Billy Joe Saunders admits he needs a gruelling test before a blockbuster fight early next year and is confident Martin Murray fits the bill ahead of their all-British world title showdown on Friday.
The unbeaten Saunders is set to step into the ring for the first time in 13 months when he defends his WBO super-middleweight crown at Wembley Arena against Murray, who is preparing to fight for a world title for the fifth time.
Murray (39-5-1, 17KOs) may have come up short in his previous outings, with one draw and three defeats, but each of his chances were overseas and the consensus is he was hard done to by the judges in at least two of those fights.
While many feel the 38-year-old Murray is an underwhelming opponent, Saunders, 31, who was close to agreeing a fight with Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez earlier this year, insists the St Helens veteran should not be overlooked.
Saunders said: “I would be very disappointed if I went in there and blew Martin Murray away in one round. I really need rounds. I’ve been out one year, I need rounds to go into big fights for next year, to brush ring rust off.
“You can do all the sparring in the world, but getting under those lights, that’s what I need to go into those big fights next year. To step across that bridge I need to beat Martin Murray and I know that.
“The fight hasn’t happened, we’ve seen a lot of upsets this year and Martin Murray is not one those fighters you can completely ever write off. I know I’ve got a bit of youth on him, but boxing’s a funny, funny game.
“A fight is never won until your hand gets raised in the air.”
Saunders’ hopes of a mega fight against Alvarez on May 2 were scuppered by the coronavirus pandemic and the Mexican superstar will instead take on WBA champion Callum Smith on December 19.
The fight was only officially announced on November 18 and, while speaking about how he would relish a contest with the winner, Saunders said compatriot Smith was at a disadvantage due to the bout’s short notice.
Saunders (29-0, 14KOs) said: “I would love the winner of that fight. If Smith wins I’m sure there is a rematch clause in there.
“But to win that fight you’ve got to be in good shape, good mind, good health. You’ve got to have a proper camp, I just don’t think four or five weeks is enough for that sort of fight.
“Callum’s got the tools in his box to win, but you have to have the right preparation, put the man hours in and go over it, and repeat it for maybe two or three months and know what strategy you’re going to go in there with.
“I just think it’s all been crash, bang, wallop – ‘Give me my cash and let’s get it on’. I hope I’m wrong and I hope he gets the job done as a fellow Briton.”
Saunders insists there was no communication between his team and that of Alvarez, leading the Hertfordshire southpaw to conclude his rival was never serious about a meeting this year.
If a fight against Alvarez cannot be arranged then Saunders is adamant he will be chasing an encounter against any of the other world champions at 168lbs.
He added: “My fight with Martin Murray only got announced five weeks ago. They had all that time to get in touch and they didn’t try to get in contact so clearly they didn’t want me.
“I will be on it now and, if it’s me in May then it’s me, if not I’ll 100 per cent be pushing my management company for a big, big fight next year. It has to be a unification.”