The middleweight division is presently the most densely talented in Britain and top talent Billy Joe Saunders’ impressive recent advance to the Commonwealth title leaves him primly placed to enter the debate for hegemony.
Now 14-0, with nine early wins, the 22 year old Hatfield-based Romany believes his surfeit of top drawer international amateur experience more than compensates for any professional shortfall. Consequently, Saunders is eager to set about his leading domestic rivals, sooner rather than later, prior to advancing to world domination.
Saunders will be out again on Friday 14th September defending his title at the Wembley Arena on a triple-title card that also features British and Commonwealth Champion George Groves and Bradley Skeete v Chas Symonds for the Vacant Southern Area Welterweight title.
The show will be live and exclusive on BoxNation (Sky Ch. 437/Virgin Ch. 546). Join at www.boxnation.com
Here, the Tibbs trained southpaw provides his assessment on the leading British runners and riders.
The St Helens hardman, unbeaten in 25 (one draw), presently owns the British 160lb title and Saunders was recently nominated as his next mandatory challenger.
A broad shouldered 6ft beast, Murray showed he belongs in world class when he pushed Germany’s Felix Sturm to a debatable draw in Mannheim last December but ‘The Caravan Kid’ is confident that he’s already capable of eloping with Murray’s title, if the match can be made later this year.
Billy Joe says: “I was very surprised with how well Martin did in his world title challenge against Felix Sturm and thought it was unfair that he didn’t get the decision. If you get a draw against a German over there I think everyone knows who really deserved to win the fight. Martin impressed me and he should be world champion.
He’s really blossoming and, right now, he may be overtaking the other two (Macklin and Barker) because he’s taken less stick. I think he beats Macklin all day long, Barker probably beats Murray yet, because of styles, Macklin is at least 50-50 against Darren.
That said, I’ve just been nominated by the Board of Control to challenge Murray for his British title and, even though he’s proven world class and has a good bit of age on me, I’m ready to fight him. No way I’d back down from him and I’d much prefer that he fought me than vacate so I could fight someone lesser. I think it would be a really interesting fight for the fans. In his eyes, he’s probably got nothing to worry about but I guarantee I’d be no easy ride for him. No one’s seen my best as a pro yet but it comes out in sparring.
Against Sturm, Martin showed he was strong, tough and has good all round ability but Sturm’s getting on a bit now and I know I can do better than he did. After all my amateur experience, I really know what styles suit me and I particularly love the tall-box-fighters like Murray.
I’m on my way to the very top. I’m not in this just to win the Commonwealth or British titles so if I can’t beat the best in Britain, I may as well not bother.”
The Brummie crowdpleaser twice came tantalisingly close to lifting a world title last season. In June 2011, he conceded a highly controversial decision to the afore mentioned Sturm for the WBA strap in Cologne.Nine months later, Macklin retired on his stool after 11 rounds, having dropped WBC Diamond belt holder Sergio Martinez of Argentina, only to run out of puff down the stretch at Madison Square Garden, New York on St Patrick’s Day.
Rugged and dangerous, the Irish descendant is now 28-4. Nineteen stoppage wins provide testimony of his hitting power.
A former British and two time European champion, ‘Mack The Knife’, now 30, is presently without a belt and possibly on the dip after several physically exacting contests.
Billy Joe says: “I think Matthew is the least likely to return to British level for a fight. He’s in with the big money fights on the world stage and is unlikely you come down for me anytime soon.
I was actually due to go over and spar with him in America during his prep for his (WBC) world title challenge with Sergio Martinez. They offered me good money but I had a fight lined up myself and Macklin’s style wasn’t suitable for my opponent. Otherwise, I’d have gone over. I’d not have taken his money off him. I’d just have used the experience for my own benefit.
Macklin fights with his heart on his sleeve and every time he comes to contend, puts everything into it. He’s never just there to make up the numbers and that’s why he gets all the shots. He’s a similar style to Murray, fights well or can get behind the jab. When he challenged Sergio Martinez, he showed he had a good boxing brain. When he puts his mind to it, he’s a good technical fighter as well as a good brawler. He’s a very good allrounder which makes him harder to beat. You’d need several very good game plans but, in Mark and Jimmy Tibbs, I’ve got the two best in the business.
Boxing wise, skill and technique, I know I’ve got the beating of Macklin. What he has over me at the minute is experience. He’s been in with the best pros in the world. I haven’t. That goes in his favour. That’s what would make a fight between us so intriguing. My amateur experience evens it up a bit but having another two or three before facing a Macklin certainly wouldn’t hurt me.”
The popular Barnet six footer is easily the slickest of the quartet. A Commonwealth Games welterweight gold medallist back in 2002, ‘Dazzling Darren’ collected Commonwealth, British and European titles before finally surrendering his unbeaten tag when Sergio Martinez iced him in round eleven, after a gallant WBC Diamond belt challenge in Atlantic City last October. Subsequently, the Herts man has been sidelined with hip injuries.
Could a shot at Saunders’ Commonwealth crown provide a route back into title contention?
Billy Joe says: “I’d rate Darren as the number one middleweight in Britain at the minute. Had his world title challenge with Sergio Martinez been in the UK, the result could’ve been different. At the start, Darren was doing really well.
We’ve done a bit of sparring together – once when I first turned pro and once about a year ago – so I know Darren personally a bit better than the others and I have to say he’s a lovely straight up fella. I learnt more in those two spars than in any other spars or fights I’ve had as a pro.
Of the three big one’s, style wise, there’s a real slickness about him and he’s got a real nice jab, and a nice style. He’s very long and does very well to still make middleweight.
But I hate losing, even doing the circuits in the gym, and I love a challenge. I want to fight the best fighters. That’s what I’m about. All I need is experience, I’ve already got everything else. From that end, I was very pleased to go 12 good hard rounds with Bradley Pryce last time. Within another year I’ll be ready to be let loose onto the world!”
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