Billy Joe Saunders defends his WBO championship belt against fellow Brit Martin Murray at the 02 Arena on the banks of the river Thames in London, England on June 23rd.
One night in Montreal. It was all Billy Joe Saunders needed to launch his boxing career back into the bigtime and catapult his name back into the elite mix. Virtually overnight he went from being an inactive ‘paper champion’ on the run, to being the man on everybody’s lips in America.
A punch perfect performance saw the Englishman defend his WBO middleweight world title at a canter on away turf over in Montreal, Canada. HBO was heavily invested in David Lemieux as an elite level fighter and Billy Joe exposed him in such a humiliating fashion that they were forced to take stock of his talent and superiority as a fighter. Now they can’t wait to get him back.
It was a far cry from the sloppy showing at a leisure centre in Paisley just two years prior but for many British fight fans, who have seen the potential of Saunders over a much longer time, it was much less of a surprise. Whilst few expected him to win with such consummate ease they knew he had the ring IQ and trickiness to outpoint a come-forward hitter like Lemieux should he box to his best, especially after having seen the green shoots of recovery in Saunders first fight under Dominic Ingle against Willie Monroe Jr.
Saunders glaring weakness has always been his questionable level of fitness. However, since joining the infamous ingle gym in Sheffield he has put in some serious hard graft and is now entering the ring in brilliant athletic condition too. His conditioning completes the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle making him a well-rounded fighter.
Promoter Frank Warren is keen to keep him active and seize the momentum before any unification fight against Gennady Golovkin or super-fight with Canelo (depending on the outcome of his drug accusations). Step up Martin Murray. The perennial world title challenger who has always fallen at the final hurdle.
Martin Murray is a very experienced fighter and for him this is a last chance saloon at fulfilling a lifelong dream to become a world champion after three failed bids before at middleweight. Added to that, he will get the accolade of being a true, genuine world champion in beating Billy-Joe, which would make a win much more credible and meaningful should be able to pull it off.
Murray is a durable and solid opponent with decent power, but Saunders should be streets ahead when it comes to boxing ability. Martin will have to find a way to cut the ring off and be given the opportunity to work on the inside by the ref. By working the body early, he may be able to somewhat slow Saunders movement down a little in the later rounds.
Billy Joe has worked so hard to resurrect his game and is just starting to realise his full potential so to take his eye off the ball now would be such a waste. It wouldn’t surprise me if Billy Joe put in a slightly underwhelming performance against Martin Murray because he is tougher than people think, plus Billy Joe is now expected not only to win but to shine in the process.
This is easier said than done when you are dealing with a fighter who has always been a genuine challenger and not merely a ‘tune up’ opponent. However, if he can’t beat Murray then he has no chance against Golovkin. I believe he will come through unscathed as he is just too elusive and clever. Additionally, he can take a shot too, so even if took a shot I think he would weather any storms and be ready to show what he has in his locker when he finally secures a big unification clash.