Billy Joe Saunders (born 30 August 1989) is a British professional boxer. He has held the WBO middleweight title since 2015, having previously held the European, British, and Commonwealth middleweight titles between 2012 and 2015. As an amateur, Saunders represented Great Britain at the 2008 Olympics, reaching the second round of the welterweight bracket.
As of May 2017, Saunders is ranked as the world's fourth best middleweight by The Ring magazine, and BoxRec. and fifth by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board,
Originally from Cheshunt, Saunders grew up in a Romanichal travelling community near Hatfield, Hertfordshire. His great-grandfather, Absolom Beeney, was one of the community's most famous bare-knuckle boxers. Billy Joe fought for Cheshunt Amateur Boxing club, overseen by Charlie Bliss, and also at Hoddesdon Amateur Boxing Club.
Saunders won his first 49 amateur fights at senior level, including the 2007 Commonwealth Championships and the 2008 Strandya Cup, edging out Cuban Carlos Banteux.
In 2008 Saunders qualified for the Beijing Olympics in the welterweight division at the age of 18. At the European area qualifier in Pescara, Italy he beat European champion Andrey Balanov and Kakhaber Zhvania, but lost in the semi-final to Oleksandr Stretskyy before beating Pavol Hlavačka for the all-important third spot. to become the first person from the British Romanichal community to qualify for the games.
In Beijing he beat Adem Kılıççı in the first round but lost to old foe Carlos Banteux in the second. He was subsequently suspended for "lewd behaviour", allegedly pertaining to an incident with a local woman during a pre-season training camp in France. In early December 2008, Saunders turned professional and signed with promoter Frank Warren.
Saunders made his professional debut on 28 February 2009 at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham, against Attila Molnar. Saunders looked confident from the opening bell, landing hard combinations which quickly overwhelmed Molnar. In round two, a series of punches that landed flush on Molnar's chin caused the referee to stop the fight and save a dazed Molnar. Saunders won his second fight by second-round stoppage of Ronny Gabel and his third fight, also by second round stoppage, of Matt Scriven. On 9 October 2009, he went four full rounds to outpoint Alex Spitko. On 21 May 2011, he scored an impressive second-round knockout victory over Kevin Hammond. Saunders went on to score wins against Norbert Szekeres, Gary Boulden and Tony Hill, the last of these giving him his seventh professional knockout victory and his first major regional title, the Commonwealth middleweight championship, on 28 April 2012. For his first defence of the title, on 1 June, Saunders went the full twelve-round distance (also a first) against veteran Bradley Pryce, outpointing him comfortably. A then-undefeated Jarrod Fletcher was quickly dispatched in two rounds on 14 September.
Saunders vs. Blackwell, Hall, O'Sullivan, Ryder
On 15 December, Saunders fought Nick Blackwell for the vacant British middleweight title. This turned out to be one of Saunders' first tough outings, as he was forced to go the full twelve rounds en route to a competitive unanimous decision victory on the judges' scorecards. A pair of trouble-free fights came next, against tough slugger Matthew Hall on 21 March 2013 and Gary O'Sullivan on 20 July, both of which also lasted twelve full rounds. 2013 concluded for Saunders with another tough fight on 21 September, this time against fellow British prospect John Ryder in defence of both the Commonwealth and British middleweight titles. Both fighters came in undefeated and fought for twelve competitive rounds, with very close scorecards all favouring Saunders.
European middleweight champion
Saunders vs. Blandamura, Eubank Jr.
It would be almost another year until Saunders had his next fight. On 26 July 2014 he added to his title collection with an eighth-round knockout of Emanuele Blandamura, earning him the European middleweight title. Immediately after the Blandamura fight, Saunders called out another undefeated British prospect and archrival Chris Eubank Jr. Prolonged negotiations ensued between Frank Warren and Eubank, Jr.'s team (led by his father Chris Eubank Sr.), with the highly anticipated fight eventually signed in October and taking place on 29 November. All three of Saunders' titles were on the line, as well as being an eliminator for the WBO world middleweight title. The rivalry and build-up was likened to the first fight between Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank in 1990. Saunders went on to defeat Eubank, Jr. via split decision; two judges had scores of 115–114 and 115–113 for Saunders, with the third judge scoring 116–113 for Eubank, Jr. Having secured his third defence of the British middleweight title, Saunders earned the Lonsdale Belt outright; he gave this to his father Tommy as a Christmas present.
WBO middleweight champion
Saunders vs. Lee
With the win over Eubank, Jr., Saunders was in line for an opportunity to fight WBO world middleweight champion Andy Lee. In February 2015, Saunders and Warren accepted a 'step-aside' financial offer from promoter Lou DiBella in order for Lee to face Peter Quillin instead. Warren said that he hoped for Lee to win that fight so that Saunders vs. Lee could be staged in the summer. At around the same time, due to his high ranking, Saunders also received an offer from the IBF to fight for their vacant world middleweight title, but he reiterated his intention to follow the WBO route. In June, Saunders vs. Lee was officially announced for the WBO world middleweight title. The fight was initially scheduled to take place in Lee's hometown of Limerick on 19 September, but was postponed and moved to Manchester on 10 October due to Lee suffering from a viral infection. On 1 September, yet another postponement arose due to Saunders receiving a cut in sparring. The fight was subsequently rescheduled for 19 December.
On 24 July, Saunders took a tune-up fight—weighing in at 173 pounds (78 kg), near the light-heavyweight limit—and stopped Yoann Bloyer in four rounds. On 19 December, Saunders defeated WBO middleweight champion Andy Lee via majority decision to capture his first world title, with judges' scores of 115–111, 114–112 and 113–113. In the third round, Saunders scored two knockdowns against Lee to build up an early lead on the scorecards. He then continued to outbox Lee using head movement and an accurate jab until the later rounds. At this point, Lee began to land more frequently with heavy punches of his own, but was too late to overcome the points deficit despite a strong finish in the final round.
Cancelled title defences
Saunders' first defence of the title was scheduled for 30 April 2016, against Max Bursak at the Copper Box in London. However, Saunders was forced to pull out due to a hand injury sustained in training. "I'm bitterly disappointed. This is boxing and these things happen", he said at the time.
On 8 July, Saunders revealed that he would be fighting on 17 September, likely on the undercard of Canelo Álvarez vs. Liam Smith at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, which would have been broadcast on HBO pay-per-view in the US. It was rumoured that this would set up a WBO middleweight title defence against Álvarez in December. However, Golden Boy Promotions vice president Eric Gomez told ESPN on 14 August that Saunders would no longer feature on the undercard due to him rejecting all of the opponents presented to him. Opponents supposedly brought forward by Golden Boy were Gabriel Rosado, Curtis Stevens, and Willie Monroe Jr.
Saunders vs. Akavov
Frank Warren finally confirmed Saunders first title defence would be against WBO European middleweight champion Artur Akavov (16-1 7 KOs), ranked by the WBO at number 10. The fight was due to take place at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff on October 22 live on BoxNation. The fight card was postponed to November 26 after Saunders suffered a muscle injury, along with his stablemate Liam Williams also suffering an injury during a sparring session. The fight was postponed again to December 3 due to transitional issues with Akavov getting into the UK, the fight then took place at Lagoon Leisure Centre in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Glasgow, Scotland.
Saunders started off slow, showing signs of ring rust. Up until round 5, Akavov was the aggressor and doing enough to take the rounds. In rounds 5, 6, 7 and 8, Saunders bounced back and hit combos landing power shots in the process. This seemed to have tired Saunders out for the last two rounds. The fight went the full 12 rounds. Saunders won on all scorecards claiming a unanimous decision to retain his WBO title. The three judges called it 116-113, 116-112 and 115-113 in favor of Saunders. Immediately following the announcement, Saunders took the microphone off the MC and thanked the live crowd for coming and harshly criticized himself on his performance, “There was nothing there. I’ve been out a year, a bit overweight. A few adjustments to camp. Just flat, really, really flat. I’d like to apologise to the fans, especially who paid for it. Terrible performance.”
Change of trainer
On 20 December, it was announced that Saunders had parted with long time trainer Jimmy Tibbs, who he had been mentored by since turning professional in 2008. Rumours had started when Tibbs was not present at Saunders last title defence against Akavov. Instead having Danny Vaughan, Johnney Roye and Ben Davison in his corner. Promoter Frank Warren officially confirmed the news. On 18 January 2017, Saunders announced he would be working with Adam Booth.
Saunders vs. Khurtsidze
In early February 2017, mandatory challenger Avtandil Khurtsidze (32-2-2, 21 KOs) took a 'step-a-side' fee to allow Saunders to pursue a bigger fight. On 28 February, it was announced that Khurtsidze would fight British boxer Tommy Langford for the vacant interim WBO title in April.
After retaining his belts against Jacobs, Gennady Golovkin stated that he wanted to unify the middleweight division and hold all the belts available. Golovkin said, "My goal is all the belts in the middleweight division. Of course, Billy Joe is the last one. It is my dream." Rumors of the fight taking place in Golovkin's home country Kazakhstan in June during the EXPO 2017. The last time Golovkin fought in his home country was in 2010. On 20 March, Golovkin said that he would fight Saunders in his native Kazakhstan or the O2 Arena in London.
Saunders tweeted on social media that although he didn't watch Golovkin's fight with Jacobs, he was ready to fight him. Saunders claimed to have signed the contract on his end and gave Golovkin a deadline to sign his. On 29 March, Frank Warren also stated that Golovkin would have ten days to sign for the fight. Saunders later claimed to have moved on from Golovkin, until Warren said the deal was still in place. Over the next week, Saunders continued to insult Golovkin through social media. On 7 April, Warren told iFL TV, that Golovkin had a hand iunjury, which was the reason why the fight hadn't been made. In the interview, he said, "At the moment, they’re saying that Golovkin’s injured. So we’re waiting to see where this is all going. But as far as I’m concerned, we agreed [to] terms." It was also noted that he would wait until 6 May, for any updates. On 11 April, it was reported that the fight would not take place and Golovkin would ultimately focus on a September 2017 fight against Canelo Alvarez.
On 22 April 2017, Khurtsidze knocked Langford out in round 5 with a left hook to secure his next fight against Saunders. A day later the fight between Saunders and Khurtsidze was discussed to take place at the Copper Box in London on 8 July 2017.
Professional boxing record
|Professional record summary|
|24 fights||24 wins||0 losses|
|25||N/A||N/A||Avtandil Khurtsidze||N/A||– (12)||8 Jul 2017||Copper Box Arena, London, England||Defending WBO middleweight title|
|24||Win||24–0||Artur Akavov||UD||12||3 Dec 2016||Lagoon Leisure Centre, Paisley, Scotland||Retained WBO middleweight title|
|23||Win||23–0||Andy Lee||MD||12||19 Dec 2015||Manchester Arena, Manchester, England||Won WBO middleweight title|
|22||Win||22–0||Yoann Bloyer||TKO||4 (12), 0:53||24 Jul 2015||Wembley Arena, London, England|
|21||Win||21–0||Chris Eubank Jr.||SD||12||29 Nov 2014||ExCeL, London, England||Retained European, British, and Commonwealth middleweight titles|
|20||Win||20–0||Emanuele Blandamura||KO||8 (12), 2:58||26 Jul 2014||Manchester Arena, Manchester, England||Won vacant European middleweight title|
|19||Win||19–0||John Ryder||UD||12||21 Sep 2013||Copper Box Arena, London, England||Retained British and Commonwealth middleweight titles|
|18||Win||18–0||Gary O'Sullivan||UD||12||20 Jul 2013||Wembley Arena, London, England||Won WBO International middleweight title|
|17||Win||17–0||Matthew Hall||UD||12||21 Mar 2013||York Hall, London, England||Retained British and Commonwealth middleweight titles|
|16||Win||16–0||Nick Blackwell||UD||12||15 Dec 2012||ExCeL, London, England||Retained Commonwealth middleweight title;
Won vacant British middleweight title
|15||Win||15–0||Jarrod Fletcher||TKO||2 (12), 2:42||14 Sep 2012||York Hall, London, England||Retained Commonwealth middleweight title|
|14||Win||14–0||Bradley Pryce||UD||12||1 Jun 2012||York Hall, London, England||Retained Commonwealth middleweight title|
|13||Win||13–0||Tony Hill||TKO||1 (10), 0:30||28 Apr 2012||Royal Albert Hall, London, England||Won vacant Commonwealth middleweight title|
|12||Win||12–0||Tommy Tolan||TKO||1 (8), 1:07||14 Dec 2011||York Hall, London, England|
|11||Win||11–0||Gary Boulden||PTS||10||5 Nov 2011||Wembley Arena, London, England||Won British Southern Area middleweight title|
|10||Win||10–0||Norbert Szekeres||TKO||1 (8), 2:51||15 Oct 2011||Echo Arena, Liverpool, England|
|9||Win||9–0||Kevin Hammond||TKO||2 (8), 3:00||21 May 2011||The O2 Arena, London, England|
|8||Win||8–0||Turgay Uzun||RTD||2 (8), 3:00||2 Apr 2011||York Hall, London, England|
|7||Win||7–0||Tony Randell||TKO||2 (6), 0:39||11 Dec 2010||Echo Arena, Liverpool, England|
|6||Win||6–0||Andy Butlin||PTS||6||15 May 2010||Boleyn Ground, London, England|
|5||Win||5–0||Lee Noble||PTS||6||5 Dec 2009||Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle, England|
|4||Win||4–0||Alex Spitko||PTS||4||9 Oct 2009||York Hall, London, England|
|3||Win||3–0||Matt Scriven||TKO||2 (4), 1:21||18 Jul 2009||MEN Arena, Manchester, England|
|2||Win||2–0||Ronny Gabel||TKO||2 (4), 1:16||15 May 2009||Odyssey Arena, Belfast, Northern Ireland|
|1||Win||1–0||Attila Molnar||TKO||2 (4), 1:47||28 Feb 2009||National Indoor Arena, Birmingham, England||Professional debut|