Billy Joe Saunders needs to be in the biggest fights in order to fulfil his potential in 2021
2021 has to be the year for Billy Joe Saunders (30-0, 14KOs). Boasting an undefeated record as a two-weight world champion, with an outstanding amateur pedigree behind him, there is still a feeling of unfulfilled potential surrounding his professional career.
Saunders’ trajectory has stuttered over the years, despite winning the vacant WBO middle and super-middleweight title along the way. His fights have, at times, been uninspiring, against opponents offering him no real threat. He was last seen widely outpointing five-time world title contender Martin Murray in December 2020 - his only fight of the year.
After his breakout performance against Canadian KO king David Lemeiux in December 2017, which made the whole world sit up and marvel at his skill, his opponents since have consisted of Charles Adamu; Shefat Isufi; Marcelo Esteban Coceres; and the aforementioned Martin Murray, which doesn't add anything meaningful to his resume. He said himself that there was 'something missing' during his laboured 11th round KO win over Coceres in 2019.
The consensus amongst fans and experts is that the better the opponent, the better Saunders on show. With an array of quality options seemingly available for Saunders, his (newish) promotional team needs to make those big fights and he definitely needs to prove himself as an elite-level fighter in his 12th year as a paid puncher.
The Hatfield man joined Matchroom in August 2019 after parting amicably with Hall of Fame promoter Frank Warren, who had guided him throughout his entire professional career, shortly before.
He has already declared his wish list for 2021 - Demetrius Andrade in February, followed by Canelo in May.
The Canelo fight was made and about to be announced before Covid19 struck. Matchroom had delivered the biggest fight of Saunders' career in a very short space of time, but the timing was simply unfortunate.
Matchroom must now ensure that, in 2021, 31-year Saunders gets at least one big fight to warrant the decision to sign with them. Yes, they delivered before, but the fight did not actually materialise in the ned and Saunders revealed that Canelo's team tried to sell him short and treated him as a stepping stone.
Signing to Matchroom made complete sense due to the potential fights available, such as a big domestic fight against Liverpool's Callum Smith, and a possible clash with American Demetrius Andrade, or a record-enhancing fight against either Gennady Golovkin or Saul Canelo Alvarez.
All these options would not only test Saunders at the highest level, but would also provide life-changing money. Of course, there are lots of hurdles in making fights - factors we are unaware of. The fights mentioned seem to be genuine options, yet none have come to fruition. This has led to a growing sense of restlessness, meaning this year these types of fights must be made.
After Saul Alvarez disposed of the formidable Callum Smith with relative ease, fans instantly put forward Saunders as the next Matchroom candidate to take on the pound for pound king.
Already agreed in principle once, it made sense for this to be the next fight for Alvarez, especially with a growing relationship between Matchroom and Team Alvarez. However, this won't be an option until the summer after confirmation of Canelo’s next fight against Avni Yildrim, potentially in a Mexican homecoming. Freeing up the early months of the year for Saunders, still in need of a big fight. Nevertheless, the Alvarez fight is the pinnacle in boxing and should still be the end goal for Saunders. A perfect fight to test Saunders’ full potential, and certainly a career and financial high point. Even a well-fought loss against Canelo would at least allow Saunders to display his talents on a global scale.
A win over Alvarez would propel Saunders into the history books, with many believing his slick style could trouble the Mexican superstar.
In the meantime, Saunders has to have a meaningful fight in the early months of 2021. Enabling Saunders to reaffirm his ability and place at the top level of the division. In recent days, it seemed that Demetrius Andrade would be stepping up in weight to face Saunders. Seemingly a straightforward fight to make, with both under Matchroom promotions and suitable for both. Andrade is another Matchroom fighter who has struggled to get the biggest fights. Despite being WBO middleweight champion, Andrade is still not considered at the elite level, nor does he possess a big name or subsequent following. Andrade is a very good fighter and would bring out the best in Saunders. A win would provide everyone with a gentle reminder of the ability of Saunders.
However, in a recent interview, Eddie Hearn was pushing for Andrade to put his title on the line against Gennady Golovkin at middleweight. Although understandable, it leaves Saunders in the lurch and still searching for a worthwhile fight. To re-emphasise, we don't know what is going on behind the scenes, but it felt as if Matchroom were pushing Saunders aside in order to make their investment in Gennady Golovkin worthwhile. From a promotional point of view, it makes sense - raising Andrade’s profile by fighting Golovkin, whilst providing Golovkin with another title fight. From a Saunders perspective, it doesn't sit quite right. Aged 31, Saunders needs career-defining fights yet runs the risk of missing out on the Andrade fight and the Canelo fight.
At this point, Saunders has arguably done all he needs to do in the sport. However, question marks would remain over what Saunders could have achieved. In an era with so many middleweight kings in Canelo, Golovkin and Smith, Saunders really must fight one of those big names beore the curtain closes on his career, it's a must.
A highly talented technician, winning all the titles from Southern Area to World, but still not completely fulfilling his true potential, 2021 must be the year that Billy Joe Saunders has his name mentioned amongst the greats of the current era.
BJS Roll of Honour
Southern Area middleweight title
Commonwealth middleweight title
British middleweight title
WBO International middleweight title
European middleweight title
WBO World middleweight title
WBO World super-middleweight title