By Paul Mason (@PaulMason1986)
You would be forgiven for naming Gennady Golovkin v Saul “Canelo” Alvarez as the Middleweight Title match happening this Saturday. While the WBC, WBA (Super) IBF and IBO Titles will be on the line at the T Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the complete Middleweight puzzle will not be solved. Billy Joe Saunders holds the one remaining prize in the division, the WBO Middleweight Title. Even bigger than that he holds the golden ticket, in being in pole position for a shot at the winner of the Sin City mega fight.
This Saturday, at the Copperbox Arena, Saunders makes only the second defence of the Title that he won back in December 2015, with a points win over Ireland’s Andy Lee. Willie Monroe Junior, a former Golovkin victim, will be what Saunders and his team hope, the final hurdle in setting up a fight for the undisputed Middleweight Title. BT Sport televise in the UK.
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 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 now parted with Booth due to ongoing distractions and Booth being too close to home. He has now linked up with the Ingle Gym, where from Social Media posts, he looks in fantastic shape, and I’ve no doubt he will be taking this assignment seriously.
Willie Monroe Junior comes from real Boxing stock. His great uncle is Willie “The Worm” Monroe, who famously shared the ring three times with the Middleweight great “Marvellous” Marvin Hagler, winning once and losing twice. Junior turned professional in 2008 after a decent amateur career which included winning the New York Golden Gloves competition. He won ten straight contests before running into Journeyman and bogeyman, Darnell Boone, who has knocked out current WBC Light Heavyweight Champion, Adonis Stevenson, knocked down Andre Ward, and taken Sergey Kovalev to a split decision. Boone triumphed by split decision to hand Monroe his first defeat.
He rebounded to score nine straight wins, including unanimous wins over Brandon Adams and Brian Vera, to elevate him into a World Title shot against Middleweight monster Golovkin. “GGG” had too much for the New York southpaw, and stopped him in six rounds.
Unanimous points wins against contenders John Thompson and Gabriel Rosado, have now given Monroe a second crack at World honours on Saturday night.
This is a massive match especially for Billy Joe. He needs to win, and win well to be the front runner to the GGG v Canelo winner. I can gauge from his Social Media activity that he is fully focused, and I expect him to look good against Monroe. He may have to settle for a wide points victory in doing so. An important thing is Saunders getting back to fighting regularly, and this is the perfect way to start.
The undercard sees Anthony Yarde (12-0, KO12) on chief support duties. He meets replacement Norbert Nemesapati (25-6, KO18). The Hungarian has been in with class operators such as Callum Smith and Anthony Dirrell (Lost RTD both fights) and in his last fight he took German prospect Vincent Feigenbutz the distance. This should be another inside the distance win for the Londoner.
Daniel Dubois (4-0, KO4) continues his Heavyweight education by meeting AJ Carter (8-3, KO6) for the vacant Southern Area Heavyweight Title. A stoppage win for Dubois is the pick in this one.
Southampton’s Fan friendly Joe Pigford (13-0, KO12) fights Kieran Smith (10-0, KO5)for a fringe WBO European Title at Super Welterweight.
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