Billy Joe Saunders beats Artur Akavov in first WBO world middleweight title defence

Billy Joe Saunders
Billy Joe Saunders was in action for the first time since securing his world title against Andy Lee in December 2015

Billy Joe Saunders put in a sluggish performance to retain his WBO world middleweight title by beating Russia's Artur Akavov on points.

Saunders, who twice had his first title defence postponed because of injury, looked second best in the early stages and struggled to let off his shots.

However, the Englishman picked up the pace in the second half of the fight to win on all three judges' cards.

The undefeated 27-year-old is targeting a fight with Gennady Golovkin in 2017.

"I should be embarrassed to talk about Golovkin after that performance, but I want that big fight in 2017 to put that terrible fight right," he said of the WBC, WBA and IBF champion.

Saunders extended his record to 24 wins, with 12 knockouts, after the judges called it 116-113, 116-112, and 115-113 in his favour.