Finally, an actual boxing match.
Billy Joe Saunders is a troll, except he’s extremely good at boxing and doesn’t cry when he’s about to get his ass beat. Probably because we haven’t seen him get his ass beat, even though there are plenty who’d like to do the honors.
Saunders [30-0, 14 knockouts] is challenging arguably boxing’s pound-for-pound number-one and the most popular competitor in the sport, Saúl Canelo Álvarez [55-1-2, 37 knockouts] for Canelo’s WBC, WBA Super, and The Ring Super Middleweight Championships. Saunders’ WBO Super Middleweight Title, which he’s held since May 18, 2019, is also on the line, meaning every major boxing organization except for the IBF has a world title up for grabs tonight.
Saunders has claimed to want a Canelo bout for at least three years, and he finally gets it, but he’s a +550 underdog, which is actually less of a wide margin than some in boxing would expect given Canelo’s recent dominance. The 5-foot-11 southpaw with a 71-inch reach will be one of the more awkward challenges Canelo has had to navigate through, but he doesn’t have the punching power that would cause Canelo to refrain from doing shit like this.
Even fellow Brit Tyson Fury acknowledges that, while fully confident in Saunders, he’ll need to win by keeping his distance and outboxing the much stronger Álvarez.
“There will be no ducking, diving, and dodging by Billy Joe this time. He will shock the world by winning and by the way he does it,” Fury said, according to the Daily Mail in the UK, implying Saunders’ key to winning is similar to how Fury has outboxed Wladimir Klitschko and Deontay Wilder in his career. “Canelo is a very good fighter, but he will find himself being hit flush in the face from beginning to an end.”
Canelo actually has occasionally struggled with sound technical boxers throughout his career, even though he only has one official loss, which was to Floyd Mayweather many years ago. Erislandy Lara, a southpaw, arguably outboxed a 23-year-old Canelo in July 2014, using his movement, range, speed, and precision to give the young Álvarez awkward angles. He lost a debatable split decision. In 2016, the speedy Amir Khan had been finding success on the outside and jabbing Canelo, arguably winning the fight [at least according to one judge] until he was concussed with the force of a brick falling from an airplane. Both Gennady Golovkin fights are arguable in either direction, and were more action-based fights.
[He’s also been on the receiving end of some favorable judging, but he might not need that tonight given how awesome he’s been lately.]
Saunders’ best opportunity will be to use his length, footwork, speed, and jab to pester Canelo to death. Even at his fastest, speed alone won’t be enough. Beyond Canelo’s world-class chin, of Saunders’ last eight victories, only two came by knockout, and one of them was a 32-13 journeyman. But although he’s recorded impressive wins over former champions like Andy Lee and David Lemieux, as well as former interim world titlist Martin Murray this past December, Canelo’s fought the best of the best in and around his weight-class over the last few years alone: The list, just from November of 2015, includes Miguel Cotto, Amir Khan, Gennady Golovkin, Daniel Jacobs, and Sergey Kovalev, ranging from former world champions at 140 pounds [super lightweight] all the way to 175 pounds [light heavyweight]. Canelo spars with heavyweights, after all.
Even Saunders knows that Canelo’s aggression, work rate, and combinations are the key to never letting him gain comfortability. It’s why he threatened to quit fighting over a ring size issue. But at 30 years old and heading into professional fight No. 59, the 16-year-pro has never been better.
Thankfully, it’s a fight the sport wants and needs. It also unites two of boxing’s most passionate fan bases from Mexico and England, who will likely go too far on social channels when talking shit to one another during the fight. Expect the pro-Canelo crowd to have the final word, though. And in the boxing community, there are many who wouldn’t complain if we’re awarded the favored outcome.