The eyes of the boxing world will be on Las Vegas this September 16, as Mexican superstar Saul Alvarez defends the lineal middleweight title against the Kazakh wrecking ball Gennady Golovkin. This will be one of the biggest fights of 2017, with historical implications.
But another important middleweight bout will be taking place that same day in London, when Billy Joe Saunders puts his WBO strap on the line against Willie Monroe Jr. The WBO middleweight belt is far from a genuine world title, but Saunders is an undefeated contender with good, if very close, wins over Chris Eubanks Jr. and Andy Lee. The victory over Lee in December 2015 netted him the WBO trinket.
He has been woefully inactive since that win. He turned down a number of fights during 2016 while eating himself far above the 160-pound limit. Last December he finally faced little-known Artur Akavov, escaping with a hard-fought unanimous decision.
Still, even with a lack of substantial activity over the past year-in-a-half, Saunders has to be viewed as a top-five fighter at middleweight.
This is a tremendous opportunity for Monroe, a highly skilled boxer who has floated on the bubble of the division’s top 10. He is probably most well-known for getting stopped by Gennady Golovkin in May 2015. But he has demonstrated high-level craft against tough contenders like Gabriel Rosado, John Thompson and Bryan Vera.
Monroe is from my part of the world and I have been following his career since he turned professional, so I am not a completely unbiased observer here. But I am predicting he will win this bout.
If he does, the best case scenario for him would be for Saul Alvarez to prevail over Golovkin. Monroe was battered by Golovkin and there can be no demand for a rematch, regardless of who he beats from now on. But I could see him getting a shot as an opponent for a surging Canelo.