Billy Joe Saunders took his time before coming to life in the first defence of his WBO middleweight title against Artur Akavov at the Lagoon Leisure Centre in Paisley.

After a slow start to the fight - understandable as the Hatfield boxer had been out of action for almost a year - he eventually got going and finished the 12-rounder strongly.

The three judges called it 116-113, 116-112, and 115-113 in his favour to take his record to 24-0, although Saunders admitted in the ring afterwards that he had not been at his best.

The Englishman was supposed to defend the belt last week in Cardiff but issues with medical paperwork from the Russian's team saw the fight postponed.

A scheduled defence against Ukraine's Max Bursak seven months ago was scuppered after the 27-year-old sustained a hand injury in training.

With former world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury at ringside supporting Saunders after carrying into belt into the ring, the champion was determined to retain the title he won against Limerick's Andy Lee last December.

Akavov, previously beaten once in 17 fights but never stopped, looked impressive in the early stages and the champion felt the force of a couple of good shots, particularly in the third round.

Saunders tried to up the tempo but Akavov responded, landing some clean counters in the clinches and the silence among Saunders' support was telling.

The champion, try as he might, was struggling to land punches of real significance and his opponent, always willing to come forward, continued to frustrate.

The southpaw was finding some success with his jab and in round eight he used it to set up several attacks which probably nicked him the round.

Saunders started to move forward with more purpose, perhaps sensing the Russian was beginning to feel the effects of his earlier work and the ninth was his too.

Akavov came back at the start of the 10th but Saunders had gained control and soon had his man on the run, imposing himself in the final rounds to take the contest.

Saunders was brutally honest in his assessment of his performance.

He told Press Association Sport: "Zero out of 10. I felt I won it by about four rounds being kind to myself.

"I got the win but I have to put it behind me now and come back with a bigger and better performance than that.

"I put it down to a bit of ring rust, lack of fights and a bit of weight loss, a bit of everything really. It wasn't there tonight."