What next for newly-crowned WBO middleweight champion Saunders?
Lee Gormley | December 21, 2015
What next for world champion Saunders?
The career of Billy Joe Saunders reached new heights in Manchester last weekend, as the silky southpaw dethroned Andy Lee to become the WBO middleweight champion, adding the world title to his Southern Area, British, European and Commonwealth achievements.
The 26-year-old Hertfordshire fighter realised a lifelong dream of becoming a world title holder in emphatic fashion, earning a majority decision over Irishman Lee, with two early knockdowns in round three ultimately swaying the judges over a tense 12 rounds.
Saunders (23-0, 12 KOs) is now a proven winner within a division stacked with quality and high-profile names, with 2016 potentially to offer fans plenty of huge middleweight match-ups, but who’s next on the cards for this newly-crowned world champion?
Lee (34-3-1, 24 KOs) had clinched the WBO title last year with a stunning sixth-round stoppage of Matt Korobov, and has already outlined his desire for a rematch next year after losing his crown to a talented Saunders on Manchester soil.
There is much respect between Lee and Saunders, with both bearing from a Travelling background, meaning a rematch could occur at some point next year, but the new champion is odds-on 5/6 with Coral to still hold a major title at the end of 2016.
“I will say nothing bad about Andy,” stated Saunders. “He’s a true champion but there’s no room for a loser in our community – and I wasn’t being no loser tonight. I’ve had my son here with me since Friday, hadn’t seen him for two months. And I was never going to get beat in front of him tonight. Never in a million years.”
After claiming the title from Lee, Saunders immediately outlined intentions of defending his strap against some of the biggest names in the middleweight division, with none other than legendary Puerto Rican fighter Cotto (40-5, 33 KOs) being named.
The four-division world champion was outpointed by Canelo Alvarez (46-1-1, 32 KOs) earlier this year in the latest instalment of boxing’s intense rivalry between Mexican and Puerto Rican fighters, but may welcome another title shot with Saunders.
“Since I’ve been a young boy, I’ve wanted to fight Cotto,” Saunders declared. “His style suits me. I’d take it next. After two weeks off, I’d get back into camp. I’d love that fight, it would be a dream – and to go to America and do it, would be an even bigger dream.”
Saunders showed he can mix it with the best in the ring with his impressive decision over Lee and a showdown with Cotto would undoubtedly be huge step up for the stylish southpaw.
Chris Eubank Jr
With Eubank Jr (21-1, 16 KOs) having already tasted defeat to the new world champion in his young career and only recently showcasing his best ring credentials, Saunders proved in Manchester that he is actually the true shining middleweight star, despite such hype surrounding his former opponent.
In London, Saunders emerged with a split decision victory over Eubank Jr in an enthralling match-up, and he is 4/5 to earn back-to-back wins in a possible rematch next year, while the latter is evens to gain the upper hand this time around.
Such a meeting may not have much fuel though (6/4 to occur next year), with Saunders stating he would only take up a rematch with a huge pay-day offering, while Eubank Jr recently won the right to face WBA champion Daniel Jacobs anyway, as the WBO title-holder seeks more prestigious names in 2016.
“He’ll never be world champion,” stated Saunders. “He relies on work rate. He’s not good enough. I’m the champion now and I’ve got the say. If the Eubank Jr fight comes, it’s got to be for a lot of money but it’ll be my rules. They just talk about fighting for a world title but they don’t have the balls.”
Reigning WBA champion Jacobs (31-1, 28 KOs) retained is title in devastating fashion recently, incredibly stopping Peter Quillin in the first round of their New York encounter, and he had previously wanted a showdown with former WBO title-holder Lee.
Although, with the Irishman suffering defeat, Saunders may be in line for such a scrap instead, in what would potentially be an engrossing middleweight meeting, after Jacobs watched the recent Manchester fight while working for American broadcaster Showtime.
“I think [Saunders] is an incredible talent, and I think me putting my skills up against him would be a barn-burner,” stated Jacobs.
Gary ‘Spike’ Sullivan
Eubank Jr may have a problem with the man he beat getting a crack at the WBO title before him, with ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan (22-2, 15 KOs) having been retired in the seventh round during their earlier London clash, while promoter Frank Warren is unlikely to warrant such a meeting.
Saunders also outpointed Irishman ‘Spike’ before but claimed he would think about giving him a rematch at some stage, though more high-profile bouts are clearly in the WBO champion’s mindset now.
Unquestionably the most feared middleweight on the planet, with the highest knockout percentage in the division’s history from his 31 career stoppages, Golovkin (34-0, 31 KOs) is a battering ram and would present a serious challenge for Saunders.
Many have called out the Kazakhstan bulldozer earlier this year, including Saunders after he overcame Lee, and the new WBO title-holder is 12/1 to be the first fighter to topple ‘GGG’ next year.
Middleweight monster Golovkin is hoping to secure a showdown with Mexican champion Canelo during the latter part of next year in what would be the division’s biggest match-up, but newly-crowned WBO champion Saunders will aim to have his own say within this star-studded weight class.
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