In boxing, there are highly anticipated fights, and there are super fights. This weekend’s Texas bout between Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez (above left) and Billy Joe Saunders falls firmly into the latter category, with the sport pausing with rapt attention to see if the outspoken Brit can become the first man since Floyd Mayweather to solve the Canelo conundrum.
Canelo – 2/11
Draw – 20/1
Saunders – 9/2
Canelo points – 6/4
Canelo KO – 21/20
— BETFRED (@Betfred) May 6, 2021
In 58 bouts, that 2013 defeat to Mayweather remains the only ‘L’ on Canelo’s record, and the 23-year-old that eagerly chased ‘Money’ around the ring for 12 rounds is a distant memory compared to the powerhouse that he has since become. How would this version of Alvarez fare against a prime Mayweather? We’ll never know, but it’s a safe bet to suggest that the fight would be much more competitive.
Fast forward to 2021, and the Mexican is on a 14-fight unbeaten streak that has seen him defeat elite names such as Gennadiy Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev, Daniel Jacobs, and Miguel Cotto.
Worryingly for Saunders, that run has seen four Brits fall by the wayside, with Amir Khan, Liam Smith, and Rocky Fielding failing to hear the final bell. Callum Smith, younger brother of Liam, did enough to make it to the judges’ scorecards less than six months ago, but even the most generous of scorers would have struggled to give the Liverpudlian more than a couple of rounds.
Since that Mayweather defeat, Canelo has answered every question that has been asked of him.
Alvarez proving his mettle
Miguel Cotto asked if the Mexican could handle constant come-forward pressure when they fought at middleweight back in 2015. The answer? A resounding yes, by way of unanimous decision.
Six months later, Amir Khan wanted to know if Canelo could cope with his unquestionable speed. The champ answered with a crushing right hand that would keep the Brit out of the ring for almost two years.
What about strength? They don’t come any stronger than Golovkin, and although it took two attempts, Canelo proved that he could mix it with the most powerful men out there over 24 brutal rounds.
The first bout ended in a draw, but few argued with the majority decision that was awarded to Alvarez some 12 months later. Three bouts on and Sergey ‘Krusher’ Kovalev would ask the same question inside the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, only to be stopped with a left hook that left him leaning through the ropes, defenceless.
Could size be the factor that sees Canelo come unstuck? Rocky Fielding thought so when he travelled to New York’s Madison Square Garden in 2018, only to be sent to the canvas four times before referee Ricky Gonzalez waved the fight off in the third session.
Then, just six months ago, Callum Smith faced Canelo in Texas hoping to take advantage of his significant height and reach advantage. In reality, he had no answer to the ring craft of Canelo over a 12-round schooling.
All of the above makes for pretty grim reading for fans of Billy Joe Saunders, right? Not necessarily. ‘BJS’ isn’t a pressure fighter, nor does he rely on razor-sharp speed in the way that Khan does. He certainly isn’t stronger than Canelo, and doesn’t enter the ring with much of a reach advantage.
Hope for Billy Joe
So where are the positives for Billy Joe? Rewind seven years to just ten months after Canelo’s singular defeat to Mayweather, as he faced Erislandy Lara in a bid to work his way back up the summit of the sport.
The Mexican clearly struggled with Lara’s slick southpaw style, and many thought he was extremely fortunate to be on the favourable side of a split decision win.
Had that decision gone against Alvarez, as many respected pundits within boxing thought it should have, it would have been two defeats from three, and the juggernaut that has shown no signs of slowing down since may have been stopped in its tracks right there.
The bout before that Mayweather super-fight saw Canelo take on another southpaw in the shape of Austin Trout. Once again, he struggled with the slick style, and laboured to a points victory.
What does Billy Joe have in common with both Lara and Trout? He’s a southpaw who bases his entire style around making life difficult for his opponent.
You only have to look back to December 2017 when Saunders travelled to Canada to take on the much-feared David Lemieux in his own back yard, and taunted his opponent throughout 12 masterful rounds.
Keep in mind that Lemieux, who won his first 20 professional bouts by way of knockout, was the heavy favourite with the bookies, and you quickly understand why people suggest that Saunders raises his game when faced with more testing opponents.
In Canelo he faces the biggest test of his career, and will have to put on the most complete display of his life to have his arm raised at the end of the night.
Billy Joe is only too aware of the task he faces, both inside the ring and outside. He himself has already stated that he will “have to knock Canelo out to get a draw”, a tongue in cheek way of suggesting that the Mexican star has been on the receiving end of more than one favourable decision.
For the good of boxing, you’d hope that isn’t the case this weekend. However, there is a feeling that to beat Canelo on points, you have to do so without any shadow of a doubt – a very difficult task against the pound-for-pound king.
Canelo on points cannot be ignored
Saunders, with a knockout ratio of less than 50%, simply doesn’t possess the power to stop Canelo, so we will stay well clear of the 16/1 on that outcome.
If the Hertfordshire man is to pull off one of the greatest-ever wins by a Brit in front of a 70,000 crowd – a record for an indoor event in US boxing history – he is going to have to do it the hard away across 36 minutes.
It will be thrilling, and Billy Joe is sure to have his moments along the way. However, there is a real value play in the ‘Method of Victory’ market that simply cannot be ignored.
Five of Canelo’s last eight bouts have gone the distance, including fights against Callum Smith, Daniel Jacobs and Julio Cesar Chavez.
Billy Joe has to be considered a slicker operator than the three above and should have confidence in hearing the final bell if he can stay out of unnecessary trouble. The 11/2 about backing the Brit is the romantic pick, but the 6/4 about Canelo getting the decision after the full 12 screams value.
Don’t be put off a safer play in backing the fight to go the distance at 10/11, but the staggering task in getting a points decision against the biggest name in the sport makes the 6/4 about a Canelo win on the cards difficult to ignore.
So – can Billy Joe solve the Canelo conundrum? While we would love to say yes and back our Brit abroad, we’ll settle for him giving the Mexican his toughest night since that Mayweather defeat, but falling just short of bringing home the belts in the process.
Enjoy the Texas showdown, and remember…
🗣️ "I think it's a real live fight, I think it's the toughest fight out there for Alverez."
— BETFRED (@Betfred) May 5, 2021