ALL good things must come to an end, they say. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t apply to boxing, yet it still seems strange to report that one of UK’s top boxers, Billy Joe Saunders, has parted company with promoter Frank Warren after nine years.
The news broke in an August 2 statement on the website of Queensberry Promotions, Warren’s company.
It began: “Following a relationship that has spanned the whole professional career of Billy Joe Saunders, that has included world titles in two weight divisions, Hall of Fame promoter Frank Warren and Saunders have agreed terms for an amicable release from his promotional contract.
“Frank Warren enjoyed a successful partnership with Billy Joe in which he guided him in an unblemished run of British, Commonwealth, European and world championships at both middle and super-middleweight. The partnership saw many big fights at different career levels, which has included wins over John Ryder, Chris Eubank Jr, Andy Lee and David Lemieux.”
One can sense the “but” coming, and it duly arrives: “Whilst holding the WBO world middleweight championship, Billy Joe signed contracts to unify the world middleweight titles against Gennady Golovkin, which did not ultimately take place due to Golovkin not signing and returning the contract but pursuing the Canelo Alvarez fight.
“An outstanding career best win against Lemieux in Canada where Saunders announced himself to North American boxing fans, unfortunately was followed by problems outside of the ring, a period of injury and having to vacate his world title, losing the momentum built after his win.”
This alludes to Saunders’ positive drug test (for a banned nasal spray substance) before an October 2018 WBO middleweight title defence against Demetrius Andrade, which resulted in the Massachusetts state Commission banning him for six months. Billy Joe returned to the ring and in May won the vacant WBO belt at super-middle. Yet it was against a little-known opponent in Shefat Isufi, and it seemed the big-name rivals were as far away as ever.
So many won’t be too surprised that Warren’s statement continues: “Following dialogue between Frank Warren, Billy Joe and his management company MTK over recent weeks, it was mutually agreed that after struggling to regain this collective momentum, and with certain fights not immediately available within the partnership, that it is in the interests of both parties to pursue their respective goals separately.”
Both parties signed off on good terms. Warren said: “I’ve really enjoyed working with Billy Joe through his whole professional career and guiding him to become British, Commonwealth, European and a two-weight world champion.
“I’m personally very fond of Billy Joe and I wish him every success in the remainder of his career.”
For his part, Saunders said: “First of all, I just want to say a massive thank you to Frank for everything he has done for my career over the past decade.
“Frank signed me after the 2008 Olympics and was with me every step of the way as I won the British, Commonwealth and European titles before becoming a world champion in two divisions.
“It feels a little bittersweet and I’ll always be appreciative for everything Frank has done for me. We’ll stay close.”
All of which immediately raises the question: Where does Saunders go from here? He turns 30 on August 30 and since his pro debut in February 2009 has compiled a 28-0 (13 record); he’s not boxed more than twice in a calendar year since 2013, so would appear to be fresh.
Yet his tricky southpaw skills don’t always translate into big box office and he’s already gone through several trainers including Jimmy Tibbs, Dominic Ingle and Adam Booth. The big promoters might want him in their stable as a back-up option, rather than their main man.
One obvious port of call would be Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom organisation, which promotes Callum Smith, for many the world No. 1 at 168lbs. Saunders himself has already suggested such a showdown, but it never seemed likely while Billy Joe was with Warren.
One possible stumbling block is that Hearn was the promoter of the ill-fated Saunders-Andrade fight – but business is business, and with plenty of TV dates to fill through deals with Sky (UK) and DAZN (USA), Hearn may think the Hatfield traveller a worthwhile addition to his stable.
Maybe Saunders will seek inspiration from good friend Tyson Fury, who like Billy Joe is from travelling stock and managed by the MTK organisation. Former world heavyweight champion Fury, still promoted by Warren, has made a stunning recovery from a long break, aided by Warren clinching a deal with US promotional powerhouse Top Rank.
That led to Fury making a highly-publicised Las Vegas debut in June, televised in the USA on the ESPN network. What Saunders would give for such a high profile opportunity to put himself firmly back in the public eye.
It may come down to who can secure Saunders fights with the major players at 160lbs (assuming the Callum Smith match isn’t forthcoming). We know Canelo Alvarez is in talks to fight Andrade, while Gennady Golovkin and Sergey Derevyanchenko have been ordered to contest the vacant IBF belt stripped from Canelo for not accommodating the latter. Both fights will be televised on DAZN.
Saunders would gladly share a ring with any of those names, but he may find himself having to play the waiting game before another chance at glory comes.