Billy Joe Saunders is craving the elite fights and the big names, but first he must defend his WBO Super Middleweight against perennial bridesmaid, Martin Murray, who rolls the dice one last time in what will be his fifth attempt to become world champion on Friday live on Sky Sports televise and DAZN.
Saunders (29-0, 14 KOs) is desperately searching for the launch pad to his career after a series of setbacks and false starts.
The 31 year old captured the WBO Middleweight world title at the end of 2015, flooring Andy Lee twice on the way to a majority decision victory, but defences were few and far between. Lift off looked like it finally happened for Saunders in a December 2017 rout of David Lemieux in Canada, where Billy Joe dazzled in a wide win.
Saunders was slated to fight Murray (39-5-1, 17 KOs) in April 2018, but withdrew due to a hand injury.
An October meeting with Demetrius Andrade also bit the dust at late notice, as Saunders tested positive for a banned substance, believed to be in a nasal spray, and he was again forced to sit on the sidelines, and watch Andrade claim his vacant belt.
Saunders then routinely outscored Shefat Isufi for the vacant WBO Super Middleweight title in Stevenage to become a two-weight world champion.
His last appearance came in Los Angeles in November of the same year, and he again flattered to deceive in a tough defence against Marcelo Esteban Coceres. All three cards were close until Saunders outlasted the Argentine, dropping him three times in the penultimate round to force an early finish.
Saunders was on the brink of agreeing a showdown with four-weight world champion, Canelo Alvarez in May prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and he subsequently withdrew, enabling Callum Smith to tackle the Mexican star on December 19.
Saunders will hope to look good against Murray, but the St Helens native has lasted the distance with some quality operators in a 45 fight career.
Murray with Felix Sturm in a WBA (Super) title challenge, and was narrowly beaten by Sergio Martinez for the WBC belt in Argentina.
The 38-year-old was then bravely stopped by Gennady Golovkin in a WBA and IBO belt tilt.
He travelled to Germany for a second time to take on WBO Super Middleweight boss, Arthur Abraham, but fell short via split decision at the back end of 2015.
It’s been patchy form since for Murray since that November 2015 loss, with George Groves taking a comfortable decision win seven months later, but then another five wins on the bounce.
December 2018 saw Murray’s most recent reverse, as he was upset on the cards against former Callum Smith foe, Hasan N’Dam N’Jikam at the Manchester Arena.
He contemplated retirement, but instead signed with MTK Global and 2019 saw two confidence boosting wins, both on the cards, against Rui Pavanito and Sladan Janjanin. He now is surely on a final chance against Saunders in another big ask.
Prediction: Saunders will want to impress as he hunts down the likes of Saul Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, but Murray is durable, and has only previously been stopped by ‘GGG’. I think this could be a very stop-start contest, and Saunders will have to be patient, and likely box his way to a clear points win to retain his belt.
Tennyson hunting down WBA shot
Undefeated Super Middleweight Zach Parker was set to put his number one position with the WBO at stake against Cesar Nunez in the chief support, however a member of Nunez’s team tested positive for COVID-19, meaning the bout was cancelled on Friday.
James Tennyson takes on Canada’s Josh O’Reilly in a WBA Lightweight eliminator for the right to potentially face Teofimo Lopez down the line, replacing Parker and Nunez as chief support.
Since an unsuccessful 2018 bid for the IBF Super Featherweight crown, where he was stopped in five by Tevin Farmer, Tennyson (27-3, 23 KOs) has been destructive at his new weight, notching five straight early wins.
‘The Assassin’ has won the WBA International belt, and in his last outing, he became British champion with a sixth round stoppage of Gavin Gwynne, before relinquishing the strap.
Not a lot is known about his opponent, with O’Reilly (16-0, 6 KOs) never venturing outside his native Canada thus far. The Ontarian is the current NABA champion, having defeated Cam O’Connell for the vacant belt via majority verdict in January 2019, and defending on the cards against Oscar Mejia four months later.
Prediction: Tennyson has grown into his new weight spectacularly, and will have his eyes firmly on the prize in this one. The Northern Irishman is a massive puncher, and his blows carry spite, and I can’t see O’Reilly being able to withstand them. It’ll be competitive early on, but Tennyson can ground down his man for a stoppage win around halfway.
Richards makes Matchroom debut
Lerrone Richards has given up his British and Commonwealth Super Middleweight titles and moved to Matchroom, and makes his bow under Eddie Hearn’s guidance with an assignment against the durable Finn, Timo Laine.
Richards’ (13-0, 3 KOs) last couple of wins have been in good company, defeating Tommy Langford to win the Commonwealth crown in April 2019 on the cards, and in November of the same year, he took a split decision against Lennox Clarke to add the Lonsdale Belt.
Laine (28-14, 12 KOs) has only been stopped four times in 14 defeats, but at 36-years-old, he may find the heat too much here.
Prediction: Richards is not a noted puncher, but can stop Laine in around four here.
Courtenay returns from Ball defeat
Shannon Courtenay returns from her first pro defeat, as she takes on Dorota Norek (6-1, 1 KO) at Super Bantamweight.
Courtenay (5-1, 2 KOs) was last seen in August, dropped by Rachel Ball in the opening round on the way to a tight points defeat.
Prediction: Shannon will want to get back on track here, and can do with a routine points win.
A Featherweight six rounder sees Saunders’ charge Donte Dixon (4-0, 3 KOs) and Angelo Dragone (5-1, KO0).
Dixon hasn’t been past four, and Dragone went ten in his last appearance in an unsuccessful Welsh title challenge.
Prediction: Sheffield’s Dixon should take a win on the scorecard in this one.
At Light Heavyweight, Southampton’s Lewis Edmondson (3-0) meets the experienced John Telford (11-2-1, 2 KOs) over six.
Edmondson, who is also managed by Saunders has recently been seen on MTK bills, while Telford has been ten rounds before, and is used to a six round distance.
Prediction: Edmondson should take a points victory.