Controversial but supremely-talented WBO super-middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders fights for the first time in over a year when he takes on St Helens’ Martin Murray at Wembley Arena on Friday night, and while it’s great to see the two-weight world champion back in the ring once again, it’s hard not to feel as if we should have seen so much more from the man they call ‘Superb’ over the last 12 months.
True, it’s not entirely down to the fighter - the coronavirus pandemic has played havoc with the boxing calendar worldwide, and a prospective showdown with Canelo to kick off DAZN’s streaming service in May was cancelled when Saunders pulled out citing a lack of time to prepare. Throughout his career though he has been blighted by controversy outside of the ring, and the man from Hertfordshire, despite clearly being one of the most naturally-gifted fighters at his weight in the world, has struggled to really get going and reach the heights it’s plain to see he’s capable of reaching.
Now 31, and in what should be his prime, Saunders really needs to make sure 2021 is ‘his year’. A landmark year for Saunders is certainly possible should he get past Murray, a certified ring veteran who’ll be fighting for the world title for a fifth time. In two weeks time, Mexican superstar Canelo takes on another Brit in Callum Smith - a case of what could have been for Saunders perhaps, but also a reminder of the quality out there. That’s not forgetting IBF holder Caleb Plant, David Benavidez, Anthony Dirrell, Andre Dirrell...
Thankfully Saunders is chomping at the bit, and while he certainly isn’t looking past Murray, the unbeaten fighter knows that next year could be make or break for his legacy. Speaking to FanSided, he said, "Certainly, I want to be active and that's the reason I'm fighting Friday night because If I was worried about that, I would have went, ‘no, I'll wait til 2021’. I need to get active to be in the running for these fights and get the rounds in and sharpen the tools and grease and chains, and stuff like that."
Saunders added, "I want [it] to be at least three times, and that's at least...minimum three [fights]."
A minimum of three fights is exciting talk but truthfully, after the last 13 months, most fans would be thrilled to see Saunders in at least one big fight next year against a legitimate opponent. There’s no forgiving some of his behaviour out of the ring at times but there’s no denying Saunders is an elite-level fighter - it would be a crying shame if his career never reached its potential.