Billy Joe Saunders makes the first defence of his WBO super-middleweight title in Los Angeles on Saturday night, fighting on the undercard of the divisive portmanteau that is the celebrity/professional boxing co-event headlined by KSI vs Logan Paul.
Saunders, himself no stranger to controversy or the division of opinion, won the title back in May, with a comfortable unanimous decision victory at Stevenage Town’s Lamex Stadium over Serbia’s Shefat Isufi (27-4-2). He was promoted by Frank Warren that night, but on Saturday commences a fresh promotional relationship with Matchroom and Eddie Hearn. His opponent is undefeated Argentinian, Marcelo Esteban Coceres (28-0-1) and the fight will be shown live on Sky Sports (in the UK) and DAZN (in the United States).
On paper, this fight looks credible, marketable and befitting for that of a world championship contest; the collision of two undefeated fighters with 56 wins between them, and who at age 30 (Saunders) and 28 (Coceres) are in the prime of their careers. It is only when delving beyond the superficial that the enervating truth is revealed. Coceres has never before fought outside of Argentina; he has never fought at super middleweight before; he isn’t ranked in the top 15 by any of the major sanctioning bodies; and his 28 wins have come against opponents with a combined record of 336-278-39.
In reality, this is, therefore, another uninspiring mismatch for Saunders, whose indisputable pugilistic talent has rarely been given the platform it merits, or a commensurate opponent on which to compare and to grade it. His has been a stop-start career which has promised much and has thus-far delivered underwhelm, with any gathered momentum squandered by either disheartening doping violations or by puzzling and uninteresting choices of the opponent.
A decent run of victories in 2013-2014 against Gary O’Sullivan (30-3), John Ryder (28-4), Emanuele Blandamura (29-4) and Chris Eubank Jr (28-2), for example, was followed by a fight against Yoann Bloyer (18-39-2). A masterful and propelling victory over David Lemieux (40-4) in December 2017 was then followed by a fight against Charles Adamu (33-14).
Frank Warren promised unification fights and opponents of the rarefied calibre of Canelo Alvarez (53-1-2), Gennady Golovkin (40-1-1) and Callum Smith (26-0), but delivered neither them nor fights and events that could showcase Saunders at the peak of his purist talents. Eddie Hearn is charged with launching another Saunders’ marketing rebuild again on Saturday, a promotional union that has been teased and suggested for some time. By placing Saunders on the undercard of this popular crossover event, both Hearn and Saunders have faced criticism – notably around the salient fact that whilst a recognised boxing world champion, Saunders will be fighting under two ‘YouTube’ influencers. Although the majority of the viewing fanbase has been pejoratively denounced in hardened boxing circles as ‘disposable’ and ‘casual’, appearing on this platform will certainly raise Saunders’ profile in the United States and make those aforementioned fights against the bigger state-side opponents more financially rewarding and economically viable.
This is the sole mission on Saturday night. The fight itself is largely a welcoming, exhibitive, familiarising introduction of Saunders to the American public against an unknown and comparatively harmless patsy. It’s a fan grab. It’s a cash grab, and it’ll likely be a comfortable unanimous decision win for Billy Joe Saunders.