Updated: Dec 17, 2016
“I was f*****g s**t. I can forget GGG based on that!”
The line positioned above is a quote from English middleweight WBO champion Billy Joe Saunders, and it is one that acts as an accurate chronicle of the 12 rounds he had fought prior to giving such a statement. On Saturday December 3rd Saunders locked horns with Artur Akavov, a fighter who isn’t necessarily a big name in the sport, in order to defend his middleweight title.
With Saunders returning from a one year layoff, a bout against the relatively unknown Russian fighter was seen as more of an opportunity to shake off ring rust as opposed to a challenging match-up. However, Akavov provided a performance that was unforeseen by most of Boxing’s analysts and certainly Billy Joe Saunders. Ultimately Saunders defended his belt via unanimous decision, but the showing wasn’t as good as he’d have hoped and this led to vexation on Saunders’ behalf.
Of course it is the nature of the beast for a Boxer to be frustrated at a bad performance of their own and the self criticism after a poor showing is a shared characteristic among all athletes.
However Saunders’ frustration was heightened due to what he had on the line. When i say this i am not insinuating that his reputation as one of the top fighters in the 160 pound division was at risk, or his belt for that matter, as the most significant item on the line was the opportunity to take on Boxing’s elite fighters. In recent months Saunders has called out some of the best fighters in the middleweight division, one of the biggest ones being undefeated knockout specialist Gennady ‘GGG’ Golovkin. With Saunders searching for a career defining fight and Gennady Golovkin and looking for credible names to enhance his resume it would only make sense for the two fighters to collide.
It seemed like the two were almost destined to meet as much media speculation was set around the two 160 pounders. These newspaper murmurings soon gained some momentum when Billy Joe’s promoter Frank Warren stated that his client would definitely get a shot at Canelo or GGG as long as he defeated Akavov, and with everything in place it seemed that Saunders was only one step away from simultaneously securing the biggest fight and biggest payday of his career. However, even though he completed the task at hand the unconvincing manner in which he did so raised the question; Is he ready to take on the world’s elite?
It’s no secret that the fight against Akavov was a tougher encounter than Saunders (or anyone) thought it would be. The ‘Wolverine’ turned up on the night and managed to take a good few rounds from the defending champion, and if Billy Joe fought the way he did on Saturday against a world class opponent he would have lost his belt.
One factor that may be to blame for Saunders’ below par performance may be the fact that before the Akavov fight, he hadn’t gone in the ring in for almost a year, as the last time he fought was December 2015 against Andy Lee. The Englishman did plan on maintaining activity after his majority decision triumph over Lee but injuries kept him out of fighting as much as he would have liked.
Boxing is a sport where you are judged mostly on what you did most recently, and given Saunders’ recent display it is almost certain that his bid for a fight with GGG or Canelo took a hit. When faced with who Golovkin should fight next I’m sure Golovkin’s management team would also look elsewhere after this fight, as there are other possibilities to explore such as Danny Jacobs or Chris Eubank jr. The path of fighting Canelo Alvarez may also have been blocked off as the Mexicans promoter Oscar De La Hoya stated that after his performance against Akavov the offer for Saunders to fight Canelo ‘halved’, and also Canelo’s team would most likely want to arrange a fight between a more well known pay per view attraction.
So the question that this article posed still remains unanswered: Is Billy Joe Saunders ready for the world elite? Well, in my honest opinion yes, he is ready. He is a fighter with an extensive amateur background who has competed in the commonwealth games (where he was a champion) and the olympic games. At a professional level he has notched up 24 wins with 0 losses, including standout triumphs over the likes of Chris Eubank JR and Andy Lee, and not to mention he holds a world title belt in his respected weight class.
Saunders is one of the top 160 pound fighters. Howbeit, even though he is ready for a fight with the elite 160 pounders doesn’t that he should or is guaranteed to get a fight with the upper echelons of the boxing world. As I mentioned before, Boxing is a sport where you are judged on your most recent performance and based off of his fight against Akavov Saunders isn’t ready to fight the best. Regardless of whether or not he is ready to go toe to toe with the best, the fact is that after such a display it isn’t likely that he has produced a good enough bid to get a bout against the sports elite.
Career transitioning opportunities only come to those who earn them, and even though the future may say otherwise, based off of his display against Akavov it does not appear he that he is ready for the Golovkin’s and Canelo’s of the world.