the event the fight turned into a fiasco as Quillan failed to make the weight. Instead they fought a non-title bout which Lee was lucky to survive after being floored in the first round.

He recalled later than he didn't remember anything after his knock down until the tenth round. In the event he salvaged a draw.

His dream is to have more title defences in the United States. In particular he would love a crack at the unbeaten Gennady Golovkin from Kazakhstan who is rated the best middleweight in the world at the moment.

First though he must take care of business in the Manchester Arena. At 31, he is five years older than Saunders; he possesses a more powerful punch; is three inches taller and is more experienced than his challenger.

He has faced three World champions during his career, though his record against them is patchy; he beat Carl Daniels in New York in 2007, lost to Chavez in 2012 and drew with Quillan.

Not surprisingly Saunders alluded to this in the build-up. “He has fought big names in the States but he has also lost fights. I have never lost a fight and I don't intend to start now.”

This is Lee's first fight since April; Saunders had a low key contest in July. The Irishman who is regarded as a slow starter could be ring rusty and the challengers' game plan will be to build up a lead in the first half of the fight while avoiding Lee's fierce some right hook.

“I hope to win within the distance,” said Lee and the odds are that if he is to retain his title he will be have to stop Saunders.

The longer the fight go on the more likelihood is that Saunders will end Lee's 12 month reign as World champion.

The bookies cannot separate the two fighters – they are both quoted at 10/11 to win. The draw is a 22/1 shot but the odds of 20/1 on offer for Lee to win the fight in the seventh round might be worth a flutter.

Live coverage of tonight's clash is on Box Nation at approximately 10.15pm.