“The only step there is left is Canelo or to unify with anybody with a title,” says Billy Joe Saunders who must first retain his WBO super-middleweight championship against Martin Murray on Friday night, live on Sky Sports
Friday 4 December 2020 18:30, UK
The pressure on Billy Joe Saunders is not merely to stay unbeaten by defending his world title, but to produce the fireworks that Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez will demand of him.
Saunders' WBO super-middleweight championship is at stake against Martin Murray on Friday night, live on Sky Sports.
The real prize for Saunders would be to tempt Canelo, the Mexican superstar, into the ring but that will only happen if he dispatches Murray with aplomb tonight.
The fight that has eluded two-weight world champion Saunders for so long is Canelo but they have never been closer to meeting inside the ring than they were this year.
In May, Saunders waited in Los Angeles and was 24 hours from announcing a deal to fight Canelo when the pandemic forced postponements.
He opted not to take the opportunity when it was offered again in September citing a lack of preparation time - "I'm a winner," Saunders vowed this week. "I want to win. The day I lose my will to win is the day I'll never put gloves on again."
Canelo will now fight WBA champion Callum Smith on December 19 but, should the Mexican prevail, he will want more gold in the super-middleweight division and Saunders owns some.
"I'm in this to unify the divisions and pick out the best at the weight but I haven't had the chance to do that," he said.
"I feel like I am avoided.
"I have to deal with Murray accordingly and professionally.
"The only step there is left is Canelo or to unify with anybody with a title."
Promoter Eddie Hearn said: "The pressure on Billy Joe Saunders is that he has to put in a really dominant performance. That's what people are wanting.
"The pressure on Billy Joe is not just to win, but put in a statement."
There was once talk that the southpaw from Hatfield and the man who played a pivotal role in his friend Tyson Fury's return to the ring could fight Gennadiy Golovkin, the current IBF middleweight champion.
"I think Golovkin is now at the age - he's 38 - you've got to look at his age creeping in and how he fights with his face," Saunders said.
"I've had 29 fights, but out of them 29 fights, I have I been hit by 10 clean punches. Does he want somebody with not many miles on the clock, good with his feet, southpaw, slick, around him at that age?"
Saunders has a perfect record after 29 fights but it is three years since his last truly great performance when he danced around David Lemieux in Canada, becoming an internet meme with a moment of showmanship when he forced his desperate opponent to miss a wild punch.
It is six years since he won a grudge match between unbeaten prospects against Chris Eubank Jr.
More recently he won his US debut but there have been out-of-the-ring controversies and, aged 31, it is now or never for Saunders to reach his potential.
In the opposite corner on Friday night will be a domestic rival who has twice before seen chances to challenge Saunders fall through.
Murray probably never expected this fight to come again. The St. Helens veteran has unsuccessfully challenged for a world title on four occasions but two of those were dubious, particularly the decision loss in Sergio Martinez's home country of Argentina.
"He should have been a two-time world champion," Saunders concedes.
But he warned Murray: "I haven't been beaten on the UK soil since I've been 12-years-old. I've got a good track record, and I'm going to keep it that way.
"He's going to bring a good game, but afterwards he can go back to St Helens, take his cash back and have a good Christmas and retire with the family, because that's what I'm planning on doing, retiring him."
The goal tonight must be to catch the eye of Canelo while their paths might still cross.
"To leave as one of the greats, I have to beat one of the greats. And that is Canelo."