AGE AND PHYSICAL EQUIPMENT
CANELO: A professional since 2005, it is amazing to think that the 55-1-2 (37) Canelo is still only 30 years old – and seemingly improving with age. Arguably in his fighting prime, the bull-necked Mexican is a strong and stocky super-middleweight standing at 5ft 8ins. Despite being three inches shorter than Saunders, the duo share a very similar reach (71ins for Saunders and 70 1/2ins for Canelo).
SAUNDERS: Although he is a year older than Canelo, Saunders is the fresher of the two, having contested 30 pro bouts (all victories, 14 inside time) compared to Alvarez’s 58.
A naturally big man whose bulk has not needed to be manufactured in the gym, Billy Joe possesses a fitting frame for 168lbs.
EDGE: As the taller fighter, Saunders’ physique is probably better suited to the super-middleweight division than Canelo’s. The Hatfield resident has less miles on the clock, too.
CANELO: Having taken part in over 400 rounds in the paid ranks – nearly double the number that Saunders has – Canelo is as seasoned as they come. Since turning pro at the tender age of 15, the Guadalajaran has shared a ring with illustrious opponents like Shane Mosley, Floyd Mayweather, Miguel Cotto and Gennady Golovkin (twice), to name just a few. His elite-level experience is almost without parallel in the sport today, with only a select few fighters able to rival him in this regard. Furthermore, super-middleweight is just one of four weight classes in which the pound-for-pound supremo has thrived on the world stage – super-welterweight, middleweight and light-heavyweight being the others.
SAUNDERS: While Canelo enjoyed success as a junior amateur in Mexico, Saunders’ achievements in the unpaid code stretched beyond the national scene. In 2008, the Hertfordshire native represented Great Britain at the Olympic Games in Beijing, China. Though Saunders competed around the globe in the amateurs, he has only performed outside of the UK twice in the pros – once in Canada and once in the USA. Across 12 years as a pro he has collected some notable scalps, yet none even approaching the class of Canelo. Aside from the respected-but-ageing Martin Murray, whom he clearly outscored, Billy Joe’s quality of opposition at super-middleweight has been underwhelming.
EDGE: Make no mistake, the vastly experienced Canelo represents a major leap up in levels for Saunders.
CANELO: In terms of knockouts, the finishes Canelo provided against James Kirkland, Amir Khan and Liam Smith were all sensational. Against Cotto, Alvarez produced an excellent all-round performance to triumph on points in a fine fight. The flame-haired superstar’s audacious move up to light-heavyweight to take on Sergey Kovalev reaped dividends when he KO’d the hard-hitting brute. Even though he had to contend with significant disadvantages in height and reach, Canelo was still able to dominate Callum Smith over the distance.
SAUNDERS: Apart from the Murray victory, Saunders’ standout showings have all come at middleweight. His inside-schedule wins over Jarrod Fletcher and Emanuele Blandamura were aesthetically impressive, while he had to dig deep to prevail on the scorecards against John Ryder and Chris Eubank Jnr – domestic-class rivals at the time who have since progressed to world level. The unbeaten Traveller kept his composure to outpoint Andy Lee in a high-stakes chess match, but his personal masterpiece came when decisioning David Lemieux in the Canadian’s backyard. Saunders utterly bamboozled his heavy-handed foe with a dazzling display of pure boxing.
EDGE: Canelo’s résumé is replete with star scalps, whereas Saunders’ CV is lacking in comparison.
CANELO: Back when he was just 23 years old and not the wily and all-conquering Canelo of today, Alvarez was taken to the learning tree by the old master Mayweather, who defeated him via decision. Canelo also had a difficult time deciphering the tricky Erislandy Lara. Despite edging the contest on the cards, he had trouble cutting off the ring and catching his elusive adversary.
SAUNDERS: Following his coming-of-age victory over Lee, Saunders failed to build on his momentum against the unheralded Artur Akavov. Unable to get into any sort of rhythm, Billy Joe laboured to a sluggish points win. After the bout, Saunders scored himself a “zero out of 10,” before proclaiming that he “stunk the place out.” Until he staged a late surge to secure a knockout of the unfancied Marcelo Coceres, his performance was just as flat as it had been against Akavov. “There’s no excuse,” he said afterwards. “That was not worthy of the Canelos and other big names.”
EDGE: Canelo can be forgiven for losing to the peerless Mayweather and having a tough time with the awkward Lara, but Saunders should have had far more comfortable nights than he did against underdogs Akavov and Coceres.
CANELO: A supreme counterpuncher, Canelo is also happy when pressing forward and unleashing thumping combinations to head and body. He fires out sharp, accurate jabs followed up by a variety of well-timed power shots, including uppercuts, hooks and straights. An astute and calculated operator with a solid chin, he often saves his best work for the final 30 seconds of rounds, in order to impress the judges during pivotal periods. Boasting exemplary ring generalship and an outstanding boxing IQ, he utilises quick reflexes and intelligent upper-body movement to evade incoming strikes.
SAUNDERS: When on song, slick southpaw Saunders is a consummate boxer who slips and slides away from danger. Using clever feints and swift footwork, he frustrates opponents with his smooth style and effective spoiling tactics. An expert judge of distance and timing, the confident stylist rattles off fast and fluid flurries, kick-started by rapid jabs. Poised but game, he shoots out a large volume of blows and can take a punch himself.
EDGE: The slippery Saunders can box brilliantly off the back foot, but Canelo’s greater versatility means that he has more ways of winning than the Brit.
CANELO: Tending to fight in eye-catching bursts, Canelo likes to take breaks at times by retreating to the ropes, which is something that can be exploited by foes who are willing to take a risk and let their hands go. Additionally, as Lara demonstrated, it is possible to stifle and subdue Alvarez if you are a crafty southpaw mover, which is exactly what Saunders is.
SAUNDERS: When it comes to training and generally ‘living the life’, Saunders has lacked the requisite dedication and discipline on previous occasions. It is hard to believe that he would have cut corners when preparing for a matchup of this magnitude, however. Nevertheless, he has been known to fade in the second half of fights in some instances. A lack of power is another criticism that has been levelled at Billy Joe.
EDGE: With Lara providing a blueprint of sorts for how a deceptive and highly skilled southpaw can cause Canelo problems, this will no doubt supply Saunders with confidence.
It is no secret that Canelo holds considerable sway as the face of boxing, as evidenced by the favourable judging that he has benefited from in the past. In both of his captivating clashes with Golovkin, for example, many observers felt that he was fortunate to avoid defeat – especially in the initial encounter, which was controversially ruled a draw. The rematch was very close and could have gone either way, but despite Golovkin certainly giving as good as he got, it was no surprise that the verdict went to the ‘A-side’ in Alvarez. With this in mind, it is difficult to see Saunders [above] being able to fiddle his way to a decision, particularly on what is essentially Canelo’s home turf. With the possibility of Saunders scoring a stoppage perhaps being the least likely result of all, the smart money has to be on Canelo having his hand raised at the end, though Saunders’ spirit and defensive nous can see him last the full 12 rounds.
BN prediction: Canelo on points.
The out-of-practice Takayama looks to be in too deep against Soto
AFTER being away from professional boxing for more than four years, the vastly decorated former strawweight Katsunari Takayama, 32-8 (12) 1NC, returned to the pro game at the end of last year. The Japanese veteran had retired from the pros in order to pursue a spot at the next Olympic Games, but after failing to qualify, he decided to go back to the paid ranks. In December, he looked sharp in widely outscoring the world-rated Reiya Konishi, although the contest was only fought over six rounds.
At the AT&T Stadium on Matchroom’s Canelo-Saunders undercard this weekend, the near-38-year-old from Osaka challenges WBO light-flyweight belt-holder Elwin Soto, 18-1 (12), in a 12-round clash.
A sharpshooting 24-year-old who fights out of Mexicali in Mexico, Soto is far fresher than Takayama, who made his pro debut over two decades ago. Having only had a sole six-rounder since returning from his long hiatus, it is a big ask to expect Takayama to overcome the in-form Soto. In his first appearance on American soil, Takayama will likely struggle to match the pace set by Soto, leading to a late stoppage victory for the younger fighter.
Another man having his opening US outing on the bill is Northampton’s strong and well-conditioned Kieron Conway, 16-1-1 (3). The ex-British super-welterweight title challenger takes on Senegal-born Frenchman Souleymane Cissokho, 12-0 (8), who claimed a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics. Agile and accomplished, the unbeaten Bagnolet resident can outpoint Conway over 10.