Admit it. You’ll watch it. Despite all the talk of it being a circus that is surely the first step towards the demise of boxing as we know it, on August the 26th, we will all watch, be it on pay per view, social media or online stream, the probable destruction of Conor McGregor at the hands of Floyd Mayweather Jr via lead right hand counter.
Yet away from the glitz and glamour that is sure to be the precedence that night in the T-mobile Arena, in the realm of reality, the biggest fight on the horizon is unquestionably the contest for middleweight supremacy between WBA, WBC, IBF world champion Gennady “GGG” Golovkin and Mexican superstar Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, both of whom have handily dispatched British opposition in the last few years. Given the result is more conclusive than in the recent top of the food chain clash between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev, the winner will take home all the bragging rights and all the belts. All the belts that is, except for the WBO that many argue Billy Joe Saunders has been holding hostage for almost two years.
Saunders appearance at the recent Golovkin vs Canelo press conference may have smelt like bravado and confidence, but under a more powerful microscope, it highlights the fact that if there was ever a world champion who has been forced to take on the precarious position of window shopper, it’s Billy Joe Saunders. In spite of the fact that Saunders is one of only nine British middleweight world champions in the last century, few people outside of the hardcore boxing fraternity would call him a house hold name and even fewer would recognise him if he walked past them in the super market.
For all the self fulfilment and gladiatorial triumph that comes with winning a world title, particularly at the first attempt, it’s main purpose and value is to act as a gateway to the promise land of financial success. Saunders himself has not hidden his desire to earn top dollar. And who can blame him? After all, boxing is a short career in which prize fighters are thrown onto the trash heap once their usefulness has expired. Not only has Saunders inactivity cost him some lucrative pay days, but considering the recent cancellation of his proposed fight against Avantadil Khurtsidze some suggest it won’t be long before his boxing ability starts to erode. All of this begs the question, why can’t Saunders seem to catch a break?
In scenarios like this, the first question that must be asked is “is he as good as he thinks?”. The solitariness of fight night makes having of an ego a necessity for most fighters. Yet paradoxically, there are too many examples to list of fighters whose inflated sense of ego is exactly what led them to pursue matchups that ended in disaster. Thus far however, it doesn’t look like Saunders will fall into the latter category.
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For all his trash talk, it is easy to forgot that Saunders is possibly the best technician in the middleweight division. Bold statement though it may seem, Saunders is an extremely accomplished amateur boxer, representing Team GB at the 2008 Beijing Olympics alongside fellow world champions James Degale and Khalid Yafai. In the ring, Saunders has excellent footwork and head movement, an accurate jab and proved to have an above average chin when he took the title from Andy Lee, who at the time was coming off four stoppages in his last five victories and was renowned as one of the best single punch knockout artists in boxing. Coupled with a split decision victory over Chris Eubank Jr in 2014, it is arguable that Saunders has two victories on his resume as impressive as anyone else in the middleweight division.
In the past, Canelo hasn’t looked anything close to his best against slick boxers such as Austin Trout, Erislandry Lara and most notably Floyd Mayweather Jr. While Canelo has certainly matured as a fighter, Saunders, confident of victory, says his boxing ability is the reason why Canelo opted not to fight him. Canelo says Saunders refused an opportunity to fight Gabriel Rosado on his undercard in a precursor to their own fight. While the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, it is certain that Saunders has the style to make anyone look bad. The fight would probably be closer than most pundits care to admit. So why exactly hasn’t it happened?
At the start of this year Saunders split with long time trainer Jimmy Tibbs in favour of Adam Booth, suggesting he is not adverse to change if he feels it will be beneficial in the long run. In some ways it’s surprising that Saunders is even still able to call himself a world champion. Modern day sanctioning bodies have proven themselves to be volatile, stripping fighters for shorter periods of inactivity than Saunders prolonged absence threatens to become. Talented, opinionated and surprisingly charismatic as he is, it would be wise for him to get a move on before the WBO belt, his chief bargaining chip, finds itself a new home.