Canelo v Saunders: Billy Joe has the style to succeed, but can he shock the boxing world?

By Sports Desk May 08, 2021

Back in December 2017, Billy Joe Saunders produced a dazzling display against David Lemieux, systematically dismantling the dangerous Canadian to retain his WBO middleweight title in style.

The Briton's unanimous points triumph seemingly paved the way for a blockbuster fight. Now, three and a half years on from delivering a boxing lesson in Quebec, and having moved up a division, Saunders finally gets that opportunity.

Gennadiy Golovkin was the initial target back then, but Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez is more than an adequate alternative. The Mexican is viewed by most to be the best pound-for-pound boxer around right now, as well as the sport's biggest superstar.

The two rivals have taken contrasting paths to topping the bill at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. While Canelo has skipped around the weights, piling up victories and padding his resume to help define his lasting legacy, Saunders has fought just four times since schooling Lemieux.

"He thought he was going to get Golovkin or Canelo as his next fight after his brilliant display against Lemieux. He didn't, though, and then lost momentum being inactive for 12 months," Dominic Ingle, Saunders' former trainer who was in his corner in Canada, told Stats Perform News.

"I think he found it hard to motivate himself for fights that weren't going to bring him some big money, or a big name.

"He's just not been very consistent in terms of fights, but he's got that kind of style that can prove so elusive. If you can hit someone with two or three shots and they’re missing you back, you’re going to win.

"The thing with Canelo, though, is how consistent he has been, no matter who he is up against. He just gets on with it."

So, can Saunders really seize his long-overdue chance? The skilled southpaw has both the talent and temperament to cope with Canelo, so the key - according to Ingle at least - will be his stamina.

"With Billy, even if he hasn't done a lot of boxing stuff and sparring, it's like a game of tag with him. He can touch someone, get them to commit then he fires in a quick counter and is off," Ingle explained.

"The way he boxed against Lemieux wasn't like I'd taught him any of that stuff; he knew how to do it. What he needed was the conditioning and the fitness to get through.

"There was a stage when he wanted to stop him [Lemieux], but there was no point taking a risk. If he can box like that – I know it's a different opponent, of course – but Canelo finds it difficult to beat fighters who are elusive and slippery. It's frustrating when you can't get your shots off."

Saunders has done his best to antagonise Canelo before the bout, including threatening to head home during fight week over a dispute about the ring size inside the impressive venue.

He will hope to annoy him once the bell sounds to start the action too, as the seemingly unstoppable force faces a moveable object determined to make life as tough as possible for a rival accustomed to getting his own way.

Canelo has lost just once – back in 2013 to Floyd Mayweather Jr – but Ingle feels Saunders has all the ingredients required to create a recipe for success, even if a stoppage triumph seems unlikely.

"It's all about how quickly Canelo can get used to closing Billy down," Ingle said ahead of a bout that could see a record crowd in attendance for an indoor boxing event in the United States.

"I know people will say that fight against Mayweather was years ago, but if you struggle against movers then that doesn't change. When he boxed Erislandy Lara [in 2014] he struggled a bit as well.

"He can obviously do really well against orthodox fighters, but when it's against southpaws it is a bit more difficult.

"You've got Billy there being a southpaw, a great southpaw and an exceptional mover, while Canelo struggles with southpaws and movement. Billy likes to frustrate you when you are up against him.

"You need to be fit to do that kind of style, one like Tyson Fury uses, so you can frustrate your opponent into making mistakes. He can beat Canelo, for sure, but I don't think he can stop him.

"He can win on points, but that is a risk as the verdict may go against you."

Any risk is surely worth the reward for Saunders, who can alter the boxing landscape by beating Canelo and taking not only his WBA and WBC belts, but also his aura of invincibility. 

If the build-up is anything to go by, he appears up for the challenge that lies ahead in the ring, no matter what size it is.

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