Billy Joe Saunders is set to return this Friday, Dec. 4, live on DAZN and Sky Sports, as he defends the WBO super middleweight title against Martin Murray in a main event from London.
The 31-year-old Saunders (29-0, 14 KO) has bounced to a new trainer, though in some ways it should be plenty familiar. Saunders is working with Mark Tibbs, the son of his original trainer, Jimmy Tibbs. The two are very familiar with one another, obviously, as Mark was always Jimmy’s assistant, so he knows Saunders’ strengths and weaknesses well, and Saunders should be comfortable with the move.
“I like Mark’s work. He’s worked alongside his dad, and the experience he’s picked up from alongside his dad is probably the closest I was ever going to get to Jimmy,” Saunders said in a sitdown with Matchroom. “He’s a good trainer, he’s been at the highest of levels, and he’s put his time in the game. He knows what he’s doing in boxing.”
The choice of the 38-year-old Murray (39-5-1, 17 KO) has been scoffed at by some, as the veteran is without question past his best days. But the two have some history, as they were originally meant to fight a couple of years ago, with Saunders pulling out — some felt he was trying to secure a bout with Gennadiy Golovkin, who was at the time struggling in negotiations for a rematch against Canelo Alvarez. Ultimately, Canelo-GGG 2 went on.
This time around, Saunders said he and his team looked at the division and just couldn’t find a top name willing to go. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, limitations for travel are generally in place, too, and Murray like Saunders is in the UK.
“I promised Martin Murray his shot from the first time, but I was injured. People can say I pulled out because of this and that, but genuinely I was,” Saunders said.
“The discussion with myself and Eddie (Hearn), the Canelo talk was back on — I just think that the Canelo camp didn’t want me for the style, end of. Then it was obviously the Smith fight we talked about, obviously he’s fighting Canelo now. I said to Eddie, ‘Look, can you get Andrade?’ Andrade wanted to run out. All the big names — Danny Jacobs was booked in or penciled in — all of the big names were really tied up.
“So I looked down the list. Martin Murray has challenged for a world title four times, this is his fifth. There’s history there. He’s a Brit. Listen, I’m a man to my word. He’s got his fight. Whether this is his last fight or it’s his big uproar and he pulls off the upset, he’s got his chance.”
How to Watch Saunders vs Murray
And Saunders, who hasn’t fought in a little over a year, says he will not underestimate Murray, who has won two straight following a decision loss to Hassan N’dam in late 2018. Murray, for what it’s worth, has also not fought in 13 months.
Saunders also knows that he has to win this fight, as he’s looking to secure a major money bout in 2021.
“What people fail to realize is I know what sort of fighting man Martin Murray is. If he wins this, that’s his golden ticket to retirement. He’s come in as the big underdog,” Saunders said. “I think this will be a tough, tough fight. He’s not one of those people that roll in and out of shape, he’s always in the gym. He’s had a couple wins (in a row). The bottom line of it is this for me: if I can’t beat Martin Murray, then don’t bother talking about your Canelo Alvarezes and your Golovkins, because it’s pointless even sitting at the table.”
Despite the somewhat turbulent history between the two, Saunders also has a clear respect for Murray.
“If you look at the fact of what he’s done, he should have been two-time world championship. He (deserved to) beat Sergio Martinez, and I believe he should have beat Arthur Abraham,” Saunders said. “He got robbed (in Germany). He certainly got robbed in Argentina. I think people are being a bit harsh. Give the man some credit, he’s given a lot of time to the sport. I know we’ve had our differences. He’s said some things he needs to back up, I’ve said some things I need to back up.”
“I’m looking to give my best performance, but boxing is a funny, funny game, that’s why people tune in to watch it,” Saunders continued. “If they read this fight on paper, no one will watch it. But it’s one of them where I can’t afford to slip up, that’s for sure. I know I need to look good, but I’ve been out a year. That’s what makes it interesting.
“Am I gonna come out and dazzle and put that sparkling performance in? I’ve been feeling good in training, I’m in amazing, good shape, I’m fit, I’m healthy, weight’s good. But we never know who’s gonna turn up until that bell rings. Hopefully everything’s there and I haven’t got that much ring rust, but Martin Murray is an old, cunning fox. If you give him a sniff of blood, he’ll be all over it.”
Saunders’ division has another big fight coming in December, as Callum Smith will defend the WBA title against arguably boxing’s top name, Canelo Alvarez, on Dec. 19 in Texas. Saunders was close to a date with Canelo in May of this year, but the fight never officially got signed, and COVID scrapped plans for Canelo’s spring bout entirely.
Saunders said he believes Smith really can beat Canelo, and that he’s rooting for his countryman to do just that. But while he feels Smith has the skill set to get the win, he also warns that the titlist cannot make mistakes against the Mexican superstar.
“If you’re gonna go in there, try to stand in front of him, cover up with a high guard and leave the body open, it’s a no brainer. He’s very good to the body. He’s stopped most of his opponents, including (Callum’s) brother (Liam) to the body, Rocky Fielding to the body,” Saunders said of Canelo.
“I like Callum’s style, I think he’s a good, good fighter. Also I like Canelo. It all depends. Callum has got the tools to beat him and the fundamentals to beat him. Everything’s there. But how he uses them is another thing.
“If (Smith) goes in there and uses the right game plan, I believe if it’s a fair decision, he could get a points win. If not, I could see a Canelo stoppage.”
Of course Saunders is potentially eyeing the winner. A victory for Smith would likely lead to an immediate rematch with Canelo, but if not, a fight with Saunders — should Billy Joe win on Friday — could be huge in the UK. And if Canelo wins as most will expect him to do, Saunders definitely would like that fight, for the obvious reasons — but also because he feels he’s in the shape to shock the world.
“He’s the golden ticket, everyone wants him. If it was about money for me, I would’ve took the fight when I was out of shape, picked my money up, and just went,” he said. “But I know I can go in there and beat him, so I don’t want to go in there and pick my money up when I’m not ready and sail off to the sunset. It’s not about that. To beat somebody like Canelo, you have to go in there with the will of cementing a legacy.”
First, though, comes Murray, who has never rolled over in a fight and has to know this is almost certainly the last world title fight he’ll get if he comes up short once more. Murray has the experience and grit to be a problem if Saunders isn’t switched on, and in all truth, we’ve seen some nights where Saunders has just not quite been there, even in victory. But on Friday, he says he will be at his best.
“I’m gonna put a master class on. Martin Murray, all I can say to you my brother is bring your best game, because you’re gonna need it.”