Billy Joe Saunders
Record: 24-0 (12 KO) ... Streak: W24 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Southpaw ... Height/Reach: 5'11" / 71" ... Age: 28
Thoughts: Billy Joe Saunders, when he’s on his game, is a good fighter. He beat Chris Eubank Jr back in 2014, surviving a late charge by Eubank (or a late fade by Saunders), and he did the same in December 2015 against Andy Lee, again overcoming a late charge/late fade to win a decision and the WBO middleweight title.
But Saunders is one of the weaker titleholders in boxing, too. It’s not that he’s untalented — even in a diluted era, it’s hard to win a world title if you’re not a good fighter — it’s that his reign has been a mess. He’s defended exactly once, scraping past unheralded Artur Akavov last December after a year out of the ring. Even Saunders himself admitted it was a poor performance.
Various dates have been scrapped or delayed this year and last, including what was supposed to be a mandatory defense against offensive whirlwind Avtandil Khurtsidze this summer. That was no fault of Billy Joe’s, as Khurtsidze got himself into legal trouble, and now he’s instead facing Willie Monroe Jr, a fighter totally unlike Khurtsidze.
If Saunders is on his game, he should win. If he’s not — as he wasn’t against Akavov — maybe it turns into a real challenge. Either way, this fight taking place on September 16 means it’s totally overshadowed by the real middleweight championship fight taking place later in Las Vegas.
Willie Monroe Jr
Record: 21-2 (6 KO) ... Streak: W2 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Southpaw ... Height/Reach: 5'10" / 74" ... Age: 30
Thoughts: Monroe is best-known for his 2015 loss to Gennady Golovkin, a brave but fruitless challenge at the Forum in Inglewood, California, resulting in a sixth round stoppage win for GGG.
Since then, he’s won a couple of fights, beating former 154-pound title challenger John Thompson and Gabriel Rosado, and now finds himself with another title opportunity against Saunders.
Beyond his last three fights, Monroe really came onto the scene in 2014, when he won the middleweight Boxcino tournament on ESPN2, beating Donatas Bondorovas, Vitalii Kopylenko, and Brandon Adams, following that with a January 2015 win over veteran tough guy Bryan Vera.
It’s not the most to go on, but then neither is Saunders’ record. At his best, and against opponents who can’t stop it with pressure and power, Monroe can be a slick, effective boxer, peppering his way to decision wins with clever tactics. But if that doesn’t work, it’s tough to see him winning fights at the upper echelon.
Matchup Grade: C. There’s really nothing wrong with the fight other than it’s uninspiring as a world championship matchup, with a mediocre titleholder against a middling challenger. But it’s not poorly matched, and given Saunders’ inactivity and struggles the last time out, it’s not unthinkable that this could get interesting if Monroe is able to set the tempo early.