WBO world middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders defends his title against his mandatory challenger, Brooklyn based knockout merchant Avtandil Khurtsidze, at the Copperbox Arena in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London on July 8th.
This fight represents a classic clash of boxer vs puncher. Billy Joe has proved his slick skills in the professional ring beating the likes of the teak tough Chris Eubank Jr over the distance. When he is on his game he is an underestimated fighter in the 160lbs division.
Billy Joe may not be a renowned puncher, but critically, he has enough power to keep his opponents honest and hurt them given the opportunity. His knockout win against Irish fighter Andy Lee proves that.
Saunders chooses to describe his next opponent as a ‘puffed up Danny De Vito’ but I prefer to compare his physique to a Georgian olympic weightlifter. Either way Khurtsidze is built like a tank and is as strong as a bull. He has been likened to a mini Mike Tyson in his style because of the way he tries to use lateral body movement to work his way in.
His tactics are not hard to second guess but plan A has been working pretty damn well for him so far in his professional career. With bull like strength, the Georgian marches forward relentlessly and has been coached to deliver a destructive left hook and a heavy overhand right.
Whilst Khurtzidze’s knockout win over Langford looked impressive enough, Langford, despite being a decent domestic operator was on borrowed time at the next level up. He simply does not have the power in his back hand, or the authority in his jab to gain any level of respect and it showed against Khurtsidze who marched through his punches unaffected.
Saunders career has been blighted by ring activity over the last couple of years due to injuries and fights falling through and the cobwebs really showed in his last outing against the diminutive Russian challenger Artur Akavov. His feet look slower than usual, his timing was off and his sharpness just wasn’t there. He laboured to an unconvincing, uninspiring points victory.
By his own admission he was sloppy all night. But he still managed to get the job done. He is the sort of fighter who lacks self discipline at times and can let his weight go up too high when he is not competing. However when faced with a challenge it brings the best out of him. He needs to feel under threat to sharpen his senses.
He sits in the shadow of Canelo and Golovkin with many referring to him as a paper champion but the two pound for pound superstars are likely to come knocking after there dust up in September in a bid add the WBO belt to there collection. He will not want to miss the opportunity to cash out on a big payday and test himself against the very best in a unification showdown by slipping up.
Billy Joe Saunders has all the attributes to box Khurtzidze’s head off. If he conditions himself correctly stays sharp and peppers him with a hard jab to both head and body he could ease his way to a points victory. He certainly has no shortage of target to land on with the Georgians boulder like head.
Khurtzidze on the other hand will have to pile the pressure on, exert his physicality where possible and hope that the champion slows down as he tires. Then he may have a chance to catch him with a haymaker.
The reality is that if Saunders cannot beat 38 year old Khurtzidze, a relatively static come forward fighter then he has absolutely no chance to beat the likes of Golovkin, a younger, harder hitting and more skillful proposition all together. As good as the Georgian has looked recently he has been beaten by Hassan N’dam back in 2010 and suffered a stoppge earlier in his career against Tony Marshall.
The champion has to make sure his fitness is on point heading into this match up because it is too dangerous to hold your feet against the Georgian or let your feet come square on the ropes. He will no doubt look to make the centre ring his home and produce a disciplined performance. It is a key to victory. He has recently had a switch up in his team and has been working with trainer Adam Booth who will be keen for Billy Joe to show everyone what they have been working in the gym.