ARLINGTON, Texas – As soon as Billy Joe Saunders set foot inside the boxing ring where he’s training at his hotel near AT&T Stadium, he immediately complained to Eddie Hearn.
That ring is 18 feet-by-18 feet inside the ropes, entirely too small for Saunders’ liking. There was no way, Saunders informed his promoter, that he would box arguably the best fighter, pound-for-pound, in the sport in a ring that size Saturday night.
The skillful, smart southpaw understandably wants as much room as he can get to operate against a powerful four-division champion who undoubtedly is a harder puncher than him.
“He just said, ‘This ring is tiny,’ Hearn told BoxingScene.com. “And I said, ‘No, no, it’s a 20-foot ring [on fight night].’ Because in the agreement, it’s just subject to commission rules. It could be 18-foot, but he said, ‘I want 20 foot-by-20 foot.’ So, I went back to Canelo and he said, ‘No problem.’ But then Billy said no to that. I actually think he asked for a 24-foot ring.”
England’s Saunders threatened to withdraw from the biggest fight of his career and a huge purse before they settled on using a ring that’ll be 22 foot-by-22 foot inside the ropes. It’ll be the biggest ring, according to Hearn, in which Saunders will have boxed in 31 professional fights.
“Obviously, Saunders moves a lot,” said Hearn, whose company co-promotes Alvarez. “But he’s never boxed in a ring this big. As much as he thinks it might be an advantage for him, his last two fights with me, against Martin Murray and on the KSI-Logan Paul card, the rings were both 18-foot. And he’s never boxed in a ring bigger than 20-foot. You can’t fight in a ring bigger than that in the UK because 20 is the maximum size [allowed by the British Boxing Board of Control]. For the Lemieux fight, which we checked, [the ring] was 20-foot inside the ropes as well. So, he’s never boxed in a ring bigger than 20. He wanted 24, but he was happy.”
The unbeaten WBO super middleweight champion’s clash with Mexico’s Alvarez will mark just the third fight outside of the United Kingdom for Saunders since the Manchester native turned pro 12 years ago. The 2008 English Olympian boxed once in Canada and once in California before agreeing to battle Alvarez at the home stadium of the Dallas Cowboys, where a crowd in excess of 60,000 is expected.
The 31-year-old Saunders (30-0, 14 KOs) was masterful while defeating David Lemieux by unanimous decision in their 12-rounder in December 2017 at Place Bell in Laval, Quebec. The brash Brit will need to be even better than he was in his first fight away from the UK to upset Alvarez, who is consistently listed as a 7-1 favorite in advance of their 12-round super middleweight title unification fight.
In his other fight outside of the UK, Saunders knocked out Argentina’s Marcelo Coceres in the 11th round on the aforementioned KSI-Logan Paul card in November 2019 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The 30-year-old Alvarez (55-1-2, 37 KOs) could’ve opposed the bigger ring Saunders requested. The WBA/WBC super middleweight champion’s first two fights with Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing – victories over former WBA champion Callum Smith (27-1, 19 KOs) on December 19 at Alamodome in San Antonio and WBC mandatory challenger Avni Yildirim (21-3, 12 KOs) on February 27 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida – were contested in 20-by-20 rings.
“Like I said to Canelo, ‘You’re quite welcome to object,’ ” Hearn recalled. “He said, ‘It’s fine.’ I was expecting this thing to drag on until Friday. But he’s super-confident. I think that part of him wants to show that he doesn’t need a small ring. When people talk about his fights with [Austin] Trout and [Erislandy] Lara, he laughs because he thinks, ‘I can box, you know. Like, I don’t need to be in a phone box. Technically, I’m very good.’ ”
Hearn wasn’t sure how Alvarez would react when his promoter approached him Monday about Saunders’ demand for a bigger ring. Alvarez could’ve “called everyone’s bluff,” but Hearn was pleasantly surprised when the obvious ‘A’ side of this event quickly acquiesced to Saunders’ ultimatum.
“He wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I can’t believe this,’ ” Hearn said. “He was like, ‘Yeah, fine.’ [Saunders has] moaned about the judges. Obviously, he’s had his thing about the ring. I think if Canelo or [trainer Eddy] Reynoso had even a little problem, they would’ve gone, ‘No, we have to try and get [Saunders] to do this.’ But it wasn’t like that.
“I actually commend Canelo for that because it’s quite big. A lot of fighters you deal with would go, ‘I’m not bothered by that, but don’t be an idiot.’ I think psychologically, it’s quite good to say, ‘No problem,’ because if you fight back, they’re probably like, ‘Yeah, we’ve got him rattled!’ Where he was more like, ‘No problem, mate. See you Saturday. Have what you want.’ It was quite cool.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.