By Jake Donovan
The latest news of Billy Joe Saunders' first title defense now gives the boxing world significant middleweight boxing action on three consecutive weekends in late April and early May.
Unfortunately, it also gives the boxing world a matchup it neither asked for nor craved.
The newly crowned titlist will defend his strap versus Ukraine's Max Bursak. The bout will headline on April 30 at Copper Box Arena in London, England, with the show formally announced at a press conference held Monday morning by Frank Warren and Queensberry Promotions.
“Nothing comes easy in boxing and I’m definitely not taking Bursak for granted,” Saunders (23-0, 12KOs) stated of the upcoming title fight. “He’s a good, good, fighter and very dangerous and if I don’t come in 100 percent then he could cause an upset in my first title defence.”
The event is bookmarked by two separate middleweight title fights taking place stateside. On April 23, Gennady Golovkin defends his unbeaten record and slew of middleweight hardware versus Dominic Wade at The Forum in Inglewood, California.
One week after Saunders vs. Bursak comes the World (lineal) midddleweight championship contest between defending king Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez and former 140 lb. titlist Amir Khan, who fights for the first time above the welterweight limit, Their bout - which will be fought at a maximum catchweight of 155 lbs. - tops the bill at the first-ever boxing event at the newly-erected T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, airing live on Pay-Per-View.
Golovkin had his fair shot at both Alvarez and Saunders, but was unable to convince either to get into the ring. Alvarez - who won the title in a 12-round nod over Miguel Cotto last November - settled on Khan in a fight viewed more as a big event than a competitive matchup.
Realizing this, Golovkin and his team set sights on Saunders, who scored a well-earned 12-round decision over Andy Lee to claim his belt last December. An offer was on the table for the proposed unification fight to take place in either the United States or the United Kingdom.
Saunders and his team ultimately balked, forcing Golovkin to next defend versus his mandatory challenger in Wade. Typical of the state of boxing these days, Saunders waited for such announcement to leak out before going public in his alleged desire to face the unbeaten unified titlist.
Instead, we are left with three middleweight title fights that weren't previously on anyone's radar. Nevertheless, it's the opportunity of a lifetime for Bursak, a fringe contender from Kiev, Ukraine who enters his first career title fight.
“Thank you to Billy Joe Saunders for giving me a shot at the world title. Unfortunately for Saunders, this is going to be his first and last defence of the title because I will be taking the title off him when I face him on Saturday 30th April at the Copper Box Arena," promises Bursak (32-4-1, 15KOs), who is 3-3 in his last six starts but is coming off of a win last December at home in Kiev. "I am telling Saunders to be prepared and train hard because he will be in for the fight of his life and I will be looking for the knockout.”
For what it's worth, Saunders publicly claims to be aware of the challenge with which he's been presented. He also aims to become the first to beat Bursak inside the distance, with the 31-year old challenger having lost by decision to Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam, Martin Murray, Jarrod Fletcher and most recently Zac Dunn last June.
“I’ve worked long and hard to get where I am and look at the massive fights ahead of me against the likes of Golovkin,” acknowledges Saunders. “So no, I’m going to make sure I’m in perfect shape and give Bursak the toughest night he’s ever had, he’s never been stopped before so that’s something I’m looking at doing.”
Two more fights have been confirmed for the April 30 show - which will air live on BoxNation in the U.K. - one of which includes Warren's most recent talent acquisition.
In the chief support. hard-luck cruiserweight contender Ovill McKenzie faces Ukraine's Dmytro Kucher.
McKenzie (25-12-1, 13KOs) - aptly nicknamed 'The Upsetter' - is coming off of a hard-fought draw with reigning cruiserweight titlist Victor Ramirez last October in Argentina. The 36-year old U.K.-based Jamaican boxer was able to reach that point after bumping off a string of rising prospects and budding contenders.
The 31-year old Kucher (23-1-1, 17KOs) also fought to a draw in his last start, settling for a three-way tie with unbeaten Bilal Laggoune last October on the road in Belgium. His lone loss came in a tightly contested 12-round decision to Ilunga "Junior" Makabu in their July '13 title eliminator.
Also on the show, Ryan Walsh makes the second defense of his domestic featherweight title versus mandatory challenger James Tennyson.
Walsh (20-1-1, 9KOs) has won his past four starts since dropping a 12-round decision to Lee Selby for the lone loss of his career. Selby, of course, went on to claim a major featherweight title.
Meanwhile, Walsh has clawed his way back to contention, including wins over Samir Mouneimne and Darren Traynor in his two most recent starts.
Tennyson (16-1, 13KOs) comes in having won eight straight following a fluke stoppage loss in Oct. '13. The showdown with Walsh marks a major step up in class, but the Belfast prospect is thought highly enough of have been signed by Queensberry Promotions, it was also announced on Monday.
Tickets priced at £30, £40, £60, £80, £100, £150, £200 are available from See Tickets 0871 230 7148 and www.seetickets.com, Eventim 0844 249 1000 and www.eventim.co.uk, Ticketmaster 0844 8440 444 and www.ticketmaster.co.uk
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox