Saunders is set to defend his WBO middleweight title against Monroe at the Copper Box in London on 16th September.
On the face of it, it appears harsh, almost disrespectful, to label this fight a ‘crossroads fight’. Billy-Joe Saunders is an undefeated world champion, his record standing at 24-0 with 12 knockouts. He captured the middleweight title from Andy Lee back in December 2015, knocking him down twice and earning a majority decision victory over a good opponent. Willie Monroe Jr also has a very solid record himself at 21-2 with 6 knockouts, his only losses to Darnell Boone and Gennady Golovkin. The Boone fight was earlier in his career, whereas Golovkin is set to fight Canelo Alvarez in a super fight on the 16th September in Las Vegas. Both Saunders and Monroe have proven to be at world level in the middleweight division, which makes this an intriguing clash.
However, it is a crossroads fight for several reasons. One of the key factors is that Saunders has been largely inactive. After winning the world title in December 2015, Saunders then went a full year without fighting. This was due to a combination of injuries and having fights falling through. A rematch with Chris Eubank Jr was set to take place, but they ultimately ended up going their separate paths. He then managed to fight Artur Akavov at the Lagoon Leisure Centre in Paisley, Glasgow in December 2016. Saunders heavily struggled in this fight; he had to cut a lot of weight to get back down to the 160 pound middleweight limit, lumbered heavily with his punches, and lacked the effective footwork and boxing ability that has been so prevalent throughout his career. He scraped a unanimous decision in this bout and even admitted that he fought way below what he is capable of producing. This was the moment where he realised he needed more discipline in his life to take his performances to the next level and required increased strength and conditioning.
Saunders very much has a point to prove, and Monroe could be the ideal opponent for him to get back on track. He was due to fight Avtandil Khurtsidze in July 2017, his scheduled mandatory, who would have also been a very credible opponent. However, the fight was called off after Khurtsidze was arrested for his involvement with racketeering. In steps Monroe, who comes into this bout with a solid victory over Gabriel Rosado in September 2016. His most significant bout was against Gennady Golovkin, a fight that he fought relatively well in until being stopped by the Kazakh power puncher in the 6th round. Monroe is expected to prove a good test for Saunders; he is a slick boxer, with good speed and also a southpaw like Saunders hovering around world level. Saunders has taken this fight seriously with moving to Sheffield to train with top boxing coach Dominic Ingle, who trains former welterweight champion Kell Brook. He appears to be in far better condition leading up to this fight and realises that if he were to win this, he could end up facing the winner or the loser of Canelo vs Golovkin. This is also taking place on the same night in Las Vegas.
Predictions for the fight: Saunders by Unanimous Decision
If Saunders comes into the fight with the right mentality, attitude and correct determination (which appears to be the case from his most recent training in Sheffield at the Ingle Gym), then he should come out on top in this fight. His key attributes to beating Monroe are to have a quick but solid jab, to use this for setting up combinations. If the Saunders that turned up against Akavov were to fight Monroe, it would be a very difficult night’s work for him. Although Monroe is a very credible opponent and can box well as a southpaw, I feel that Saunders is the next level above. He is a smooth operator when on his game, can box off the back foot and also has more power than Monroe. I expect Saunders to take the first 3 to 4 rounds to figure Monroe out and to adapt to fighting another southpaw, and then to take control of the fight after these early rounds. It will be interesting to see what Saunders will be like with significantly improved conditioning. When he fought Eubank back in 2014 he was in good condition for this fight and managed to win on points. This was a close fight, and Saunders did tire later in the fight but being fitter seemed to make a difference to his performance. If Saunders is switched on, he should be too good for Monroe.
It will be very intriguing to see what would follow from this fight if Saunders were to win. Saunders’ promoter, Frank Warren, has been in negotiations for him to face Golovkin, however ‘GGG’ decided to take the fight with Canelo Alvarez. Both Golovkin and Canelo are fantastic fighters and right up there in the ‘pound for pound’ rankings in boxing. Taking either the winner or the loser of that bout would be a huge step up for Saunders. Ideally, he would like to face the winner as it would mean that he would be able to fight for all of the middleweight title belts. Golovkin holds the WBC, WBA and IBF belts, whereas Saunders holds the WBO. Nonetheless, before thinking about any future unification clashes, Saunders must defeat Monroe and in style.
Current Betting Odds (as of Sunday 3rd September)
Billy-Joe Saunders to win by Decision or Technical Decision – 1.66 (Betfair Exchange)
I would say that these odds do not represent good value, as Saunders has somewhat underrated power. He is also coming off a poor performance and a period of inactivity against a good level opponent. Any opinion on betting is completely my own and should not be taken as professional betting advice.
Written by: Alex Loughran