After two postponements of their mandatory bout, middleweight titleholder Andy Lee and challenger Billy Joe Saunders are spoiling for a fight.
"The talk and predictions about the fight will end when the first bell rings," Lee said. "I am primed for battle and have all the tools in my arsenal to win the fight, and I intend to use them on Saturday night. My total focus is on winning and nothing else."
Where: Manchester Arena in Manchester, EnglandWhen: SaturdayTV: Showtime Extreme, 5 p.m. ET/PT
Said Saunders, "I'm ready to go for Saturday night. This is the best camp that I've ever had. I'm prepared for the toughest test of my career, but I know that I'm in excellent shape to win this fight and become world champion."
The fight was originally scheduled to place on Sept. 19 at Thomond Park in Lee's hometown of Limerick, Ireland, but Lee came down with a virus and the fight was postponed. After it was rescheduled for Oct. 10 at Manchester Arena on Saunders' turf in Manchester, England, he suffered a cut over his right eye during a sparring session, forcing the second postponement.
After all the preparation, postponements and incessant hype since the summer, all the southpaws want to do now is get in the ring and finally swing leather at each other on Saturday (Showtime Extreme, 5 p.m. ET/PT, with prime-time replay at 9 p.m. ET/PT) at Manchester Arena.
"For me it's just another fight, yes, [but] there's a lot stake between us -- my family name and honor, his family name and honor. But more importantly, my world title is at stake," said Lee, who will be making his second title defense.
Adam Booth, Lee's trainer, is also tired of the lengthy buildup.
"From our side, everything is done and it's now down to Saturday night and letting these two get it on in the ring," Booth said. "They're going to be swapping bombs in there."
Even though the road to the ring has been far longer than it was supposed to be, Lee and Saunders have kept it cordial and been respectful of each other.
"There has been no trash talk with Andy because we know what each person is about," Saunders said. "We share a similar background and neither of us is going to take a back step."
Said Lee: "I've got a lot of respect for Billy and his team. We're professional sportsmen. What you're going to see on Saturday night is a great, great fight between two of the best 160-pounders in the world."
Editor's Picks Lee-Saunders: 'No place in our community for loser' Billy Joe Saunders says the shame of losing the first all-gypsy world title fight will be added motivation ahead of Saturday's fight with Andy Lee.
Billy Joe Saunders says the shame of losing the first all-gypsy world title fight will be added motivation ahead of Saturday's fight with Andy Lee.
Lee (34-2-1, 24 KOs), 31, won a vacant title with a comeback, one-punch sixth-round knockout of Matt Korobov last December, courtesy of his wicked right hook. On April 11, Lee, a 2004 Irish Olympian, defended the belt in a split draw against Peter Quillin, who was overweight and could not win the title. In that fight, Lee got knocked down twice and Quillin went down once.
Saunders has not been very impressed by Lee's title reign.
"He was getting beat by Matt Korobov until his punch power got him out of trouble, and he drew with Peter Quillin, which I would have been disgusted with," Saunders said. "I go in to win, not draw. Saturday night is Lee's chance to prove if he is a world champion. I'm the undefeated challenger. If he beats me, then I'll be the first to shake his hand, but as I see it right now, there's only [one] winner: me.
"There are no doubts in my head at all, and he knows that I'm mentally strong and that he can't get into my head. I was an Olympian at 18 and [I've] beaten everyone put in front of me to come through. I've beaten everyone in Britain and now I just need Andy Lee, who's just another scalp on my record."
But Lee comes into this fight as the man with the bigger punch. He knows it. Saunders (22-0, 12 KOs) knows it. Everybody knows it.
"I have a punch that can end a fight, lights out, in any given second," Lee said. "I won't rely on the punch. I will look to dominate from the start with educated pressure. I'm feeling very dangerous at the moment. Saunders' unbeaten record is a disadvantage. He has always been in fights he's expected to win and has been well managed by [Frank] Warren.
"I've never lost a fight on points and I never will on points. If I'm down on the cards, I will go out swinging in the last round."
The 26-year-old Saunders, a 2008 British Olympian, has been expected to become a top contender since he turned pro in early 2009. He passed one test after another and earned his first world title shot with his biggest win in November 2014, getting the nod in a spirited split decision against bitter rival Chris Eubank Jr. in a European title defense that also served as the world title eliminator that earned him the shot against Lee.
That fight was big for him. This one is obviously even more significant for Saunders, who won a tune-up fight in July by knocking out journeyman Yoann Bloyer in the fourth round.
"Andy Lee is a tough fighter. He has proved that by becoming world champion and having the type of career he has had," said Saunders, who went away to Spain to train. "But I'm undefeated and hungry and know that I'm on the brink of fulfilling a childhood dream. I'm not going to leave that ring without the title."
Lee, of course, also has every intention of winning and leaving the ring with the belt -- knowing the winner will be in prime position to land a big-money unification fight with Gennady Golovkin or Daniel Jacobs in the first half of 2016.
"I am in a good frame of mind, I am the champion, I have the title, and the pressure is all on Billy Joe to try and take it off me," Lee said. "And that's not going to happen."