Billy Joe Saunders is a nightmare for Canelo Alvarez and will not be star-struck by Mexican superstar

Steve Bunce
·5-min read
Canelo Alvarez after beating Avni Yildirim (Getty)
Canelo Alvarez after beating Avni Yildirim (Getty)

Canelo Alvarez had the easiest night of his boxing life in Miami on Saturday to set up possibly the hardest fight of his life.

Alvarez forced his mandatory challenger, Avni Yildirim, to quit at the end of three completed rounds and about six-months of nonsense. It never took much to end the mismatch, in all fairness.

Canelo retained his WBC and WBA super-middleweight titles, which is is the supposed reason fights like this are forced on boxers, promoters, TV companies and fans.

Yildirim had no right to be the WBC’s number one challenger, no real right to be anywhere near Miami, but that is not Canelo’s fault, not the fault of Eddie Hearn, the promoter, but it is the latest ridiculous manipulation and abuse of the system by the WBC. The Mexican-based sanctioning body are not alone in their chaotic and idiotic ways.

Anyway, the fight’s real agenda was the news that followed the predictable capitulation when it was finally, after 13-months of speculation, announced that Canelo will fight Billy Joe Saunders on 8 May. It is a great fight, a difficult fight for both and fully compensates for the Yildirim mess.

There is no venue yet, but outdoors at one of the Texas sites or possibly the new NFL stadium in Las Vegas are both contenders. The date is the most popular Mexican holiday, an outing with Canelo on that day is unforgettable and any town on the planet resembles Mexico on a good night if one of the ring legends is fighting.

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This time last year Saunders was getting ready to fight Canelo, training in Los Angeles and Las Vegas and waiting for an announcement; it was boxing’s worst kept secret, but then Covid edged in from the outside and the May 2 date was gone. It was scrapped on a Friday; the announcement was meant to be 72-hours later.

Somehow, Saunders scrambled out of Las Vegas, just days before flights and travel stopped, his training camp over, his dream fight vanished. The fight’s collapse might have ruined a weaker man.

And then last September Canelo talked about getting back in the ring and Yildirim’s name was mentioned, plucked like a startled rabbit from a hat of mirth. It was a joke, surely? The WBC’s brass never smiled; it was real. Saunders, in all fairness, was supposedly on one of the Mexican’s lists. Possibly the one that was titled: To Avoid.

Thankfully, Yildirim, who had lost his previous fight back in February 2019, was pushed aside like a bad smell, buried under a backlash that mixed hate with sense and then last November it was Callum Smith’s turn to get the offer; Smith was seven-inches taller, unbeaten in 27 fights, the WBA super-middleweight champion. They fought in Texas a few days before Christmas and Canelo won on points.

On the odd night, the Mexican fighting giant made the job look so easy, Smith never blamed his torn bicep and just accepted the boxing lesson with grace. It was Canelo’s 54th win, his 17th world title fight. His one defeat was against Floyd Mayweather in 2013, a defeat that will remain as a glowing reminder of Mayweather’s skills and brilliance, even as the American continues to stuff his bank with the spoils from his circus fights.

“He’s the best fighter on the planet,” Hearn said last December, praise for Canelo. The wonder in Hearn’s voice was genuine – Eddie had promoted Smith from zero fights to unbeaten world champion and then Canelo handled him like a kid. A boxing lesson can be more devastating than a quick knockout and Canelo’s mastery of distance is a magic trick he has perfected since turning professional at just 15. Canelo gave Eddie a pair of fancy five-grand pyjamas the day after the fight and in January the pair agreed a promotional deal. There is no record in boxing history of any previous deals achieved by a backhand pair of cheeky pyjamas.

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So, with Yildirim richer, sorer and on a plane back to Istanbul, it is now the turn of Saunders to deliver. Or, perhaps fold under the brilliance and pressure. Canelo and the Canelo machine clearly takes a heavy toll on his opponents; he is the only Mexican fighting idol, part of a tradition that is oblivious to reason.

Saunders is unbeaten in 30 fights, an Olympian from Beijing, a world champion at two weights and the most naturally gifted southpaw in the sport. He is fearless, can act like a fool away from the ring, has often looked bored in fights, but can conjure up true ring mastery if the man in the opposite corner is a challenge. Saul Canelo Alvarez is boxing’s biggest attraction, a cash-cow for the sport and the greatest challenge available for Saunders. Their fight will be free of any excuses once it it is over, trust me.

Saunders will not be given a chance by the Americans and Mexicans, dismissed in the company of greatness and that will also appeal to his fighting pride; Saunders always proudly carries the Gypsy flag – the flag of the Roma – with him when he enters the ring. There will be no look of wonder, awe or surrender from Saunders on the night.

The men and women in the Canelo game are known for their professional approach, their attention to detail, but they are all a bit star-struck in the Mexican’s fantasy world. Saunders will simply not follow the pattern of so many of Canelo’s victims, the men with their eyes wide in retreat and a dreaded look on their faces, a mix of fear and shock and pure wonder. Saunders will not be that type of victim and is a nightmare for the Mexican idol. Win or lose, he will fight and leave an impression. Canelo is now 30, was scrapping for pesos when he was a child, a veteran of 58 fights and that has to take a toll.

“I have no fear of him – I see what he does, I know what he is doing and I know just how good he is,” Saunders said last year. I doubt Canelo has the same awareness.

The great fight is now just 10 weeks away, and that is something to get very excited about.

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