I am not sure any boxer in the world did more damage to his reputation in 2016 than Billy Joe Saunders. Coming into this year, the Brit was riding high. In December of last year, he captured the WBO version of the middleweight crown from Andy Lee by hard-fought split decision.
Then came a year of almost complete inactivity. Saunders refused to make a unification bout with Gennady Golovkin. He turned down a chance for a high-profile bout with Gabriel Rosado on the Saul Alvarez-Liam Smith undercard last September, claiming that he wouldn’t “gain anything” by facing the Philadelphia veteran.
Three months after turning down the experienced, hard-nosed Rosadao, Saunders made his only title defense of 2016 this past weekend, when he faced 16-1 Artur Akavov. So much for Saunders insisting that he needed a meaningful fight. Akavov’s best win was probably a KO of Ivan Jukic in 2014. Jukic was 17-1 at the time. He has gone 7-7 since.
Akavov might just be this year’s least qualified title challenger–and that is always a distinction that is hard to earn. The WBO should be ashamed of themselves for even sanctioning this bout. Aside from the IBF stripping Tyson Fury, this was the most feckless action by a sanctioning body in 2016.
But the situation went from bad to much worse once Saunders entered the ring last Saturday in Scotland. In one of the year’s worst fights, Saunders escaped with his belt by unanimous decision.
I am not going to encourage anybody to watch this dog of a fight. There is no need–the punch stats tell the story on just how bad it was. Saunders landed just 14.2 percent of his punches and Akavov a mere 13. Neither man landed even seven punches per round. Saunders connected with 2.5 power punches per round and Akavov 3.6. I am getting sleepy just reviewing these stats.
Saunders is just 27. He has won big fights over the likes of Lee and Chris Eubanks Jr. But he will have a lot of ground to make up for in 2017, if he wants to be truly relevant in the sport.