Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez has been beating up Brits for more than a decade but Billy Joe Saunders is adamant that he is nothing like the six that came before him.
The Mexican might be only 30 but his reign of terror over men from these shores started 10 years ago when he outpointed Matthew Hatton in March 2011 and then stopped Ryan Rhodes three months later.
Since then he has knocked out both Amir Khan and Rocky Fielding while also seeing off two members of the same family in Liam and then Callum Smith, who operate in weight classes a stone apart.
Canelo is now widely considered the No 1 pound-for-pound fighter on the planet and, as such, is expected to make Hatfield man Saunders number seven on his list of vanquished Englishmen.
But Saunders, the undefeated two-weight world champion, believes he will pose the Mexican some very different questions at the AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas on Saturday.
“I’m not going to sit here and slag people off and big people up,” Saunders says. “Canelo has been doing it for many, many years now, destroying everyone. Six of those were Brits. I don’t really take anything from any of them because I do my own thing.
“That’s what’s going to win this fight, something I bring to the table that none of them had. Hatton did a good job many years ago, Ryan Rhodes also. I still haven’t watched the Callum Smith fight now, I’ve seen highlights.
“But I think tactics may have been a little bit wrong there and a bit rushed because they didn’t have a lot of preparation for it. That’s what I hear anyway.
“But every fight is different and I never watch my opponents, never break them down and think ‘I’m going to hit him with a jab because he’s wide open for the jab’ because fighters like Canelo, you’ve got to beat them in the moment. Your brain has to be constantly thinking. I have to get my brain ticking over.”
Indeed, Saunders’ inability to engage his brain before acting has often landed him in trouble, outside of the ring at least. At the last count he has been fined well over £100,000 by the British Boxing Board of Control for various posts on social media alone in recent years.
But Saunders says he has finally toned down his antics and got serious with the biggest fight of his life now looming so largely.
He adds: “I think that you’ve got to be a bit level-headed now. I’ve put a lot of time into training and camp, a lot of thought has gone into this fight. You can only be serious about a fight like this when everything on the line.
“A lot of people see the interviews and see some of the clamour around them, but my training has always been serious. I think this time I have taken myself away a couple of months earlier, got the extra bit of work in because he’s an extra special fighter.
“It’s got to be done, I can’t expect to turn up with an average performance, so I’ve got to do a little bit more.”
That meant a long, gruelling training camp which was split between Fuerteventura and Las Vegas before he and his team flew down to Texas at the weekend. As a result of the hard yards done in both countries, Saunders is quite clearly in the finest physical shape of his 12-year, 30-fight career.
“I’ve been away training since the end of January,” he explains. “There’s no excuse about time.
“There was a big concern this fight would be sprung on me but I’ve had plenty of notice. We left Fuerteventura after 10 weeks, and went to Vegas to finish the last month.
“It has been a long, good camp. I’m starting to get excited. When you are here in Vegas there is so much exciting you, you just want to get out and go to the mall, keep your mind off the fight and do something to stop going insane but it is nearly over.”
One interesting sidestory during the build-up has been the apparent collapse of the relationship between Saunders and his promoter Eddie Hearn, who also promotes Canelo, the four-weight world champion and biggest star in the sport today.
Saunders has even claimed that he was assured there would be a British judge on the night, only to find out that would not be the case when he puts his WBO super-middleweight title on the line along with Canelo’s WBA and WBC straps.
He said: “I was under the impression there would be a British judge on there but apparently the commission don’t allow it.
“I know this is pure business and Eddie’s business relationship with Canelo is better than the business relationship he’s got with me, because it’s more money.
“But sometimes it works better if the underdog comes through and does a good job as we seen with Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz. As long as I get a fair shake I don’t care what side of the fence anyone is on.
“It is only Canelo I’m really worried about, not Eddie, not the judges, not anyone else. In my agreement there was a British judge when I did the deal, Eddie says the contract says different but I can’t read can I? I can’t read or write.
“I’m happy I’ve got the shot but now I’m just asking for a fair shake. I might go there and get knocked out in one round, we may not need judges. He might spark me in 30 seconds. If we do get to judges, if I win by two or three rounds then it is hard to get that unless they’re fair scorecards.
“But this means everything to me. Absolutely everything. More than money, more than fame, more than everything. I want to win this so badly it’s a joke.
“I do not care about breathing as long as I win.”
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