Billy Joe Saunders ready for the challenge that is Canelo Alvarez

·Combat columnist
·5 min read

Billy Joe Saunders was never going to skip on fighting Canelo Alvarez. Promoter Eddie Hearn could have installed a phone booth in Alvarez’s backyard, put ropes around it and Saunders would have stepped inside to meet Alvarez in a super middleweight unification bout that will pay him millions of dollars.

Saunders and his father, Tom, threatened on Tuesday to not fight because they wanted the bout in a 22-square-foot ring and not the standard 20-by-20 ring that will be used at AT&T Stadium on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, DAZN) for their title fight in Arlington, Texas.

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Saunders skipped a photo opportunity Tuesday and made laughable threats to pull out of the fight. He was never going to do that, though, and not only because Alvarez represents a career-high payday.

Like him or not, Saunders is a fighter at his core and he loves boxing. He loves the competition. He loves making other skilled, highly trained men look silly when they swing and miss like a .190 hitter trying to catch up to a 102 mph fastball.

He was a 2008 Olympian and is 30-0 with 14 knockouts as a pro. He’s won world titles at middleweight and super middleweight. If there is any 168-pounder in the world with the style, the smarts and the skills to beat Alvarez — and frankly, we doubt there is — it’s Saunders, who is a +400 underdog against Alvarez (-700) at BetMGM.

“It would mean the absolute world to me,” Saunders said when asked by Hearn what a win over Alvarez would mean. “I started [boxing] when I was 5 years old. To get to this stage of my career, this is the pinnacle of the pinnacle of the mountain. It would mean everything.”

Billy Joe Saunders festejando su victoria ante David Lemieux el 16 de diciembre del 2017 en Laval, Quebec. Las autoridades británicas suspendieron su licencia debido a comenarios que hizo en las redes sociales que parecían promover la violencia doméstica. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)
Billy Joe Saunders is a 2008 Olympian with a 30-0 record and 14 knockouts as a pro. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)

It’s a legacy fight for Saunders, he concedes, and he’s not going to blow it over a minor difference in ring size.

It used to be that ring size was something that was negotiable, and most famously, during talks to put together the 1987 middleweight title bout between Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard, Leonard agreed to Hagler making a larger guarantee in exchange for getting a bigger ring and switching the fight from 15 to 12 rounds.

The big ring enabled Leonard to use his legs and his quickness to avoid getting into a slugfest with the powerful Hagler.

But in the 30 years since, most states have gone to using a 20-by-20 ring. In some states, it’s 20-by-20 via regulation. The regulations on ring size for the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation state, “Rings shall be square with sides not less than 16 feet or more than 24 feet inside the ropes, … ”

The week of the fight, though, is not the time to negotiate the size of the ring. Mike Mazzulli, the former head of the Association of Boxing Commissions and now the director of the Mohegan Tribe’s Department of Athletic Regulation, said he believed Saunders was just trying to play mind games with Alvarez.

The Association of Boxing Commissions recommends but does not mandate 20-by-20 rings, he said.

“I always make sure that if there is something that is so concerning to a fighter, they put it in the contract,” Mazzulli told Yahoo Sports. “That should have been negotiated way before this fight was even signed. I’m not sure what’s in their contract because I’m not privy to it, but if it were such an issue, the camps would call me up and say, ‘Hey, 24 square or a 22 square.’ Mine has always been 20, but that should have been done long, long before fight week.”

Saunders posted on Instagram that the ring is no longer an issue. But he has complained about the selection of the judges and referees, and is reportedly upset that there isn’t a British judge or referee on the slate. Americans Tim Cheatham, Max DeLuca and Glenn Feldman will judge and American Mark Calo-oy will be the referee.

But given that Saunders is British and Alvarez is Mexican, an American slate of officials is neutral and there should be no stigma that they’d favor one side over the other. Cheatham, DeLuca and Feldman are widely regarded among the finest judges in the world.

Saunders is a veteran and he knows this. He’s trying to agitate Alvarez and take him out of his plan. It usually doesn’t work, but it famously did when Conor McGregor’s mind games worked on Jose Aldo in their UFC bout.

By the time the bell rang to begin that fight, Aldo was so angry at McGregor he wanted to kill him. He rushed McGregor and got caught with a counter shot and was knocked out in 13 seconds.

Saunders is a counter puncher, and he’d be better if Alvarez opened up on him.

Saunders is a shrewd and cunning pro who isn’t above using mind games if he thinks it would give him an edge.

The one thing we know for certain: He wasn’t walking away from this fight, no matter how small the ring was, who was judging or what gloves would be worn.

He’s a fighter, a real, true, to-the-core fighter, and the one thing fighters do is they fight.

Billy Joe Saunders will fight Canelo Alvarez on Saturday. Everything else is nonsense.

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