Saunders no longer underestimated in GGG, Canelo shake-up but has a more lucrative option at 168
Billy Joe Saunders produced one of his career-best performances on Saturday night to show the American and Canadian public the skills most in the United Kingdom knew the WBO middleweight champion already possessed.
A couple of years failing to secure big fights had left Saunders reputation somewhat at a standstill and potentially had lured strong opponent David Lemieux into a false sense of security.
All the evidence of Billy Joe’s talent has been out there for some time, although the 28 year-old just hadn’t had the opportunity to display those gifts on a platform like HBO.
It turned out to be shrewd move for Saunders, who was questioned for his decision to accept a challenge against a big puncher like Lemieux in his hometown – but the cat, for want of a better phrase, is now well and truly out of the bag.
Lemieux, a former world title holder himself at 160, had no idea how to handle Saunders’ dazzling boxing ability and was thoroughly out-boxed and bamboozled throughout the contest.
After the defeat, Lemieux was also less-than gracious towards Saunders, who it must be admitted can be like marmite due to his penchant to gloat and show off his superior belief at times.
With heavyweight king Tyson Fury sitting at ringside, Saunders put on a scintillating showing for the Place Bell fans – but I fear may have done his chances of securing a fight with the winner of Gennady Golovkin v Canelo Alvarez II more harm than good.
Would either Golovkin or Canelo fancy the job of chasing Saunders around the ring after sharing another war on May 5th, it’s hard to imagine, although there’s no doubting the Frank Warren promoted Briton is now firmly in the divisional shake-up and is undisputedly in the mix to be third-rated fighter at middleweight alongside Danny Jacobs.
So where does Saunders go now? Well he has to keep trying to bang down the GGG v Canelo door, could aim to battle Jacobs, or alternatively has the option of moving up in weight to potentially build towards a rematch with Chris Eubank Jr.
Should Eubank claim victory in the World Boxing Super Series this coming spring, Saunders could earn millions from stepping up the necessary eight pounds, just as Eubank did earlier this year.
It could be argued the Eubank fight is the biggest out there right now for Saunders as the Brighton man has gone from strength-to-strength since losing to his arch-rival in 2014 and is now considered one of the better fighters in the world.
Warren, if he can somehow reach an agreement to work with Eubank again, could mastermind a massive autumn battle at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium which could potentially be for three separate versions of the super-middleweight crown.
Granted Saunders could earn a tidy sum against Golovkin or Canelo, but going up against Eubank Jr. in a huge grudge match rematch for the unified belts at 168 could prove too strong to resist in the future.
All depends on the outcome of Eubank’s attempts to defeat Groves and possibly Callum Smith in two eye-catching events in the first half of 2018.
In the meantime, expect Saunders to keep busy with another defense or a water-tester at super-middleweight as Golovkin and Canelo settle their differences once and for all in Las Vegas.
Phil Jay is Editor of World Boxing News. Follow on Twitter @PhilDJay