By Jake Donovan
Another year, another idle challenge issued by Billy Joe Saunders.
The unbeaten two-division beltholder has renewed his quest for a showdown with former unified middleweight titlist Gennadiy Golovkin, this time traveling to his longtime divisional rival’s home country to plead his case.
“I’d like to fight Golovkin here,” Saunders (28-0, 13KOs) stated during an in-ring interview in between fights on an ESPN+ show Saturday evening in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.
The request was bound to happen given the setting and the history between the two. Saunders has been in serious negotiations twice before with Golovkin (39-1-1, 35KOs). Both occasions resulted in the 2004 Olympic Silver medalist and former tltlist instead accept far more lucrative assignments with World middleweight champ Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.
The extent to which they nearly came to terms in 2017 depends on which side you ask. Saunders was also previously in talks for a showdown with Alvarez, which such negotiations frustrating Golden Boy Promotions to the point where they sought a more willing challenger for their superstar client.
As much was assumed when Saunders and promoter Frank Warren verbally demanded a showdown with Golovkin in a fight that would have been for all of the major middleweight titles. It never came close to materializing in 2017, with Golovkin instead agreeing to terms for a superfight with Alvarez, which ended in a highly questionable 12-round draw.
A rematch between the world’s most bankable middleweights was on tap for last May, only for Alvarez to fail two drug tests and receive a six-month suspension. Golovkin went on to face and beat Vanes Martirosyan for the 20th and final successful defense of his lengthy alphabet title reign, with hopes of number 21 coming in a rescheduled Alvarez rematch.
When such negotiations stalled, Golovkin and Saunders renewed their own talks and nearly reached a deal to fight last summer. It ultimately fell through when Alvarez ultimately put pen to paper for his celebrated sequel, in which he claimed a 12-round decision to end Golovkin’s title reign.
Meanwhile, Saunders couldn’t have endured a more miserable 2018 campaign. A planned title defense versus Demetrius Andrade in the wake of the Golovkin fallout instead ended his title reign after testing positive for banned substance Oxilofrine. It brought to close a largely forgettable 34-month run as a middleweight titlist, highlighted by his Dec. 2015 title win over Andy Lee and brilliant Dec. 2017 near-shutout of former titlist David Lemieux.
Two fights have followed since the debacle. Saunders showed up a very fleshy 178.5 pounds for a stoppage win over Charles Adamu last December, before offering a far more credible account of himself in a 12-round win over Shefat Isufi to claim a vacant super middleweight title this past May.
Golovkin’s lone fight post-Alvarez came this past June, scoring a 4th round knockout of unbeaten but unheralded Steve Rolls.
Both he and Saunders remain on the hunt for opponents this fall—Golovkin hoping for a third fight with Alvarez, while Saunders has pursued a unification bout with countryman and fellow unbeaten super middleweight titlist Callum Smith. With neither boxer yet hearing a desired response, Saunders has now placed his focus on a boxer he hopes will say yes.
“[Golovkin was] a great champion and is a brilliant fighter,” noted Saunders. “But I would love the opportunity to fight him here [in Kazakhstan].
“Gennadiy Golovkin, I’m calling you out in your home country.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox