Andrade v. Saunders: Who Ya Got?
A tweet from Eddie Hearn seems to indicate that Demetrius Andrade and Billy Joe Saunders are forgoing a purse bid and will fight, likely in October in Chicago.
I only say ‘seems to indicate’ because nothing is a sure thing in boxing until the fighters are in the ring as we learned from the Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez saga, to cite a recent example.
Anyway, I do not care about promotional issues and television deals and who hates who and what network Frank Warren wants to have his fighters on. I care mainly about the boxing, and this one could be a real treat for us filthy purists out there.
It would seem fitting that these two technicians would come to terms to meet in the ring after Oleksandr Usyk’s virtuosic shutdown of dangerous Russian slugger Murat Gassiev. Both Andrade and Saunders are known as some of the more technically savvy boxers in sport, with Andrade proving to be the more versatile fighter thus far in his career and Saunders showing himself as one of the slickest boxers in the middleweight division. What I am getting at here is that this fight could be one of the more high-level affairs we see in 2018.
Andrade has been mired in promotional hell for a while now, unable to land big fights and sometimes taking entire calendar years of waiting for the right opponent to come up. Inking this deal means Andrade is finally an actual player in the top-heavy middleweight division, not merely a theoretical player. This is one of the fights that will go toward setting the landscape for 2019, with the winner poised to get involved with Jermall Charlo or the winner of Golovkin-Canelo part two.
On Saunders’ side of things, his issues have had less to do with activity and more to do with credibility. Before his completely one-sided blowout of French Canadian slugger David Lemieux, Saunders’ resume is seriously lacking. He scooped up his portion of the 160-pound crown in a narrow majority decision over Andy Lee and followed that up with an extremely lackluster performance against unheralded Artur Akavov and a snoozer against a shop-worn Willie Monroe Junior. The win over Lemieux showed Saunders at his best, making Lemieux look foolish on the Canadian’s home turf.
Andrade could be accused of a similar lack of depth in resume, though the talent level has generally supressed those notions. Andrade presents a range of problems for anyone when he is engaged, combining brilliant ring IQ with legitimate power. He can box with anyone, and while naturally cautious in the ring – as we saw against Alantez Fox – he can polish off anyone he lands clean on.
The equity in talent and disparity in power would make Andrade the early favourite in my mind, however Saunders has something Andrade does not: size.
Saunders may not be a big puncher, but he is an enormous guy for the middleweight division. He will have the advantage on the inside or if the fight turns into a slog, as he will be able to lean on the slimmer Andrade. The fight could come down to landscape, as it so often does.
The path to victory for Andrade is clear, and it presents to him multiple routes should a roadblock be put up. He could do what is natural to him and use his reach advantage to keep Saunders on the end of his punches, punishing him for any lapse in concentration and keeping himself out of danger. If the roads prove muddy, Andrade does have the eraser available to him. He is more naturally powerful and is likely to win a war of attrition with Saunders, who has no stoppages since his fourth round TKO in July 2015 of career opponent Yoann Bloyer.
The path for Saunders is narrower and less forgiving. Against Lemieux, who has nuclear devices in his fists though he lacks a truly consistent delivery system, Saunders could dance and dip and slip his way to victory, while sticking punches whenever he felt the opening was there. Andrade cannot be expected to come stumbling forward and thus presents a strategic problem for Saunders. Does he try to box with him all night, or does he try to make it rough in the early going, sapping the energy from Andrade’s legs? I think his best bet is to go with the latter option, using his physical advantages to slow Andrade.
Of course, Saunders has surprised us before. The Lemieux fight was seen as something close to an even fight going in, and Saunders showed a skill level we had not seen at the championship level. Previously, the Englishman had never fought outside the UK but went on the road and rose to the challenge beautifully. And Andrade does have to prove something in this fight. For all the talking people like myself do about his talent, the long layoffs and lack of genuinely dangerous opposition are making the questions about his belonging at the roundtable of middleweight contenders more and more relevant.
Whatever happens, the winner is going to be in a position to be a part of some of the bigger events of 2019. There are no fewer than four big names available to whoever wins this fight – potentially five if Jaime Munguia moves up to 160 in lieu of unification with Jarrett Hurd. We could finally see unification at middleweight, something not seen since Jermain Taylor did it in 2005, and this fight is ground zero for the beginning of that process.