The vacant European middleweight championship is on the line Saturday at the Phones 4U Arena in Manchester. Highly touted prospect Billy Joe Saunders will take on Emanuele Blandamura for the crown.
For Saunders, this bout is about more than the European title. A win will guarantee him a shot at current WBO champion Peter Quillin, per Frank Wiechula of The Express. The 24-year-old Saunders is looking to become the first traveller world champion.
He and heavyweight Tyson Fury, who battles Alexander Ustinov on the same card, are on a similar path to make history. Because of the stakes ahead in this fight, Saunders seems to have a clearer route to a shot at world-championship gold.
Before he can challenge Quillin, or even IBF champion Sam Soliman, Saunders must take care of business with Blandamura. The 34-year-old Italian is undefeated but largely untested. We should learn something about both fighters when this one is done.
Here's how you can watch:
When: Saturday, July 26 at 4 p.m. ET
Where: Phones 4u Arena (formerly M.E.N Arena), Manchester, Lancashire
Live Stream: Livesport.TV (subscription required)
Focused and Confident
Saunders does not lack confidence. Recently, he talked about how he matches up against the top 160-pound fighters in the world. He only admitted inferiority to current IBO and WBA champion Gennady Golovkin.
Per Queensberry Promotions (h/t East Side Boxing) Saunders said:
I’m not ready for (Gennady) Golovkin yet, I admit that, but I’d not be shy of going in with any of the others. Jarrod Fletcher is going for the WBA title yet I blew him out in two rounds.
Sam Soliman should never be a world champion at 40 years old. Quillin is strong and punches harder than me but technically, I’ve forgotten more than he’ll ever learn. He’s not in my class. When I have to turn it on, I beat him ten times out of ten.
Miguel Cotto didn’t shock me beating Sergio Martinez, Martinez’s performance shocked me. He looked an old man. I’d have loved to have been in the ring with him that night. Cotto’s style is perfect for mine. He’s constantly in your face and he ain’t the best of boxers.
There's also a budding rivalry between Saunders and young contender and second-generation fighter Chris Eubank Jr. The two have gone back and forth in a Twitter beef for weeks. Promoter Frank Warren discusses the prospects of that lucrative bout in the video below.
Saunders is a talented boxer, but the truth is, he hasn't faced any opposition that anyone outside of Europe will have heard of. He's barking up a few large and established trees with the names he's calling out—with the exception of Eubank Jr.
But that's part of the way a fighter gets recognized and makes himself a draw. Saunders has his sights set on the biggest things the sport has to offer. If he can sell his personality as well as his in-ring skills, he'll be on his way.
Grande vittoria di Emanuele Blandamura a Stoccarda per il titolo dell'Unione Europea dei pesi medi pic.twitter.com/KjnQBsJTdp— Christian Cherchi (@christian_opi) January 26, 2014
Blandamura doesn't care about Saunders' quest for history or where he sees himself amongst the elite middleweights. He simply wants to beat him.
Having rarely ventured outside of Italy in his career, Blandamura is a bit of an unknown. That could make him a dangerous opponent for Saunders, especially if the latter is caught looking ahead at bigger opportunities.
Blandamura will be in somewhat of an enviable position as the major underdog. According to Odds Shark, he is a minus-732 favorite to win the fight. In other words, Blandamura has nothing to lose.
If he wins, he has the biggest win of his career and an almost guaranteed shot at another solid payday. If he loses, he still likely gets the most money he's ever earned for a bout and some good exposure.
Will that be enough to set up a huge upset or even a tough bout for Saunders?
There's confidence and focus on the long-term goal, and there's overconfidence and overlooking the task at hand. It appears Saunders' current mind state and approach is more of the former.
Don't be distracted by the fact that Saunders is calling out world champions and future Hall of Famers.
He knows he can't afford to have a slip-up against an opponent like Blandamura. Saunders will be at the top of his game and ready to perform like a fighter worthy of a title shot.
Blandamura is a good boxer, but he's not as talented as Saunders. In Blandamura's most recent bout, he escaped with a split-decision win over Marcos Nader, but a bevy of defensive gaffes were revealed in that bout. Saunders will expose those mistakes.
In the end, Blandamura simply doesn't possess the power to punish what figures to be an aggressive and attacking Saunders on Saturday night. Look for the pride of Hatfield to come up with his most impressive win to date.
Saunders wins by fourth-round KO.
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