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Billy Joe Saunders expects Martin Murray to leave his soul in the ring, weighs in on Canelo-Smith

Fighters Network

The year 2020 has been the stuff of nightmares for almost everyone and it has certainly not been kind to Billy Joe Saunders.

Due to the pandemic, the WBO super middleweight titleholder watched a lucrative unification battle with Canelo Alvarez turn to dust and any momentum he had was lost. It’s now been over a year since the unbeaten lefty punched for pay and – given the enormous amount of frustration he’s endured – that’s been far too long.

So, did anything good come out of the extended layoff?

“Not really, no, nothing good has come out of this,” an earnest Saunders (29-0, 14 KOs) told The Ring. “I wasted a full year, was in and out of training camps, big fights falling through, so I can’t say anything good came out of it. Hopefully I can end the year on a decent note by defending my belt.

“I’ve enjoyed this training camp, and it’s been interesting getting back to old roots and practicing some things. Training camp is always a grind but it’s went well. We’ve worked on some stuff and hopefully we can show it on fight night.”

When Saunders mentions “old roots,” he’s referring to renewing ties with former trainer Mark Tibbs. The London-based coach, along with his father Jimmy; one of British boxing’s most respected teachers, guided Saunders from the beginning of his pro career in 2008 until 2016. Since then, the 31-year-old slickster has had spells with Adam Booth, Dominic Ingle and Ben Davison.

Saunders’s last fight was an 11th-round knockout of Marcelo Esteban Coceres in November 2019. Photo by German Villasenor

With the old team assembled, the first assignment will be former four-time world title challenger Martin Murray (39-5-1, 17 KOs) at the Wembley Arena in London on Friday. This matchup was supposed to take place twice in 2018, but an injury to Saunders’ hand and later his hamstring led to a brace of cancellations. Murray, 38, has flirted with the idea of retirement but accepted the fight when it was offered to him in October.

“It was the only fight – with everyone tied up – that was available and I thought he deserved a shot,” Saunders reasoned. “There were other fighters the same caliber as Martin but they all had French or German sounding names and I thought let’s give Martin a shot. He was in the [WBO] top 15 and he took it.

“I’m looking for Martin to leave his soul in the ring. I know what kind of fighter he is and it’s going to be a tough night. I’m sure he’s had good preparation, just like me, because he’s had plenty of time. I wish him all the best, I hope he can secure his family’s life, but he won’t be winning the fight because it’s a must-win fight for me.”

Saunders, who is rated No. 5 by The Ring at 168 pounds, was supposed to fight Canelo in May. A new date fell through for myriad reasons, and it is now Saunders’ countryman Callum Smith that has the chance to dislodge boxing’s biggest star on December 19.

“It’s a fight Callum can win, but the late notice is certainly not going to help,” offered Saunders. “You can never disregard Callum, he’s a good fighter, you always have to give him a shout, and especially with everything that’s at stake, you have to say he’s got a very good chance. But the Canelo camp has done the snidey thing they always do and gave him late notice.

“Callum needs to stay out the firing line, keep it long, and be strong at length. He needs to watch the counters and use his feet. We don’t always see Callum use his feet but in this fight he’s gonna have to. We’ll see what he can do from there. I’m hoping for a Smith win, but if I’m putting money on it I’d say Canelo on points because you either need to knock Canelo out or completely embarrass him.”

Should all go well against Murray, Saunders made it clear that he wants to face the Canelo-Smith winner or one of his other rival titleholders in 2021.

Saunders-Murray plus undercard will be broadcast on DAZN in the U.S. and Sky Sports in the U.K.


Tom Gray is Associate Editor for Ring Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing