Exclusive interview: Saunders faces pound-for-pound great Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez for supermiddleweight titles next Saturday in Texas
Billy Joe Saunders is prepared to put his life on the line next Saturday night in the greatest challenge of his career if that is what it takes to defeat pound-for-pound great Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in Texas. Saunders, unbeaten in 30 fights and a two-weight world champion, will never be involved in a more “legacy defining” moment than this, against the Mexican superstar of boxing for Canelo’s WBC and WBA supermiddleweight titles and Saunders’ WBO belt.
After an hour of interviews surrounded by a large film crew, Saunders, the perennial joker, finally falls quiet as the super middleweight world champion begins to detail the sacrifices he is prepared to make to return home with victory.
“This means everything to me, everything. Absolutely everything. More than money, more than fame, more than anything. I want to win this so bad. If it means I say goodbye to my kids, and I never see them again, I can leave this earth happy knowing I have won. It means that much to me,” the traveller from Hertfordshire explained, deadpan, to Telegraph Sport. “As us gypsies say, ‘we’re not here to take part, we’re here to take over’.”
Some admission from the accomplished southpaw boxer who has looked in tip top shape throughout a long camp in Las Canarias, Spain, before acclimatising in Las Vegas for the last three weeks.
Saunders has put it out there that Canelo “has never fought a gypsy” and opened up on having been involved from a young age in ‘fair fights’ – how travellers settle their disputes – and having felt a calling for boxing since he was a five-year-old growing up on a site surrounded by mobile homes and caravans. Already wealthy from his unbeaten career, he has never moved far – he once bought a detached five bedroom home but gave it up as could not settle there – and still races his horses with carriages.
The 31-year-old insisted he will never change. “I’ve been my own man since I was 15, doing my own thing, and it’s always been boxing. I’ve been boxing since I was five, boxed all my life,” he explained. “I’ve had dreams since I was a kid and this moment has been part of my dreams. To be born in that culture, everyone says they’ve got a hard upbringing but you could be fighting everyday. I’m born for this. Our culture is animals, the horses, the dogs, the chickens – we love them. I’ve been brought up all my life in this culture and I’m never too far away from it. I’m always in touch with it. But this time I’ve just been locked away. I have given up five, six months of my life for one night, 36 minutes or less.”
Saunders insisted that there is no quit in him. He has never lost professionally – even though at times, he has been accused of muddling through fights, such are his comfort levels and skills in the ring – and never lost a ‘fair fight’. “No, never, I don’t know what that feels like. Myself personally I would go and go and go until I couldn’t breath anyway. I’d rather get knocked out cold or have a haemorrhage fit, every which way but lose.”
Standing across from Saunders in the ring next week is arguably the most formidable all round fighter on the planet. Canelo is regarded by most people as the No 1 boxer in the world at present, pound for pound. But Saunders shares his head. He is unfazed. “I don’t give a s— about Canelo Alvarez, not two s—-. For me in my own brain, I’ve planned this out in my own head and I’ve been dreaming this since I was a little boy fighting in the front room. I’ve visualised this day coming. People say I haven’t lived the life, I ain’t done it right but I’m here. Two-weight world champion, two-time world champion, 30 fights, 30 wins, won every single title on the way. I’m here for a reason, 100 per cent.”
“As I said, if I win this fight, let me win this fight, let me say goodbye to my kids, I’d say adios, I’d go today … I’d sign the deal to do that now. I reckon Canelo has the same feelings. For me this is about legacy, this ain’t about money. Money comes, money goes. We all know that. Money is dust to me, money’s not everything. To win this fight, when you die this lives on for years and years and years.”
Saunders does have a deep respect for Canelo, a four-weight world champion who has lost just once, eight years ago on points to Floyd Mayweather in a 16-year, 58-fight career. ““I see a very, very complete rounded fighter. I see the best fighter on the planet and I need to see that. It’s no good me running him down saying he does this bad, that bad. Because he doesn’t really do a lot bad. He does a lot very, very extremely well. So I have to give him credit and a pat on the back for how he’s come on leaps and bounds. But it’s down to me to crack that code.
“It’ll be one of the fights where he’ll have to look to find me. I won’t be there with my hands on the ropes and let him come and hit me, trading blows. There will be some of that, but I’m looking at this as ‘my night’. We do what I want to do here. If you want to change, make me. Make me change my game plan. I’m here to change his game plan. When someone is put on this spot, surrounded by this moment, it’s a very surreal feeling.”
Not does being regarded as the underdog bother Saunders one iota. “When I was coming through when I first turned pro, I knew our paths were going to cross.
“The thing is every fight you get through the ropes you’re taking a risk, every fight. We take a risk with our life to please fans because in sad, sad circumstances we’ve seen people enter them ropes and not leave alive. That’s the harsh reality of the sport for other people’s entertainment.
“This fight is for all the marbles. This one we go country for country, countrymen for countrymen. I know when I go to Texas I’ll have 70,000 Mexicans screaming. But the Gypsies are coming out in force. The English, the Irish, the Scots – you name it they will be there. I’ll be flying that Gypsy flag very high for every one of them. I’m not just doing this for me and my family, I’m doing it for them as well.
“Victory will mean one of the biggest upsets in boxing history, I believe. Certainly in the last 20 years. He’s beaten six Brits already. Unlucky number seven for him, lucky number seven for me. I believe this is meant to be.”
Saul Canelo Alvarez vs Billy Joe Saunders is live on DAZN on Saturday May 8. The full interview with Saunders is on the DAZN platform.