Billy Joe Saunders primed for Monroe Jr, targets Canelo-Golovkin winner
This Saturday, the majority of the boxing world will be focused on the colossal middleweight championship fight between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, which goes down at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
However, some 5,000 miles away, in London, unbeaten Englishman Billy Joe Saunders will defend his WBO 160-pound title against fellow southpaw Willie Monroe Jr. The fight is practically irrelevant by comparison but, for Saunders (24-0, 12 knockouts) and his team, the stakes could scarcely be higher.
At his best, Saunders, who is rated No. 4 by THE RING at middleweight, is a terrific talent. The former Olympian cleaned house at domestic level, handed Chris Eubank Jr. his first professional defeat and came close to stopping Andy Lee in three rounds before settling for a majority decision in his world title win.
Then momentum stalled.
There were injuries. There was a change of trainer. There was a one-year layoff. There was a drab and listless performance against the unheralded Artur Akavov. There was another change of trainer. Saunders, one of the most promising title players in U.K. boxing was drifting into obscurity.
Solid changes and renewed dedication were required and here we are. Saunders has teamed up with Dominic Ingle, the Sheffield-based coach who guided Kell Brook to welterweight title glory. Recent photos show Saunders to be in fantastic condition and the 28-year-old technician is eager to recommence his career with a new team behind him.
“Dominic has really improved the nutrition side of things,” said Saunders in an interview with RingTV.com. “Nobody can teach me to be completely different, in terms of my boxing skills, at this stage of my career but, in terms of training and nutrition, I’m feeling stronger and healthier.
“My fitness is there; everything is there and I’m ticking every box in camp. Everything that has been put in front of me in this camp has been done to the best of my ability. Training-wise, food-wise, being a professional about things. You only get back what you put in and I’m fighting fit.”
And his opponent will also be ready for combat. Monroe (21-2, 6 KOs) is a seasoned campaigner and a dedicated athlete. A professional for nine years, the fighter known as “El Mongoose” has mixed in good company and still retains plenty of ambition.
“In the last few years Monroe has only lost to Golovkin (TKO 6), so he is a good boxer,” acknowledged Saunders. “He belongs at this level and he’s got to be beaten. He keeps himself in shape but this game is all about being mentally strong, not just physically strong. You must have that mental edge and I believe that I beat him in that department comfortably.
“People are saying that he’s looking hot in training but he’s never out the gym. He’s one of them who keeps fit, trains and pushes himself. He’s a trainer. He’ll be in good shape but there’s a difference between sparring novices and taking on a seasoned pro.”
Saunders has been linked to a fight with Golovkin in the past but negotiations did not bear fruit. There are many who believe he would rather pursue other options on U.K. soil than match his skills against the fearsome Kazakhstani puncher but the Englishman refutes all charges.
“God-willing, I come through this fight without any injuries and I’m back out in December,” said Saunders, who holds the only title belt not on the line in Las Vegas. “Either (Canelo or Golovkin) for December, or early next year, and I’ll be ready to go.
“It’ll be a good fight between them but I think Canelo looks a bit over-trained. From what I’ve seen in training videos, he looks like he’s dipped a bit and I favor Golovkin just slightly now. And, if there’s a knockout, then I see it coming from Golovkin’s side.”
Before Saunders can think about middleweight unification fights, he must turn back the challenge of Monroe. The American appears to have taken his second world title opportunity very seriously and the feeling is he’s not in London to make up the numbers.
Saunders sounded supremely confident, however, and if the title is going to change hands, then Monroe must produce the performance of a lifetime.
“I’ll use my brains and my boxing ability but I’ll also put the pressure on him,” Saunders said ominously. “With someone like him, you have to pressure him from the start. I always tell people that it depends who turns up on the night and if I turn up and perform the way I know I can, then you’ll see the best of me.”
Saunders vs. Munroe Jr. takes place at the Copper Box Arena and tickets are available from Frank Warren’s website. The bout will be televised live and exclusive in the U.K. on BT Sport/ BoxNation.
Tom Gray is a U.K. correspondent/ editor for RingTV.com and a member of THE RING magazine ratings panel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Gray_Boxing.
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