The announcement that Billy Joe Saunders(21-0, 11KO’s) would step aside as the number one ranked contender for Andy Lee’s(34-2, 24KO’s) WBO World Middleweight title. To allow former champion Peter Quillin(31-0, 22KO’s) to have a crack instead, was met with some surprise by myself and many others who have followed Saunders’s career up to this point. To give his reason for doing so, Saunders’s spoke with Kugan Cassius of iFL TV.
Saunders earned his position as the mandatory challenger by giving a fellow undefeated fighter his first loss back in November when he outpointed Chris Eubank Jr over twelve rounds in a close and competitive meeting. After that hard fought win is where, this story begins.
“First of all, after the Eubank fight I went to the office to meet Frank [Warren, his promoter] a week or two after and we sat down and we dished out a plan. The agreement was that Andy Lee’s fighting in Dublin, I fight on the undercard, give him his voluntary, and I fight Andy Lee next, venue to be decided. Then they [Lee and his representatives] went off and made a fight without talking to… in talks with Peter Quillin, Can’t blame em’; money fight. Then, obviously, that’s when the situation came through about stepping aside and all that.”
“I was told the fight with Andy Lee and Peter Quillin was going ahead with or without the belt. Now, obviously it makes more sense to have the belt. That’s what I was told.”
If this is all to be taken at face value, it seems as if in their hastiness to pursue a more lucrative deal with Quillin, Lee and his team were willing to depreciate a fight with the undefeated fighter and former holder of the belt, by making the match a non-title affair. That would have been the case if Saunders had insisted on Lee defending against himself. But the powers above him made it worth his while to stand aside and add more value to the Lee-Quillin fight by putting the belt on the line.
“They sat down and offered me a step-aside fee, like a package and a fight on the undercard, and I just couldn’t refuse it, and I wait 90 days and I still fight a champion.”
I think it’s safe to say that nobody will be watching Lee vs. Quillin on April 11th more intently that Saunders, given that the next steps he will take are highly dependent on the outcome of that fight. He is staking his immediate future on the belief that Lee can pull out the win in a bout where he will probably enter as the underdog champion.
“I believe he can beat Peter Quillin, I don’t see why not, then me and him can get a big fight on in the summer.”
That would clearly be the preferred path for this series of events to tread from Saunders’s perspective, but as is common knowledge in boxing, all the best-laid plans can go out the window as quick as a check can be signed. So what if Quillin wins?
“My understanding is that I’ll be fighting for the world title and [for] the same money that we agreed, if it is the American. Yeah, I gotta go to the States but I’m getting very well paid if Quillin does win. If Peter Quillin vacates and decides he wants to look for a Cotto fight or whatever he wants to do, I think I fight the Number 3[contender in the WBO rankings] for the same money again.”
As Saunders repeatedly stated at intervals throughout the interview, this does seem like a ‘win-win’ situation for him. The only thing the postponement has cost him is time and those 90 days will pass quickly enough with a freshly-fattened bank account. This extra injection of cash was what finally forced him into his decision despite his initial refusal to budge.
“First of all I wasn’t stepping aside for nothing, but like I say it’s a business really and I gotta do what’s best for me family, and I got offered a deal that I just couldn’t refuse. Boxing’s not a long sport, and you gotta get what you can when you can. I know sometimes that sounds a bit selfish, and it seems a bit bad on the fans but, you know I didn’t need to give Eubank a fight but the fans was hounding and hounding and hounding for it. I’m in this to secure my family. I got two little boys, I don’t want them on the rob and on the thieve, you know what I mean? I want to put sense into them.”
Saunders cannot be criticized for making a financially sound decision that merely delays his shot at a world title. He is looking to elevate his and his family’s standing in the world and at 25 years of age has a unique ability to do so with his pugilistic talent. His good will even extends to his future perspective opponent Andy Lee as he wishes him to victory against Quillin, and he tells of how he didn’t necessarily need to go as quietly as he did in allowing that fight to take place for the belt.
“We got a lot of say. Normally it’s the champion that got all the say but we had a lot of say because if we wanted to we could have stopped this fight from going ahead. But you know for one it’s robbing Andy Lee of a nice payday and best of luck to him please God I hope he’s getting, well I know he’s getting well paid. But I’m not like that I like to see people getting on so fair play to him I hope he gets a nice few quid, and I hope he comes through the winner and gets a nice few quid when he fights me.”
No doubt he hopes for a Lee victory because if not, despite the handsome payment he will receive for doing so, that trip to America against Quillin will be a much tougher ordeal to battle through. There is a reason that instances, where fighters have won titles away from home, are held in such high regard; it is a difficult feat to accomplish.
I imagine a groove in the ring is much harder to find when in an alien environment where almost everyone you meet is pulling for the other guy. The night Lloyd Honeyghan dethroned Donald Curry in 1986 in Atlantic City is still spoken of with reverence in the UK, and a Saunders win in similar circumstances would be viewed in a similar light, such is the toughness of the task. However, If Lee successfully defends and continues his current run of good form, then a huge fight awaits for British fans over the next few months.