Danny Flexen delves into Canelo Alvarez vs Billy Joe Saunders and can make a case both for and against the upset
To Billy Joe Saunders, it must feel like he has already won a victory of sorts. Having chased a big-money fight with superstar Canelo Alvarez for several years, the Hatfield traveller has recently seen the Mexican’s negotiations with the likes of Ryota Murata, Caleb Plant and Callum Smith fail before he got the coveted call for May 2, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. It may even seem like securing the battle, a reported career-high payday for the WBO super-middleweight champion, could be harder than winning the actual fight. I’m not so sure.
We know just how good a fighter Alvarez is and how hard it can be to get a decision over Canelo in Vegas. That said, I picked out two key factors specific to Saunders that should give him hope and two that may count against him.
The Plus Side
Styles make fights
It’s a tired narrative that Canelo struggles with slick, evasive southpaws but one based on past history. He laboured past Austin Trout (2013) and Erislandy Lara (2014), the latter a particularly close call. Alvarez has undoubtedly improved since then but the only left-hander he has fought in that period is the raw and hardly cute James Kirkland. Saunders will be his first leftie opponent in almost five years by the time they meet in centre ring, and the Brit at his best is an exceptional example of a style Canelo finds problematic.
Bill and Ben
Billy Joe Saunders has worked with trainer Ben Davison intermittently throughout his pro career. In terms of full fight camps, however, Davison came in at short notice for a desultory decision win over Artur Akavov in 2016, and the build-up to Saunders’ clear victory over Shefat Isufi last May saw Billy Joe share the gym with Tyson Fury, who was preparing for Tom Schwarz. That association has its positives of course, but with Fury having moved on and despite Davison’s new charge Josh Taylor fighting on the same night as Canelo vs Saunders, Billy is clearly now Ben’s main man, especially with such a huge night on the horizon. He should benefit from that hitherto unseen dynamic.
On The Other Hand...
You’re only as good as your last fight
Saunders’ finest performance remains his compelling domination of dangerous David Lemieux in December 2017. He looked almost untouchable that night, encouragingly on hostile territory in Montreal. After that he vanished from the ring for a year, however, a failed drug test scuppering a fight with Demetrius Andrade and ultimately costing unbeaten Saunders his WBO belt down at 160lbs. He’s had three fights within a year since his return, against relatively undemanding opposition, but had real issues with average Marcelo Coceres in November, edging the fight on two cards and losing on the other before dropping his stubborn rival three times in round 11 to force the stoppage. The Englishman may be someone who fights to the level of opposition, but there is a possibility he has regressed through a lack of top-level activity through his peak years.
One giant leap
While Canelo has been taking on elite competition since 2013, Saunders, with all due respect to Lemieux and Andy Lee, has yet to meet anyone at Alvarez’s level. His talent is of course undeniable but that experience of facing and defeating the very best can be incredibly significant in terms of building confidence and retaining composure when confronted by challenges a fighter has not seen before. As good as Saunders is, he will not bring anything Canelo has not sampled before, albeit in smaller doses. The reverse may not be true.