This past Monday saw Frank Warren announce that Billy Joe Saunders (24-0, KO12) will make only the second defence of his WBO Middleweight Title on September 16th, in an intriguing clash against New Yorker Willie Monroe Junior at the Copper Box Arena, London. It represents a great piece of matchmaking, and a good match that will be televised on the BT sport and BoxNation platform. Saunders will be coming off a nine month lay off by the time the first bell rings.
A 2008 Olympian in Beijing as an eighteen year old, Saunders turned professional under Frank Warren Promotions later the same year alongside fellow Olympians Frankie Gavin and Gold Medallist, James DeGale. The trio would be marketed as “The Olympians” and all three made their debuts at the Birmingham National Indoor Arena in February 2009. Saunders stopped Atilla Molnar in two rounds on the card.
After twelve straight wins, Saunders picked up the Commonwealth Middleweight Crown, stopping the overwhelmed Tony Hill inside 30 seconds of the opening round at the Royal Albert Hall. He defended the title against Bradley Pryce (Unanimous decision) and Jarrod Fletcher (TKO2) before picking up the British Title by outpointing the game and competitive Nick Blackwell in December 2012. Matthew Hall, Gary O’Sullivan and John Ryder were all unanimously beaten in a stellar 2013 for the Hatfield man. After a ten month hiatus, Billy Joe picked up the European Crown with an eighth round stoppage of the Italian Emanuele Blandamura. Immediately after the fight, Saunders called out fellow unbeaten fighter Chris Eubank Junior. After painful and lengthy negotiations, the fight was confirmed for November 2014, at the Excel Arena, London. Saunders built up a healthy lead up to halfway, and Eubank finished strongly, but Saunders prevailed by split decision to remain unbeaten and win the grudge match. He also won the Lonsdale belt outright, as well as defending the Commonwealth and European baubles.
It would be eight months before Saunders returned, with a ring rust shedding fourth round stoppage of Yoann Bloyer. This paved the way for a tilt at the WBO Middleweight Championship. Fellow traveller Andy Lee stood in the way. The fight was postponed twice before landing in Manchester in December 2015. Saunders scored two knockdowns in the fight, but the remainder became a close and tactical affair. Saunders prevailed via Majority Decision to become World Champion at the age of 25
Saunders has had nothing but relative bad luck since dethroning Lee to capture the belt. Max Bursak was slated to be Saunders’ first defence back in April 2016. Saunders however, was forced to withdraw from the contest due to a hand injury, and the fight was permanently shelved. There were then talks to defend on the undercard of Liam Smith v Canelo Alvarez in September 2016, however, according to Golden Boy Promotions, Saunders rejected all possible opponents proposed to him. The opponents were allegedly Gabriel Rosado, Curtis Stevens and Willie Monroe Junior himself. October was then set for his first defence against Artur Akavov in Cardiff, but disaster struck again.as Saunders suffered a muscle injury in sparring. The fight was moved to November, but Akavov then suffered Visa issues, and bizarrely the fight ended up taking place at the Lagoon Leisure in Paisley, Scotland. In a tough fight, Saunders looked flat and ring rusty at times during the bout. He came through handily enough on the cards, but apologised to the crowd, for in his words “a terrible performance”. It also later transpired that he had parted ways with the Tibbs family, who had been his long term trainers. He then linked up with Adam Booth in early 2017.
There was talk of Saunders challenging the man holding all remaining belts at the weight, Gennady Golovkin in Kazakhstan, but the fight never seriously materialised. Instead, the latest setback was a proposed July defence against Avthandil Khurtsidze, who overwhelmed and stopped Tommy Langford in Leicester in April for the Interim version of the WBO Title. The fight eventually fell by the wayside due to the New York based Georgian’s links to an organised crime syndicate. It was another setback for Saunders in his quest to establish himself as a World Champion.
Saunders enjoyed several Social Media spats with David Lemieux in a bid to entice him to fight. Ryota Murata and Rob Brant were also touted as potential opponents. He has also parted with Booth due to ongoing distractions and Booth being too close to home. He has now linked up with the Ingle Gym, where I hope it gives him the opportunity yo knuckle down and fulfil his potential without distraction.
We have now found out that the man in the opposite corner to Saunders in September will be the 21-2 Willie Monroe Junior. Monroe has been in at the highest level before. The aforementioned Gennady Golovkin stopped him in six rounds in May 2015 in a challenge for the WBC,WBA and IBO straps. Monroe is considered a light puncher, with only six stoppage wins on the slate. He has only fought twice since the Golovkin setback, unanimous points wins over John Thompson and Gabriel Rosado.
This represents a great chance for Saunders to finally make some waves in the division after a near two years of frustration, and get his career moving again. The winner is mooted to be at the front of the queue to meet the winner of the massive Golovkin v Canelo megafight in September, and its a opportunity to make a real statement for Saunders. I hope to see a fresher and rejuvenated Saunders turn up at the Copper Box in September and fully expect he has the tools to deal with Monroe. He has massive potential and is still only 27 years of age, so time is on his side. Fingers will be crossed that September 16 will come around without incident. Saunders seems to get up for big challenges, and I expect him to treat Monroe as a live challenger, which he should.
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