Slimline Saunders eyes unification shot

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Ingle (left) has been credited with helping Saunders improve his physical condition
Billy Joe Saunders v Willie Monroe Jr
Venue: Copper Box Arena, London Date: 16 September 2017
Belt: WBO world middleweight Coverage: Live text on BBC Sport website

Billy Joe Saunders hopes to end a “stressful” spell of inactivity when he defends his WBO middleweight title against Willie Monroe Jr on Saturday.

Saunders, 28, has not defended his world title since December and arrived for his camp “fat and unfit”, according to his new trainer Dominic Ingle.

He hopes a win sets up a fight with Gennady Golovkin or Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, who also fight on Saturday.

“The inactivity has been stressful, but you deal with it,” said Saunders.

Is Saunders in the big-fight picture?

Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez meets Gennady Golovkin in Las Vegas hours after Saunders fights in London

Monroe Jr – who has lost two of his 23 pro bouts – has laughed at Saunders’ desire to face either IBF, WBA and WBC champion Golovkin or Alvarez. The pair meet in Las Vegas hours after Saunders defends his own title against the American at London’s Copper Box Arena.

“Canelo said he didn’t even know who he was,” said Monroe Jr, 30. “I know he showed up to a couple of their press conferences and Canelo and Golovkin pretty much said the same thing: he talks too much.”

In order to put the frustrations of inactivity behind him, Saunders – who has 24 wins from 24 fights – has also said he would contemplate widening his options by moving up to super-middleweight, a division that includes the likes of Britons James DeGale and George Groves.

But if he beats Monroe Jr – who was stopped by Golovkin in 2015 – a super-fight with Golovkin or Alvarez seems a more logical option, with the possibility of all four belts in the division going to one man.

“It’s the only way the winner of the Golovkin-Canelo fight can unify the titles, and that’s the logical fight,” said Saunders’ promoter Frank Warren. “We will make it happen. I’m absolutely confident, we will deliver it.

“If it’s Canelo it’ll be in the States, and if it’s Golovkin we may have a chance of staging it in the UK. If Golovkin wins, it looks like they’ll want to fight some time in December.”

Saunders finds focus and weight loss

Saunders’ new trainer Dominic Ingle says the fighter’s training and nutrition had been wrong

Saunders was due to make the second defence of the title he won in 2015 against Avtandil Khurtsidze in May but the Georgian was arrested a month before the fight.

Since an unimpressive win over Russian Artur Akavov last December, the 2008 Olympian has based himself at Ingle’s Sheffield gym, and his physical transformation is obvious.

“His training has been wrong,” said Ingle, who also trains former world welterweight champion Kell Brook. “I’m not blaming that on the trainers. I’m blaming Bill. His nutrition has been wrong, also. Now all the pieces are fitting together.”

‘A new Billy’ – Analysis

Saunders has won all of his 24 fights while Monroe Jr has been beaten twice in 23 outings

BBC Radio 5 live analyst Steve Bunce:

“He needs a brilliant performance. Monroe Jr has a bit of form. It’s a perfectly acceptable and respectable opponent. But I think Billy has turned his life around. He was put on trial by Dominic Ingle and he’s passed the test.

“His body has changed behind all recognition. It’s like his head has been put on someone else’s body. His mind is right, he sounds right. He will win and I think we will see a new Billy.”

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