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BILLY JOE SAUNDERS’ REVIVAL AND THE IMPACT ON THE 160IBS DIVISION

Make ‘em miss, make ‘em pay! 

Billy Joe Saunders rounded off a great year for boxing in 2017. He went over to Canada and successfully defended his WBO world title against the hard-hitting, David Lemieux. The manner of his victory was the most impressive aspect. He completely neutralised the threat of Lemieux, who was loading up all night long and Saunders read him like a book. Lemieux was far too one-dimensional and only landed 65 out of the 356 punches he threw (just under 19%). The slick southpaw’s lateral movement, half-steps, judgement of distance and ring IQ proved too much for Lemieux. It was a typical Ingle performance. Saunders showed incredible balance – whenever slipping to the left or right, he was always in a position ready to throw a punch from an angle. It was a perfect counter-punching display, that led to Lemieux punching fresh air all night.

Saunders has a very underrated jab. He always beats his opponent to the jab and throws it from different angles (straight jab and cross jab). It might not be the most powerful jab, but his distance control with his jab is second to none. It’s accurate, you can’t read it, it stings you and it’s a point scorer. (Bit like watching a fencer). It’s everything you want a jab to be. HBO had him landing 37% of his jabs against Lemieux which is a very high percentage. That amateur style Saunders has means he’s very likely to win at least 7 or 8 rounds. It’s difficult to steal rounds off him as he dictates the pace of the fight with his jab. You can’t stand in the centre of the ring and beat him for skill. The only way to beat him is to walk right through him, which no one has been able to do thus far.

It’s time to give Saunders some credit. Saunders has beaten everyone domestically including some big names such as Nick Blackwell, Gary Spike O’Sullivan, John Ryder, Chris Eubank Jnr and Andy Lee. He was faultless against a world level fighter in Willie Monroe Jr, and then travelled to Canada and put on a boxing clinic against a world-class middleweight. Now 26 and 0, he’s ready for Canelo Alvarez or Gennady Golovkin in my opinion. It’s about time he was taken seriously and is talked about in the same category as the best middleweights in the world. His record and past performances are worthy of it. He’s mentally in the right frame of mind, physically fit and fully committed under Dominic Ingle, making him a whole different entity. It is important he keeps active and fights back in the UK around the time Canelo and Golovkin have their rematch, and then get the winner in late 2018.

Styles make fights and Canelo likes fighters who come at him, which is why I believe Saunders gives Canelo a tough night. It would pan out similar to when Canelo fought Erislandy Lara (where Canelo struggled). Saunders leans with his jab which creates extra reach. In addition, the fact that he’s taller and extends his jab by leaning in, he can beat Canelo to the jab. Saunders is one of the best mobile counters punchers about and this spells trouble for Canelo. Canelo likes to stand firm and counter with his quick hands, Saunders will get into position, throw a combination of counter punches and move off again. This could drain Canelo – shots missed can take more out of you than shots which you land. Saunders is very good at making people miss. Saunders would use a lot of movement, box at long-range and use angles to win by decision against Canelo, in my opinion.

Golovkin would be a different story. Early on, Saunders could outbox Golovkin purely on sharpness and speed. However, Golovkin cuts off the ring so well and deals with movers better than Canelo. Golovkin also puts relentless pressure on his opponent and taps you with little shots, then suddenly comes in with a left hook to the body or over hand right to the head, with immense power and accuracy. Lemieux was cocking back his right hand, telegraphing that he was going to throw a power punch with his right. Golovkin is one of the best, if not the best at setting up punches. Golovkin’s ability to disguise his punches so effectively means it will be more challenging for Saunders to slip shots with such ease like he did against Lemieux. Also, even when Lemieux did land, it was a scrape rather a clean punch. With Golovkin, he disguises and sets up attacks so well, he is bound to land some big shots on Saunders. Eventually, I think Golovkin exerts too much consistent pressure and power on Saunders, and wears him down to get a late stoppage.

Danny Jacobs has been calling Saunders out a lot on social media, and I think that match-up would be very intriguing, Both fighters are extremely skilled, and that fight definitely goes to the cards. However, I think it is unlikely that the Jacobs fight happens as Saunders is under Frank Warren and Jacobs is under Eddie Hearn.

There has also been talk of Saunders moving up to 168lbs and fighting Caleb Traux for the IBF world title.

So what do I think is actually next in store for the 160lbs division? The deal for Canelo vs Golovkin II looks like it is close to being done. I had Golovkin winning 116-112 in the first fight, so naturally I am going to pick him to win the rematch. Hopefully, Saunders gets out around April or May time, to keep himself busy. I don’t think Saunders will fight the likes of Danny Jacobs, Demetrius Andrade or Jermall Charlo before getting the winner Canelo vs Golovkin II. So that sets up an end of year contest between Golovkin and Saunders, where I would pick Golovkin to win, making the Kazakh the undisputed middleweight champion of the world.

One things for sure, the middleweight division is set up for an exciting 2018.

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