Unbeaten but inactive, WBO middleweight world champion Billy Joe Saunders divides opinion in boxing circles. With just one defence of his crown since beating Irishman Andy Lee in 2015 to claim the belt, Saunders’ career has stuttered and threatened to grind to a halt.
With cancelled defences against Max Bursak through a hand injury and Avtandil Khurtsidze through the Georgian’s criminal charges in New York, BJS has tried hard to stay relevant in the middleweight division as he seeks a career defining fight against Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez or Gennady Golovkin.
However, first up is the challenge of American Willie Monroe Jr. (21-2), who is looking to claim world honours at the second time of asking on Saturday night in London.
Billy Joe Saunders vs Willie Monroe Jr. for the WBO middleweight world championship
Where: Copper Box Arena, London, UK
When: Saturday 16 September, 5PM ET or 10PM UK time.
TV: Boxnation, BT Sport
After tasting defeat to Gennady Golovkin in May of 2015, Willie Monroe Jr. has won back-to-back unanimous decisions to get him back into the world title frame. With wins over John Thompson and Gabriel Rosado last year, ‘The Mongoose’ arrives at the Copper Box in London after a year outside of the ring, looking to take advantage of the confused and turbulent career of Billy Joe Saunders.
With a career record of 24-0 accompanied by 12 KOs, Billy Joe Saunders is at a stage in his career where he needs to prioritise big money, big reward fights. With a majority decision over Andy Lee and a split decision over Chris Eubank Jr. the only notable wins on his CV, the Hatfield fighter will be eyeing a win over Monroe Jr. as a gateway into a super-fight against the Canelo vs Golovin winner, where all of the middleweight marbles can be put on the line.
Under the restricted promotion of Frank Warren, Saunders has struggled to break into the mainstream boxing limelight, with his nemesis Chris Eubank Jr. building a better platform on ITV and within the World Boxing Super Series to veer towards PPV headlining.
Despite several heated exchanges in the run up to this fight, both fighters and promotional teams seem thrilled to be apart of the event on Saturday night, with all-involved understanding the importance of the WBO belt as the ‘missing puzzle piece’ to the middleweight jigsaw.
Artie Pelluo of Banner Promotions has said previously:
“I am very happy for Willie; this is a great opportunity. A lot of things had to fall into place for Willie to get this fight. Saunders is a great fighter, and this should be a terrific event. I want to thank the WBO as well as Frank Warren and Billy Joe Saunders for this opportunity.”
With a huge pay-day and unification possibilities on the horizon for Saturday’s winner, this fight is so much more than getting a ‘W’ on the record.
Watch Billy Joe Saunders and Willie Monroe Jr. clash in Saunders' gym in London this week - video courtesy of iFLTV
Saunders isn't a world champion by fluke. Sure he hasn't got a record littered with top-level opponents, but what he does, he does well. Fighting in the southpaw stance with a solid amateur pedigree, the 28-year-old shows great length in fights with fantastic movement to boot. Without any noticeable one-punch power, Saunders relies on flashy, rapid combinations which when thrown from distance can prove hard to shake off.
Saunders can wear opponents down through smothering attacks as well as providing sharp body work in return; something that Monroe will be looking to counter.
The American challenger himself only has six knockouts on his record and priding himself on his counter-range and quick jab, Monroe certainly has a unique artillery that could trouble the champion. Also fighting out of the southpaw stance, Monroe shows good movement inside the ring and is able to cut-off advances from his opponents with real class.
Fighting for the first time outside of the United States is also bound to play a factor in Monroe's preparation for this second attempt at world honours. With everything in the favour of the champion, we will learn a lot about the heart and character of 'The Mongoose' on Saturday night as he faces his toughest test since the Golovkin stoppage.
Saunders is the more naturally gifted and technically able fighter between the two, however, speed kills in boxing and if Monroe can get some early success by dictating the pace with his jab you can expect BJS to have a tougher night than expected.
Under the watchful guidance of Dominic Ingle in his new camp in Sheffield, Saunders looks like he has left no stone unturned in preparation for this bout, and is unlikely to let this huge opportunity slip him by. Monroe may get some early success, however, Saunders' ring smarts should see him negate the challenge of the American with a comfortable points victory at the Copper Box Arena.
Billy Joe Saunders winning his WBO middleweight world title in December 2015 against Andy Lee
With a host of unbeaten fighters looking to steal the limelight on the undercard, Anthony Yarde (12-0) is given the honour of chief support in London as he looks to secure the WBO European light heavyweight and WBO inter-continental light heavyweight titles against the six-times defeated Norbert Nemesapati.
Heavyweight sensation Daniel Dubois (4-0) also features in his fifth professional fight as he looks to topple AJ Carter (8-3) for a Southern Area heavyweight title.
Joe Pigford, Archie Sharp and Lucien Reid also feature in a card that acts as the perfect entrée for the Canelo-Golovkin main course later on in the evening.
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