IT appeared a bad fight on paper but Billy Joe Saunders’ first WBO super-middleweight defence against unknown Argentinean Marcelo Esteban Coceres was even worse in reality.

Fans of YouTubers KSI and Logan Paul, the main event stars at Staples Center, Los Angeles this evening (November 7), booed Saunders and Coceres through many of the 11 rounds they shared before, like Saunders, coming alive in the penultimate round.

In a close fight, Saunders floored Coceres in the 11th round with a left hook, a punch from out of nowhere, and the challenger only just managed to beat the count. It was a breakthrough, as well as a break from mediocrity, and what followed was an even better right uppercut, thrown viciously from the southpaw stance, which dropped Coceres again by the ropes and, to finish, a left hand which sent Coceres to the deck for a third time.

The finish was fantastic, a clear indication of Saunders’ undoubted quality, but what preceded it was anything but. In fact, for 10 rounds, the two super-middleweights were hard to separate and plenty at ringside had Coceres edging the contest heading into the championship rounds.

This would obviously have come as a surprise to most given Coceres, 28-1-1 (15), was largely unknown and deemed out of his depth beforehand. What’s more, before this evening Coceres had never boxed at 168 pounds, never boxed outside his homeland, and never been involved in a 12-round fight.

DIFFICULT NIGHT: Coceres attacks Saunders [Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA]

Forget the fact he shouldn’t have been giving Saunders difficulties. Coceres, in truth, should not even have been challenging for a world title.

As for Saunders, now 29-0 (14), the hope is that the fight is remembered for the impressive finish in round 11 rather than what came before it. Because the champion, kitted out in stars and stripes shorts, a nod to his friend, Tyson Fury, struggled in a fight he should have won with ease and perhaps did more damage than good to his reputation on his US debut.

“There’s no excuse,” Saunders said. “That performance was not worthy of the Canelos (Alvarez) and the (Danny) Jacobs’ and other big names.

“I knew in my heart from round nine I had to get this man out there. My timing was off, my head movement was off.

“I hope you enjoyed the knockout because that was the only thing I could produce tonight. I wasn’t 100 percent tonight, but it showed what fighting mentality I’ve got to know I’ve got to knock him out here and then go out and do it.”

He told Canelo Alvarez to take him now, while he’s “spent”, which, though honest and self-deprecating, says a lot about how Saunders performed tonight and how the performance will be received by the big names he has for so long been pursuing.