Saturday night’s boxing bonanza brought out the best in Billy Joe Saunders and Josh Taylor but Naoya Inoue stole the show

Steve Bunce

As men toppled, crowds roared, the moon shone, hearts, hands and jaws were broken in New York, Glasgow and in a ring surrounded by the green relief of odd shrubbery in Stevenage during six hours of boxing carnage on Saturday night.

British boxers Billy Joe Saunders and Josh Taylor won world titles, a tiny giant called Naoya Inoue needed less than 80 seconds of round two to become the world’s finest boxer and in New York Deontay Wilder walked with history’s best when he knocked out Dominic Breazeale in just 137 seconds of round one. Saunders was part of a master class, Taylor in a thriller, Inoue lethal beyond his years or weight and Wilder won in the first round for the 20th time in his career.

There was boxing redemption for Saunders at the Lamex Stadium in Stevenage when he moved from the ugly chaos of 2018 to super-middleweight and boxed delightful rings round Shefat Isufi, a German-based Serbian and somehow possessor of the WBO’s mandatory position. Saunders recently relinquished his WBO middleweight title, gained the pounds, never put a foot wrong and was quite brilliant at times. He joins Chris Eubank as both a WBO middleweight and super-middleweight champion; both won the heavier title under the stars outdoors and in Hertfordshire on Saturday the moon’s beam lit the arena’s flock.

Saunders is not a boxing fool, he knows the fights will get harder and his shortlist of boxing dreams includes the best at or near his new weight; it also includes two boxers, Saul Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, who have shown no desire to fight him. “Twice Golovkin agreed to fight me and then pulled out and Alvarez will never fight me,” insisted Saunders, still only 29 and now unbeaten in 28 fights. “I’m too clever for them - if I know that, they know that.” It is just one of those inconvenient boxing truths.

At the same time as Saunders was baffling Isufi, there was another perfect display in Glasgow when Josh Taylor dropped Ivan Baranchyk twice, fought to perfection and won the IBF light-welterweight title on a wide points decision. Both were unbeaten, Taylor a slight favourite, Baranchyk remained relentless to the final bell of delight and Taylor became Scotland’s latest fighting son.

It is a mystical award handed down with care with just a few holders in the last fifty years. In round six Taylor dropped Baranchyk twice and the bell sounded during the second count. “I needed ten more seconds to finish him,” said Taylor and he is right. It was, still, an impressive win for Taylor, who was fighting for just the 15th time.

Naoya Inoue celebrates after beating Emmanuel Rodriguez (EPA)

A few minutes before Taylor entered the ring, the gathered boxing clan witnessed a real fighting genius when Inoue made a brief appearance in his partial unification of the bantamweight world title. Inoue retained his WBA bantamweight title, the third he had won in 17 fights, and added the IBF version when he ruined Emmanuel Rodriguez in round two. Rodriquez was over three times, bloody and broken from head and body shots. It was breathless to watch, ferocious, quick and just so impressive; Rodriguez had entered the ring undefeated, the IBF champion and naturally bigger, but he shrunk during the beating. Inoue is boxing’s beast, all 118 pounds - that’s 8st 6lbs dripping wet - of him and if I owned a bear I would not let him fight Inoue.

And that leaves Wilder, a man with too many foolish statements to be fully embraced and loved just yet, but with enough power to stop and drop any man on the planet. Wilder had started the week in disgrace after talking about his desire to kill a man in the ring and add a “body” to his record. Wilder has knocked out and hurt 39 of his 40 victims. He was reprimanded for his odious words but not severely enough.

The latest victim was Dominic Breazeale, beaten by Anthony Joshua in seven rounds in 2016, but left flat on his back in Brooklyn when he stupidly stood still for a right hand after about two minutes of the opening round. Wilder delivered, that is what he does if you stand like a towering statue begging to be hit clean. Breazeale did try to beat the unnecessary count but the recipe for that type of miracle is tucked away in Tyson Fury’s wallet. Fury did it in Los Angeles against Wilder last December, but Breazeale had no chance in New York on Saturday night.

Josh Taylor beat Ivan Baranchyk to claim the IBF light welterweight championship (EPA)

For Wilder it means months and months of more talks about a fight with either Anthony Joshua or the rematch with Fury. The talk is boring. It was Wilder’s ninth consecutive defence and that means he now walks with Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Larry Holmes, Lennox Lewis and just a couple of other heavyweight champions. That is not phoney history, it’s real.

These are indeed rare and rich days to be a boxing fan and Saturday night’s fights - there is a lovely ring to “Saturday night’s fights” - delivered just about everything including a celestial blessing from the moon over Stevenage.