On May 8 in the AT&T Stadium in Texas, a slick former middleweight champion takes on a powerful former light-heavyweight belt holder.
The consensus is that WBO 168lbs champion Billy Joe Saunders will have to try to outboxing Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, the WBC and WBA ruler, who will likely try to wear down and batter Saunders.
So what strategy is likely to work, the pound for pound star’s pressure or the other one.
“The other,” smiled Saunders’s trainer, Mark Tibbs, in conversation from Las Vegas. “We can’t run in this fight. We can’t run. We’ve got to keep our feet close to the ground and we’ve got to slide and glide and not get drawn in to what he [Canelo] does and that’s what it’s all about with Billy Joe. It’s about him being disciplined in what he’s got to do and not locking horns and planting his feet because it won’t work in our favor if we do that.
“Saunders knows what he needs to do. Canelo knows what he needs to do. I’m hoping Billy Joe can stick to his clever thinking and box his head off. That’s what we plan to do.”
It sounds audacious but Tibbs insists training has been going well. Mark hasn’t been home in London in several months, firstly starting camp in Spain and then having spent around the last three weeks in Las Vegas before they move to Texas for final preparations and media engagements.
Saunders shared a picture on social media of himself this week, looking in good condition. Of course, the physical shape of a fighter doesn’t indicate who will win a contest, but Tibbs said it does represent the hard work his charge has put in over a sustained period of time.
“He’s in good nick [condition],” added Tibbs, a former pro lightweight who won 22, lost two and drew one of his professional fights in a career that spanned from 1988 to 1994.
“I can only say he [Billy Joe]’s been consistent working with a conditioner because with the importance and magnitude of the fight he knows what it’s all about. We started this camp with the [Martin] Murray camp, really, and we’ve continued through. We had two weeks off over Christmas but we’ve kept the balance right and he’s fueled himself right, he’s been eating properly.”
Saunders, 30-0 (14) outscored perennial contender Murray in his last fight back in December and while the former Olympian has won world titles at two weights the Canelo fight is bigger than anything Saunders or Tibbs have experienced before.
“It’s new to us all and he’s in a good place, I’ve got to say,” continued Tibbs. “He’s really up for this fight. There is pressure there, and from time to time we see it but he’s dealing with it – he’s a Gypsy Warrior.”
Saunders was buoyed in camp by getting to spend some time with his friend Tyson Fury, who’s been in Las Vegas recently.
For Tibbs, he’s had the chance to get acquainted with the big man he’d hardly had a chance to meet before.
“I’ve seen Tyson out here and I only met him for the second time in my life and there’s something about him, he’s one of the loveliest men I’ve met,” Tibbs went on.
“I met [former light-heavyweight champion] John Conteh a few years ago and I didn’t really know what humble was until I met him and it was the same with Tyson Fury. It was nice to meet him and his coach, SugarHill [Steward].”
And while Tibbs says life has been settled in Sin City, he has felt the need to change where the team has been training, moving from the Top Rank Gym just off The Strip to the UFC Gym for more privacy.
Regardless of the facilities, Tibbs knows they are all up against it next month. For many, Canelo is a generational talent and the best in the world today.
“I ain’t got to say what we already know,” conceded Tibbs. “He’s a force, he’s a front-foot forward box-fighter and he’s got it all so we’ve got to do the best to control the distance while chipping away.”
But Tibbs sleeps easier in the knowledge that his left-handed marvel, a precocious but frustratingly inconsistent talent, has a skillset that Alvarez hasn’t seen before in his 58 pro fights.
“Absolutely,” said Tibbs. “And that’s what we know and that’s what we expect Billy Joe to show him in the most important fight of his life on May the 8th. ”