Saunders Aims For Middleweight Supremacy

On Saturday night, two of boxing’s biggest stars will compete for several middleweight belts in Las Vegas.

There’s one 160 lb. title that isn’t on the line when Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez step into the ring, however — and it belongs to Billy Joe Saunders.

The British champion also fights on Saturday, making the second defense of his WBO middleweight belt. He faces Willie Monroe Jr. at the Copper Box Arena in London, England. The timing of the bout means that Saunders, who won the title in December of 2015, will inevitably be mentioned in the same breath as Golovkin and Canelo. He aims to make a statement, to remind the boxing world that there’s still another middleweight champion.

Saunders knows what is at stake when he takes on Monroe. At the press conference ahead of the fight, Saunders’ promoter Frank Warren said that Saunders getting another title defense under his belt means that he is likely next for the Canelo vs. ‘GGG’ winner.

“The winner of this fight will have the missing piece on the middleweight jigsaw [puzzle]. Canelo and Golovkin both want that WBO belt. If Bill comes through this fight, we are pushing hard for the winner of Canelo versus Golovkin.”

Since becoming a champion, Saunders has not shied away from talks of a bout with either ‘GGG’ or Canelo. In fact, that’s become one of the main criticisms of the British champion. Those who dismiss him believe he’s done too much talking and too little fighting, as he only competed once in 2016.

On Saturday, Saunders has the opportunity to quiet those critics. Monroe is a formidable opponent (albeit one that Golovkin dismantled in six rounds back in 2015) and a dominant victory over him will reinsert Saunders into the conversation for the real money fight. The WBO world title he holds is truly a golden ticket, as the winner of Golovkin vs. Canelo may be hunting that final belt by the end of the year.

Saunders explained to The Telegraph that he knows how close he is to the fight that could define his career, and that fact makes him even hungrier to put on his best performance yet against Monroe.

“I signed to fight Golovkin and Canelo but none of them have come off. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. The inactivity has been stressful, but you crack on and deal with it. You just have to deal with it, but I’m more motivated now than I have ever been in my career.”

Though he’s hurled bombastic vitriol at Golovkin and Canelo in the past, Saunders now speaks of their matchup with an analytical calmness. He says he’s studying them, particularly Canelo and the infinitesimal signs that the Mexican fighter may be overtrained. When he says he favors Golovkin to win, he does so knowing what that means for him. The British champion is undoubtedly bothered by those who aim to discredit his world title, and he knows there is only one way for him to silence them permanently.

Billy Joe Saunders may be focused on Willie Monroe Jr. for the time being. But historic fights cast big shadows. Now Saunders is on the brink of stepping out of the shadow of Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, and finally stepping into the ring with them.

Billy Joe Saunders defends his WBO middleweight title against Willie Monroe Jr. on Saturday, Sept. 16 at the Copper Box Arena in London, England.

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