DAZN kicks off its December run of fights with a card at Wembley in London, England featuring WBO 168 lb. Champion Billy Joe Saunders. The thirty-one year-old titlist makes his 2020 debut after the COVID-19 lockdown killed his big opportunity to face Saul Alvarez back in the spring of this year. He makes his second defense of his title against long time contender Martin Murray Murray retired briefly in 2019 after losing a decision to Hassan N’dam in December of 2012 where he looked finished. Murray built his reputation as a rugged challenger in 2011 when he held long time WBA Middleweight Champion Felix Sturm to a draw and lost a controversial decision to RING Magazine Middleweight Champion Sergio Martinez in 2013. Murray also took the hard punching Gennady Golovkin into the eleventh round and looked to threaten the nineteen fight knockout streak for GGG and went twelve with the hard punching Arthur Abraham. Murray would continue to win fights including a decision over Gabriel Rosado, he was defeated in a clear decision by George Groves for the WBA 168 lb. belt. He has fought for a version of a world title five times and came up short all five times. At thirty-eight and coming off of a long layoff he is a long shot on paper.
Saunders is in the prime of his career but has struggled to get the biggest fights available and only has twenty-nine bouts in an 11 year career. I first saw Saunders back in 2014 when he faced off against Chris Eubank Jr and won a decision. Prior to that he had defeated known fighters on the British circuit like Spike O’Sullivan and John Ryder. His big break came when he defeated WBO Middleweight Champion Andy Lee by majority decision where he was propelled by two knockdowns in the third round that helped him over the edge. He defended his title twice but won uninspiring decisions over Artur Akavov and Willie Monroe Jr as he pursued Canelo and Golovkin. He blamed the poor performance against Akavov on a layoff which is similar to what is going on here. He broke out again with a dominant performance over former title holder David Lemieux with a near shutout decision on HBO and it seemed a showdown with Golovkin was on its way. A fight with Demetrius Andrade in Boston was days away when he tested positive for a banned substance. On the Ak and Barak Show on DAZN Saunders said it was from a nasal spray and that he could have competed in 49 other states plus the UK but the commission in Boston blocked the fight. Saunders has since won the WBO at 168 lbs. as the big fights have continued to elude him.
Saunders explained to Ak and Barak that he is taking on Murray in order to get rounds in after the layoff. He does not appear to be taking Murray as a dangerous threat. This is funny coming from a fighter who has looked bad after layoffs and has a habit for competing down to the level of his opposition. He also took shots at Andrade who he claims has not faced a dangerous opponent since 2008 in the Olympics and will move up to avoid Liam Williams who is also a threat. He is looking toward the Canelo fight that he craves and many in UK boxing circles are clamoring for it including Joe Calzaghe. The long time champion at this very same weight class said on a DAZN build up clip that he hopes to see Saunders against Canelo next and that it is the fight to make in the division. I would like to see Saunders earn it by making a statement in this fight. Saunders is a fighter very similar to Tyson Fury in background and style. He employs a lot of movement and the jab and is a counter puncher. His fights can be very cautious and slow paced and this can cause him to have tougher than expected fights. The skills also have seen him completely befuddle a good opponent like Lemieux. We just saw Danny Jacobs struggle mightily in a listless effort against an overmatched Rosado on DAZN, can Murray overperform here?
Prediction: Calzaghe picked Saunders by decision or late stoppage. I am picking Murray to make the distance on his toughness but fully expect a Saunders decision here. What I am hoping for is a statement type of performance to get people excited for the Canelo fight. If not a grudge match with Andrade could be fun.