WBO World Super-middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders makes the second defence of the vacant title he won at The Lamex Stadium in May 2019 against Serbian born Shefat Isufi at The Wembley Arena on Friday 4th December. He faces home-grown opposition in Martin Murray the four-time world title challenger from St Helens, Merseyside. The fight will be shown live on Sky Sports in the UK and by DAZN in other territories.
Saunders has wasted time waiting for Saul Alvarez to agree to meet him for his title. Of course, Canelo has had a court case which burnt up a chunk of 2020 but even when that was over, Saunders had the crushing news that Canelo had decided to face his fellow countryman Callum Smith for his WBA Super World title before the end of the year.
Now Saunders will try to lure the winner of Canelo vs Smith into a huge unification match in 2021 by, as he says, “putting on a masterclass”. Saunders will need to do just that because the casual boxing fan hasn’t seen anything outstanding from the Hatfield two-weight world champion in some time.
Billy Joe’s last outing against Argentine Marcelo Esteban Coceres at the Staples Center in Los Angeles did nothing to fuel American fans desire to see him in a pay-per-view event against Canelo where they might be expected to stump up, up to $100. Seeing that the untested Coceres was a natural middleweight challenging Saunders for his Super-middleweight belt, the fans should have expected a dominant performance from the Brit, but instead, they got a comeback from behind struggle in which Saunders looked far from a dominant champion.
Questions still swirl as to Sanders’s true worth as a world champion. Is he genuinely good enough to mix it with the likes of Canelo, smith, Plant, or Benavidez?
Now go back to the night of 16th December 2017 and re-watch his “masterclass” when he dismantled the then highly touted David Lemieux in Laval, Quebec, Canada.
Rarely do you see a world champion silence a crowd away from home the way Billy Joe did that night, and when the challenger is as popular as Lemieux is in Canada, that goes to show just how dominant Saunders was on this occasion. There is an argument that Saunders gave Lemieux a worse beating than Gennady Golovkin did in their 2015 match even though GGG stopped the Canadian in 8 rounds.
So, will we see this level of performance against the ever-resourceful Murray?
For some, Martin Murray should have been crowned WBC world middleweight champion back in 2013 when he travelled to Buenos Aires, Argentina to challenge Sergio Martinez. The St Helens man had the champion down in the 8th round and looked in control for much of the contest. However, he came up short according to all three judges by 112-115.
Four fights later, including a wide 12 round unanimous decision over Max Bursak, Murray found himself facing the man most consider as the most formidable middleweight champion since Marvelous Marvin Hagler back in the ’80s. Against Gennady “GGG” Golovkin, Murray showed stoicism that Golovkin’s former challengers had failed to match. Murray managed to land more accurate punches on Golovkin’s chin and body than anyone else before or after and yet was never ahead on points.
World title challenges kept arriving but, at the higher 168lb limit against Arthur Abraham and George Groves. On both occasions the judges found in favour of the champions, quite rightly in the Groves challenge but, the split decision win for Abraham in Germany was controversial in most onlooker’s opinions.
Dropping back down to his natural 160lb middleweight division Murray scored a disputed majority decision over Gabriel Rosado in Liverpool before losing his WBC Silver title to Hassan N’Dam in December 2018.
It is the N’Dam loss that makes me think that Saunders believes Murray is an opponent that he can shine against. Now 38-years-old, Murray has unquestionably seen better days and, at 168lbs the scales are more tilted to the Champions cause than to that of the Merseysider.
Prediction: Saunders to win a wide points decision.