Billy Joe Saunders to end tough year with WBO super-middleweight title defence

Billy Joe Saunders aims to draw a line under a troublesome year when he defends his WBO super-middleweight crown against Martin Murray in an all-British world title fight on December 4 at Wembley’s SSE Arena.

A showdown against Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez was scuppered by the coronavirus pandemic, while there was a backlash against Saunders in March when a social media video showed him advising men how to hit their female partners.

While Saunders apologised, the British Boxing Board of Control withdrew his licence until a hearing in July, when the Hertfordshire southpaw was hit with a £15,000 fine to be donated to charity.

The 31-year-old is now relishing the opportunity to use the second defence of his 168lb title and his first fight since a lacklustre win over Marcelo Esteban Coceres in November last year as a springboard towards a bumper 2021.

“I am very happy to be defending my WBO world title again,” said Saunders, who has won all 29 fights as a professional, 14 inside the distance.

“I haven’t boxed for a year and I really do miss being in the ring. I can’t wait to have my 30th professional fight and finish the year with a bang before a big 2021.

“The coronavirus pandemic has affected everybody in many ways, and it has had a big impact on the sport of boxing. The Canelo Alvarez fight falling through was very frustrating for me but now the journey continues in December.”

Martin Murray, left, has lost his three previous world title fights (Peter Byrne/PA)
Martin Murray (left) has lost his three previous world title fights (Peter Byrne/PA)

A bout against Saunders is Murray’s fourth tilt at a world title, with the St Helens fighter losing in his previous three attempts to Sergio Martinez and Gennady Golovkin at middleweight and Arthur Abraham at super-middleweight.

Murray was heavily critical of Saunders in 2018 for twice withdrawing from scheduled fights, citing injury.

While Murray insists there is no ill-feeling on his side, he admitted there is “unfinished business” between the pair.

“I’m really looking forward to getting back in there and fighting for another world title,” said Murray (39-5-1, 17KOs). “The big fights definitely bring out the best in me.

Murray was critical of Saunders (pictured) in 2018 for twice withdrawing from scheduled fights
Murray was critical of Saunders (pictured) in 2018 for twice withdrawing from scheduled fights (Yui Mok/PA)

“There was no bad blood really between me and Billy, it was just a lot of frustration after he pulled out twice.

“That got left where it was, but we’ve definitely got some unfinished business. I’m expecting a hard fight and for Billy Joe to be at his best, so I’ll be ready.”

Saunders, who reunited with trainer Mark Tibbs last month, added: “Martin and I were supposed to fight twice before but it didn’t happen either time. He said some stuff and so did I, so let’s see who can back it up.

“I’m enjoying training with Mark Tibbs. He’s incredibly knowledgeable in the sport of boxing and we are working on new stuff that we will show on the night.”

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