Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez is on a mission to conquer the super middleweight division and reign as the first undisputed 168-pound world champion in boxing history.
Already owning the WBA (Super), WBC, and The Ring super middleweight titles, Alvarez continues his quest May 8 of Cinco de Mayo weekend when he faces WBO titleholder Billy Joe Saunders in a fight shown globally by DAZN (except in Mexico). The unification bout will take place at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tex., with the English southpaw Saunders figuring to present a complex style for the boxing superstar to solve.
Canelo has already stated that he wants four fights this year, having already dispatched of Avni Yildirim after three rounds in late February, making this Saunders fight a 70-day turnaround. Naturally, if Alvarez is successful against Saunders, he'll try to book a fight with IBF champion Caleb Plant for a shot to clinch undisputed glory. But that's getting ahead of ourselves, as Saunders — at least on paper — is shaping up to be a staunch test.
That being said, who is Billy Joe Saunders and how did he punch a ticket to face arguably the best boxer on the planet?
Who is Billy Joe Saunders?
Saunders, 31, is an England native, who first splashed onto the boxing scene and made an early name for himself in the amateur ranks. There, the sound-boxing southpaw grabbed a first place gold medal as a then-welterweight in amateur tournaments such as the Commonwealth Championships in Liverpool in 2007 and the EU Championships in Poland in 2008.
Seeing his own potential grow and build up steam, Saunders made his professional boxing debut in February 2009 at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham, England. There, a then-19-year-old Saunders scored a second-round TKO against Attila Molnar to collect his very first pro victory. Saunders subsequently built up his ledger, racking up wins in English venues such as York Hall, Echo Arena, The O2 Arena and Wembley Arena. The latter venue was where Saunders captured the Southern Area middleweight title with a 10-round decision over fellow Englishman Gary Boulden in only his 11th pro fight back in November 2011. The Commonwealth and British middleweight titles would follow, as would laying claim to the WBO International middleweight strap.
After victories over the likes of hard-hitting Irishman Gary O'Sullivan, Englishmen John Ryder and Chris Eubank Jr., Saunders received his first world title shot. The bout was against Irish fighter Andy Lee at the Manchester Arena in Manchester, England in December 2015. Saunders thoroughly outboxed Lee, dropping him twice, en route to a majority decision win (114–112, 115–111, 113–113) to hoist the WBO middleweight title into the air.
He'd defend that title against Artur Akavov, Willie Monroe Jr. and David Lemieux. A still-undefeated Saunders was set to defend the WBO title against Demetrius Andrade in October 2018, before the English fighter tested positive for a banned substance. He was forced to relinquish the title. Andrade would go on to claim that vacant title, which is still in his grasp today.
Meanwhile, Saunders, coming off a six-month suspension, set his sights on another division — super middleweight. In May 2019, Saunders fought Shefat Isufi with the vacant WBO 168-pound world title on the line at Lamex Stadium in Stevenage, England. Saunders completely outclassed Isufi in a lopsided unanimous decision to become a two-division world champion. To date, Saunders has defended the title twice: via an 11th-round KO of Marcelo Esteban Coceres in November 2019 and a unanimous decision over Martin Murray this past December.
And that brings us to the biggest fight of Saunders' life — a shot at the face of boxing, Canelo Alvarez, in a massive title unification bout. The fight has been a long time in the making, as it was first slated for May 2, 2020 in Las Vegas, before the COVID-19 pandemic dashed those hopes and turned the world upside down as we know it. Now, a year later and the undefeated Saunders (30-0, 14 KOs) has a chance to define just how great of a boxer he truly is by going up against Canelo (55-1-2, 37 KOs), who seemingly gets better with each fight.