Can Saunders Pull it Off? Maybe, But Don’t Hold Your Breath

Oh sure, it’s been done.

There have been fights – two, in fact – where mega-talented stylists have bamboozled Canelo Alvarez with movement, speed and guile.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. did it in 2013 in the first megaevent of a then-inexperienced Mexican’s career.

Then Erislandy Lara did it again 10 months later, earning a 7-5 nod on one scorecard but falling short on the other two in a fight that was compelling for the names involved, but did little else to thrill anyone.

This time around, it’s Billy Joe Saunders’ turn.

The 31-year-old Brit is unbeaten in 30 fights, has championship street cred in two weight classes and will arrive to AT&T Stadium this weekend with at least some semblance of the blueprint that’s given his imminent foe the aforementioned challenging moments.

Saunders has the requisite statistical edges in height (5-foot-11 to 5-foot-8) and reach (71 inches to 70 1/2), and he’s also a slick southpaw who can move well and counterpunch.

Of course, Alvarez has evolved greatly since that fight, which occurred when he was just 22.

These days, he’s a clever and patient counterpuncher who throws effective punches to both the head and body, but his most predictable path to victory will be walking Saunders down, controlling space in the ring and forcing his opponent into prolonged exchanges.

Exactly what Jim Lampley expects to see in the Dallas Cowboys’ home venue.

“Stink the joint out, succeed in making it a non-contact fight,” the ex-HBO blow-by-blow man said. 

“Canelo must be the new attacking Canelo, relentlessly walking him down and trapping him in corners, beat the body to death. If anyone in that weight neighborhood can beat Canelo Alvarez it is Billy Joe Saunders. Would be awful for the sport if it happened and Canelo Alvarez knows that. 

“Eddy Reynoso will stimulate the adjustments that prevail.”

Not many adjustments trump one-shot KO power.

Remember the highlights?

The sweeping right hand that dumped James Kirkland. The majestic overhand right that flattened Amir Khan. The wicked liver shots that folded Liam Smith and Rocky Fielding like origami.

It’s not the only facet of his well-rounded game, but that doesn’t change the fact that Alvarez is a world-class power-hitter both upstairs and downstairs.

He’s scored 37 KOs across 55 wins, including 11 in his last 20 victories since he captured his first world championship at 154 pounds back in 2011 and against reigning or past champions like Kermit Cintron, Khan, Liam Smith, Fielding and Sergey Kovalev.

As for Saunders, not so much.

His career KO clip of 46.67 percent isn’t exactly “Hands of Stone” material, and just one of his 14 stoppages has come in a world title fight, against the dubious Marcelo Coceres – who’d arrived at their 2019 bout in Los Angeles having won exactly one fight outside of Argentina.

Wins over the more familiar likes of Martin Murray, David Lemieux, Willie Monroe Jr., Andy Lee and Chris Eubank Jr. all went the 12-round route and were as much a product of evasion as concussion.

Bottom line, if this fight is won based on the landing of heavy punches, it won’t be Saunders winning it.

“He’ll walk through Saunders,” former lightweight champ Ray Mancini said. 

“He’s got nothing to keep Canelo off of him.”

Still, if you’re bound and determined to find a way he loses, maybe it’s here.

Alvarez was in the ring just 10 weeks ago for a three-round wipeout of no-hope challenger Avni Yildirim, and the four-weight champ’s preparation for that fight was stunted by a brief bout with COVID-19. Coming back that quickly against an opponent as capable as Saunders, after having had even a brief dalliance with the virus, could conceivably be a problem if the fight gets more rugged than anticipated.

An unlikely scenario? Certainly. But if you’re looking for ways Alvarez can lose, it’s within reason.

Ish.

But don’t expect Randy Gordon to sign off on it, even if the underdog gives the effort of his life.

“Most of his 14 KOs have been against much weaker opposition,” the SiriusXM host and former Ring Magazine boss said. “He didn’t stop Martin Murray, David Lemieux or Willie Monroe. He won’t stop Canelo. A 100-percent Saunders loses a one-sided decision to Canelo.”

* * * * * * * * * * 

This week’s title-fight schedule:

WBA/WBC/WBO super middleweight titles – Arlington, Texas 

Canelo Alvarez (WBA/WBC/No. 1 Ring) vs. Billy Joe Saunders (WBO/No. 5 Ring) 

Alvarez (55-1-2, 37 KO): Third WBA defense; Nine KOs in 18 career title fights (16-1-1, 9 KO)

Saunders (30-0, 14 KO): Third WBO defense; Third fight outside the United Kingdom (2-0, 1 KO)

Fitzbitz says: As exciting and compelling as it’d be to see Saunders employ his ideal strategy and put Canelo in peril, he doesn’t have the skill to do it against a prime, motivated foe. Alvarez in 9 (98/2)

WBO junior flyweight title – Arlington, Texas

Elwin Soto (WBO/No. 5 Ring) vs. Katsunari Takayama (No. 11 WBO/Unranked Ring) 

Soto (18-1, 12 KO): Third title defense; Zero losses since his third career fight (16-0, 11 KO) 

Takayama (32-8, 12 KO): Fifteenth title fight (8-6); Held IBF, WBC and WBO titles at 105 pounds

Fitzbitz says: Takayama has a resume that takes a back seat to very few contemporaries in or near his weight class. But at age 37 against a good young champion on a win streak, no deal. Soto in 7 (98/2)

Last week’s picks: 1-2 (WIN: Bivol; LOSS: Mthalane, Tennyson) 

2021 picks record: 18-4 (81.8 percent) 

Overall picks record: 1,174-379 (75.5 percent) 

NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body’s full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class. 

Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.