There is a lot more waiting involved in boxing these days. A lot more empty hollering. Much more theorising. Greater noise. Less fighting. Fighters have become business men at the expense of their supposed vocation. Many are more familiar to us in tweed tailoring, discussing percentages and the narcissism of their legacy than the blood soaked satin of their trade.
For a sport in such apparent rude health, with many tens of thousands pouring through turnstiles to glimpse heroes in illuminated Lowry dimension, there doesn’t seem to be as much actual fighting. Particularly, by the era’s most exceptional talents.
News Billy Joe Saunders has been stripped of his World Boxing Organisation Middleweight belt, after the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission refused to sanction him to fight in their state in a mandatory defence against Demetrius Andrade due to a failed, if contested, drugs test, once again brought the issue of inactivity back to the fore.
I feel for Saunders and, perhaps more pointedly, those who have invested in his career financially and emotionally. Those who helped him to court a fight with Gennady Golovkin, following Saul Alvarez’s enforced withdrawal from their May rematch date, were advising him based on a risk to return calculation. Saunders opted not to tackle domestic rival Martin Murray as a result of that advice via the convenience of an invisible injury. In doing so he preserved the window of opportunity to try and make the money fight with Golovkin, leaving the St. Helens man high and dry and significantly out of pocket. It may yet prove to have been the proud veteran’s final shot at the belt too. There was a sense of cruel opportunism about the move which dismayed impartial observers but most of all, Murray himself.
That, alongside crass behaviour in recent weeks that landed him in ‘hot-water’ with the British Boxing Board of Control, who fined Saunders £100,000 for bringing the sport in to disrepute, has returned the 30 year old Englishman to a peculiar no-man’s land in the division. A place which has, sadly, been the pre-eminent habitat of his ultimately frustrating career.
It is remarkable that a fighter who looked so poised, assured and artful in eclipsing Canadian danger man David Lemieux last November could find himself less than a year later inactive and with his belt lost. The momentum has been sacrificed in a quest for that one big ‘defining’ fight, and while the notoriety associated with his bad-boy image may endure and improve his ability to sell tickets on his eventual return, the sense he has missed a year of his prime and two fruitful opportunities to capitalise on the popularity imparted by the Lemieux outcome is impossible to ignore.
Where he goes from here in the newly awoken Middleweight division is hard to fathom. With the leverage of his belt lost, there is little to encourage fellow top 10 contenders to face a fighter who is awkward, elusive and highly skilled. He may yet be forced back a step and to the bad-blood of a clash with the ever dependable Martin Murray, if Murray can be convinced of Saunder’s commitment to the bout.
Saunder’s inactivity has become a cruel but largely self-inflicted sabbatical; hopefully it provides opportunity for reflection and self-improvement rather than a return of the malaise which dogged his earlier career. Certainly, a division containing Golovkin, Alvarez, Charlo, Jacobs and Saunders should not be short of possibilities. Yet in this age of multiple platforms, networks, promotional contracts and sanctioning bodies, and their contradicting objectives and agendas, we look set fair for another period of too much talking and too little fighting.