The Friday Faceup

Can Billy Joe shock the world ?

Back in September 1986 undisputed world welterweight champion and pound-for-pound elect Donald ‘Cobra’ Curry entered an Atlantic City casino ballroom ring for a ‘routine’ title defence against unbeaten Englishman Lloyd Honeyghan. It was known Curry was tight at the weight and if successful his next fight would be in a higher weight class against Mike McCallum, before ultimately facing Sugar Ray Leonard or Marvelous Marvin Hagler at middleweight in a ‘superfight’.

The Ring magazine wrote at the time “Honeyghan was considered just another British stiff who would fall apart”.

The Englishman didn’t read the script.

For the six completed rounds Honeyghan battered Curry from pillar to post. He ripped all the straps from the previously undefeated Texan who was never the same again. The winner would go on to have a number of championship fights and enter British boxing’s hall of fame.

In the early hours of Sunday morning (UK time) British super-middleweight Billy Joe Saunders will enter a Texas ring to take on a similar challenge. He will face Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, a Mexican fighting phenomenon who has won world titles from 11st (154lbs) up to 12st,7lbs (175lbs). Canelo is ranked by The Ring and most in boxing as the pound-for-pound supremo. The numero uno in the sport regardless of weight class.

Alvarez, at 30, will be defending his WBA and WBC world titles, but also seek to capture the WBO title held by Saunders. On the face of it this is a monumental challenge for the Englishman on the scale of Curry-Honeyghan, however, the similarity ends there.

The 31 year old Saunders, billed from Hatfield, Hertfordshire but part of a travelling community is a former Olympian (representing Team GB in 2008 as the youngest on the team), has won the WBO world middleweight title, and subsequently gained a second divisional title at 168lbs. He brings into the ring a high boxing IQ, awkward southpaw style and undefeated record (30-0, 14 KO’s). This is supplemented with a supreme confidence bordering on disinterest, ably backed up by close friend Tyson ‘Gypsy King’ Fury. Many experts rightly give Saunders an excellent chance to cause Canelo massive problems, but, few pick the Englishman to win.

The fight in the AT&T Stadium, Arlington, the indoor home of the Dallas Cowboys and before an expected record breaking 70,000 crowd has been on and off over recent months. Much of the pre-fight build up this week has been dominated by the actual ring size on fight night. Canelo wanting it as small as possible to maximise his ‘seek and destroy’ style and Saunders the converse to suit his technical boxing ability – to dominate on the back foot with movement. They have finally agreed on 22 foot square and the fight is on.

Saunders is known for his unpredictability both inside and outside the ring. Like Fury he trades in the currency of mind games. One of the big questions is – Has he got into Canelo’s head in a negative way, or, just made him madder ?

Alvarez will enter the contest a big favourite. His record of 54-1-2 (36 KO’s) deserves and commands the utmost respect. Beaten only by Floyd Mayweather Jr in 2013 and with an early career draw and more recent hotly disputed one against Gennadiy ‘GGG’ Golovkin he is undoubtedly an elite fighter and a lock for the Hall of Fame.

Can Billy Joe win ? Most definitely “Yes”.

To be successful though he will have to box his way to victory and use every inch of that 22ft ring for the whole 36 minutes. He will need box, box, box – try and force the Mexican into relentlessly pursuing him around the ring and, working off his excellent southpaw jab, show the Mexican angles he’s never seen before.

Saunders doesn’t have the power to take Canelo out, so this is his only route to victory. Many have tried but if GGG couldn’t do it then it’s very hard to see Billy Joe succeeding on that score. Saunders is one of the purest practitioners of the noble art in the sport today and to implement and execute a game plan around this skill set is his only route to victory.

The Mexican will take his usual first two to three rounds to size up his opposition but from round four will turn up the heat on Saunders. He has been outboxed before by a supreme Floyd Mayweather but it is hard to see Billy Joe repeating the act tomorrow against a now seasoned champion.

Lloyd Honeyghan reputedly used the radioactive fall out of the Chernobyl disaster to fuel his training and create an atomic blast in the sport in the 80’s. If the Hatfield man can prevail in Texas on Sunday it will be as big as anything witnessed in the last 40 years.

He will be ‘the man’ at 168 and immediately enter the annals of British boxing. History beckons.

The fight will be available in the UK on streaming platform DAZN with ring entrances expected around 04:00 BST.

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