Billy Joe Saunders plans to “make a statement” on his American debut later today when he defends his WBO super-middleweight title against unbeaten Argentine Marcelo Coceres.
Saunders fights at The Staples Center on a card which has courted both controversy and intrigue this week, with promoter Eddie Hearn outlining a quartet of blockbuster fights if the Hertfordshire fighter returns triumphant.
Saunders (28-0 13 KOs) makes his long-awaited United States debut and fights on the undercard of the heavily-promoted ‘Youtuber’ grudge fight between KSI and Logan Paul. Rising US lightweight Devin Haney faces Alfredo Santiago in the first defence of his WBC lightweight crown on the same bill.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Hearn called Saunders “an immense talent”. He is being lined up for fights with Saul Canelo Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin, Demetrius Andrade and Callum Smith at middleweight and super middleweight.
Saunders has won world titles in both divisions and explained that he is content to fight in both divisions “or even go up to light heavyweight for the right opportunity”. But first he must impress against the Argentine, who has fluid hands, and explained this week that coming up against an unbeaten two-weight world champion on a huge platform was “the pinnacle” of his fighting life.
Saunders, now into the prime of his career, is not overlooking the South American, and has had a strong camp with head trainer Dominic Ingle.
“Coceres is a tough, world-class operator, an unbeaten fighter. I certainly feel the pressure to outperform him and look good on such a massive platform. I want to make a statement,” Saunders told Telegraph Sport. “But it’s important to go out there and box, and the opportunities will open up.”
Haney, meanwhile, referred to by Hearn as “like a young Floyd Mayweather in style”, is looking to make his title defence a special night.
“I’m not just a WBC world champion that’s holding somebody else’s belt. I’m the sole champion, and I will defend this belt,” he said. “I’ve been working hard and I’m extremely focused. This will be the perfect gift to myself for my 21st birthday. All the fans at Staples Center and the millions watching on DAZN are going to witness another dominant performance.
“I’m going to continue to show the world that I’m the best in my division. Santiago is my next opponent; he’s undefeated, he’s hungry, and he’s coming to win. I take every fight very serious and this fight is no different. Tune in and you’ll see that the hype is real.”
Haney is only 20-years-old but is undefeated in 23 contests and was elevated to full champion at the recent WBC Convention in Cancun, Mexico, following a dominant performance against Zaur Abdullaev in New York in September where he overpowered the unbeaten Russian forcing Abdullaev to retire in round four.
Hearn added: “Devin is the perfect fighter to showcase what boxing is all about to a potential crop of new fight fans – he’s young, exciting, confident and relatable – the perfect mix. Santiago is a hungry young fighter himself and this is a golden opportunity for him to halt Devin’s charge to superstardom – but I believe that ‘The Dream’ will shine and being his reign as World champion in style.”