Billy Joe Saunders Returns: The Risks And The Rewards Of His Comeback Assessed

The two-weight world champion hasn't fought for two years, since his loss to 'Canelo'
15:00, 09 May 2023

Two-weight world champion Billy Joe Saunders has announced his return to the ring. A post on his Instagram story on Monday highlighted the fact it was two years to the day since his last fight. Saunders suffered multi eye socket fractures against Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in a 2021 defence of his WBO super middleweight title. After being forced to withdraw from that fight in the eighth round, Saunders has not fought since. 

Saunders’ social media statement read “I will be back this year watch this space… god bless all”. Having previously only hinted at a comeback, this is the first definitive statement from the Welwyn Garden City boxer that he intends to return. But at the age of 33 and with two world titles on his mantle already, is it worth risking his health to do so?


The injuries Saunders suffered against ‘Canelo’ were no joke. The gruesome bruising and swelling seen on Billy Joe’s face as the fight approached its conclusion told its own story. The proud Traveller had fought well up until that point, taking some rounds with his southpaw stylings. But once Alvarez connected with regularity, Saunders’ face could not stand up to the rigours. The 33-year-old had to undergo surgery and there were initial concerns about the long-term state of his eyesight.

Thankfully there appears to have been no irreversible effects. But is any fighter truly the same after undergoing such punishment? Saunders must have his reasons for coming back and has quite possibly been working to that end. But until he eats a full-blooded punch to the face, sans headguard, he won’t know how the eye will hold up. 

Two years of inactivity need not be fatal to a fighter’s hopes of course. The age of 33 is far from a death sentence these days, with Saunders being younger than Oleksandr Usyk, Terence Crawford and Artur Beterbiev to name just three pound-for-pounders. But what is the risk-reward for Saunders should he choose to come back?


In terms of reward, the broad aim would likely be a third world title. Having only lost to ‘Canelo’, and having never been short of confidence, you just know Saunders backs himself to lift another belt or two before he’s done. But with ‘Canelo having the super middleweight titles on lockdown currently, one wonders where that belt will come.

Middleweight feels out of the question, considering Saunders has not scaled that low since 2018. He has fought as high as 178lbs in the past, three pounds above the light heavyweight limit. But that division is also an abrasive place for those with world title ambitions. The aforementioned Beterbiev is in possession of the WBC, WBO and IBF straps at the weight. The WBA title is held by the only man to defeat Alvarez in a decade, Dmitry Bivol.

There are less belt-focused routes for Saunders to travel down. Given the fact that the fighters have always made the belts rather than the belts making the fighters, these options are probably more lucrative from a financial standpoint.

Saunders has long talked about a fight with Gennady Golovkin. With the great middleweight now 41 and coming off his own defeat to Alvarez, the Brit might fancy his chances of claiming a famous scalp. ‘GGG’ is arguably on the wane, having been tagged way more often than we’re accustomed to seeing in his recent fights. Saunders’ bank balance and reputation would both increase exponentially with a win over Kazakhstan’s national hero.

There is some enticing unfinished business for Saunders to engage with domestically. Old rival Chris Eubank Jr is currently preparing for a rescheduled rematch with Liam Smith. Should he avenge his defeat to the Liverpudlian, a rematch with Saunders would make sense. Billy Joe beat ‘Next Gen’ by split decision back in 2014 and a rematch has been rumoured almost ever since. With both men at something of a career crossroads, this year is probably the time it has made the most sense since their first fight.

Whatever route Saunders’ comeback takes, one simply hopes he is careful. The sort of damage ‘Canelo’ inflicted can be recurring. Should he be sidelined by a similar injury again, it is time to call it a day. But until then there is something to be gained for Saunders in coming back. Whether it is another title, a big name scalp, a domestic dust-up or simply to swell his bank balance for what will be a long retirement. Welcome back, Billy Joe. Just be careful.

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