By Jake Donovan
Billy Joe Saunders will get to fight in 2018 after all.
The unbeaten former middleweight titlist will end more than a year’s worth of inactivity when he steps into the ring on December 22 in Manchester, England. Frank Warren, Saunders’ promoter announced that the Brit will appear on an already loaded undercard in supporting capacity to the sizzling main event between defending featherweight titlist Josh Warrington and former two-division champion Carl Frampton.
Saunders’ appearance is largely of the showcase variety, as his last-minute placement comes with a last-minute type of opponent. Awaiting the 29-year old will be Hungary’s Zoltan Sera (32-17-1, 22KOs), a 33-year old globetrotter who has been knocked out nearly every time he’s strayed from the Hungary/Slovakia region.
Still, it’s as uplifiting an ending that Saunders (26-0, 12KOs) can enjoy in what has otherwise been a year to forget.
The brash boxer represented Great Britain in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a tour which ended in controversy and hasn’t come close to slowing down on that front since turning pro one year later. His career-best highlights—wins over Andy Lee to claim the middleweight title and a dominant decision win over former champ David Lemieux last December—were both squandered by inactivity due to injuries and a series of questionable out-of-the-ring decisions that have left him with just three fights in the past three years.
In the ring, Saunders remains as formidable a challenge as any middleweight on the planet. Getting him in the ring, however, has proven to be the greatest challenge of a career approaching 10 years in service. He was due to face countryman Martin Murray (who also appears on the December 22 undercard versus former tiltist Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam), but twice withdrew due to injury. The latter fallout was largely questioned by Murray and many in the industry, its timing interestingly convenient with Saunders being named as a possible foe for Gennady Golovkin and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez at a point when the two middleweight superstars were in a stalemate in attempting to renegotiate plans for their rematch. Once they finally reached terms for their eventual September clash, Saunders moved on to a scheduled October title defense versus a fellow unbeaten 2008 Olympian in Rhode Island’s Demetrius Andrade in Boston, Massachusetts.
As has been the case throughout his three-year title reign, the end result was yet another canceled fight—this one resulting in Saunders being stripped of his middleweight title after testing positive for a banned substance. The Brit attributed the anomaly to an adverse effect from a nasal decongestant inhalation, but the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission didn’t buy his alibi in denying him a license during a special hearing less than two weeks out from fight night. Andrade went on to win the vacant title in a lopsided 12-round decision over Namibia’s Walter Kautondokwa, while Saunders vowed to get his career back on track and his belt back around his waist.
December 22 will mark the first step towards that rebuilding process—barring any more mishaps in Saunders’ bizarre career.
The show will air live on BT Sport in the United Kingdom and on ESPN+ in the United States. Also appearing on the bill, unbeaten featherweight Michael Conlan—a 2012 Olympic Bronze medalist in Rio and a highly controversial casualty of the 2016 Rio Olympics for Ireland—faces Jason Cunningham, while his good friend Paddy Barnes—a three-time Olympian and two-time Olympic Bronze medalist for Ireland—returns for the first time since a suffering a knockout loss in a failed title bid versus champ Cristofer Rosales earlier this year.