WHILE Saturday’s (November 9) spectacle in Los Angeles may be overlooked by some as a genuine boxing event, there are fights of more traditional significance buried somewhere beneath the YouTubers.
Londoner Olajide William Olatunji, better known as KSI, and Ohio-born Logan Paul became famous and infamous via their work on the online platform. Videos including but not restricted to commentary on FIFA matches and footage of suicide victims has helped to make them two of the internet’s biggest icons. Between them they have 40 million subscribers and the 40 Days documentary produced to hype the fight had been viewed over 10 million times at the time of writing. “It’s a new world!” Promoter Eddie Hearn tweeted with glee.
But on the undercard is someone very much now part of British boxing’s old guard in Billy Joe Saunders. He went to the 2008 Olympics as a teenager and as a professional has won Southern Area, British, Commonwealth and European honours, as well world titles at two different weights. It has been suggested that a man of his calibre playing second fiddle to a couple of bloggers is a travesty. But Saunders, as it happens, is only too happy to piggyback an event which will be viewed by an entirely new crowd who will not only tune in online but will also pack out the Staples Center. He has made no secret of the fact it also represented his most lucrative option at the moment.
“The numbers,” he said, when asked why he decided to make his American debut in such circumstances. “The purse numbers. It had to be done, it had to be done. I remember when I was getting paid 50 or 60 quid a day to chop down trees and chuck them on the back of a wagon. I’m now getting paid to do what I love, which is fight. I don’t look at it as an undercard or the fact that they’re on after me. I look at it like this – I’m there to do my job, defend my title, in America, it doesn’t get much bigger. I’m happy.”
His encounter with little-known 28-0-1 (15) Argentine Marcelo Coceres will be the first defence of the WBO super-middleweight crown he claimed by outpointing Shefat Isufi on a strange night in Stevenage back in May. There are few bookmakers on the high street currently offering odds any better than 1/100 on a Saunders victory. They would point out that Coceres is a career middleweight and has never been heavier than 163 1/4lbs in any of his fights. In fact, he is currently considered only the second best of the 56 professional middleweights in Argentina.
All of that points to a quite straightforward Saunders victory and it would be a surprise if he did not get the job done well inside the distance. Those new eyeballs turned onto him by the influencers in the main event may not be all too enthralled by his slick southpaw skills, but may tune in to him with more vigour if he can serve up a highlight-reel knockout. Of course, a defeat does not bear thinking about for Hatfield’s Saunders, 28-0 (13), who knows a victory here could set up a colossal 2020. This is the 30-year-old’s first fight since joining Matchroom Boxing following an amicable split with long-term promoter Frank Warren.
The theory is that Hearn and Matchroom are able to deliver him the big fights, be that at middle or super-middle, and once the cheque has cleared from this latest escapade, all the attention will turn to a potential unification clash with new promotional stablemate Callum Smith or a drop back down to middleweight where fights with the likes of Gennady Golovkin and Demetrius Andrade should now be more straightforward to make.
Saunders’ is not the only first defence on this Sky Sports Box Office (UK) and DAZN (US) event. Newly crowned WBC lightweight belt-holder Devin Haney, 23-0 (15), puts his strap on the line having been elevated from interim to full titlist as a result of Vasyl Lomachenko’s absurd new ‘franchise champion’ status. There was some talk of the 20-year-old Las Vegas-based prodigy facing Petr Petrov, but instead it has been confirmed that he will meet the 12-0 (4) Alfredo Santiago.
The Dominican Republic native is now living in Puerto Rico and all of his 12 contests have taken place in that country so far. He holds notable victories over the likes of Jayson Velez and Jonathan Barros but this looks like a colossal leap for the man known as “Ojo”. Haney looks certain to dispatch his hastily arranged opponent in the first half of the fight.
At the ‘top of the bill’ somebody’s ‘0’ has got to go. It is understood that ticket sales have not gone quite as well as expected, but there will still be a crowd in excess of 10,000. Added to the millions of people who will tune in online and those who will choose to purchase the pay-per-view, this will be without question the most watched double debut in the history of professional boxing. Given the fact they will both be wearing 10oz gloves during the six-threes cruiserweight bout, a distance fight seems exceedingly unlikely. As Hearn has said on a number of occasions: “Someone is getting knocked out.” Let’s hope both novices make it through the occasion safe and well.
THE VERDICT: Another addition to boxing’s bizarrest moments.