Middleweight world titleholder Billy Joe Saunders will make his second defense against Willie Monroe Jr., promoter Frank Warren announced at a news conference on Monday in London.
Saunders and Monroe will square off Sept. 16 at the Copper Box Arena in London. The fight will take place just hours before the mega middleweight world title fight between unified champion Gennady Golovkin and former champion Canelo Alvarez, who meet at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, setting the winners up for a potential four-belt unification fight.
“Bill will have to be at the very top of his game to get the win on Sept. 16,” Warren said. “The winner of this fight will have the missing piece on the middleweight jigsaw [puzzle]. Canelo and Golovkin both want that WBO belt. If Bill comes through this fight, we are pushing hard for the winner of Canelo versus Golovkin.”
If Golovkin wins, Warren said he hoped Saunders could fight him in December. If Alvarez wins, the fight could be in January.
Saunders was due to defend against then-interim titlist Avtandil Khurtsidze (33-2-2, 22 KOs) in a mandatory fight on July 8 before the bout was canceled in June. Khurtsidze was arrested by federal authorities for his alleged role in a New York-based Russian crime syndicate allegedly involved in racketeering, robbery and murder for hire, among other illicit activity.
Khurtsidze, who is incarcerated and awaiting trial, was stripped of his interim belt, and Saunders was allowed to proceed with an optional defense. Monroe, a 30-year-old southpaw from Rochester, New York, got the call.
“Willie is a good fighter and a good boxer,” Saunders said. “This is his big chance, and he isn’t coming over here just to make up the numbers. He has been in with some of the best fighters in the world, including Golovkin where he came up short.
“I think it is going to be a very close fight, but I already have the mental edge over him. He said he was done against Golovkin, and that’s not what a warrior would do. I’d rather get knocked out cold than quit. I haven’t had the chance to show my true skill and talent as of yet as a pro. I can’t afford to overlook him, and I’ll be in the best shape of my life on Sept. 16. I’m 100 percent going to get the win.”
Also a southpaw, Saunders (24-0, 12 KOs), 27, of England, won the belt by decision from Andy Lee in December 2015 but has boxed just once since because of injuries and fights falling apart. He made his first defense in December 2016, winning a decision in a competitive fight with Artur Akavov.
Monroe won the 2014 ESPN Boxcino middleweight tournament and got a world title shot against Golovkin in May 2015. However, Monroe was outclassed and got stopped in the sixth round when he got knocked down and signaled to the referee that he did not want to continue.
Monroe (21-2, 6 KOs) has won two fights in a row since, decisions in 2016 against former world title challengers John Thompson and Gabriel Rosado.
“I am happy for this world title opportunity,” said Monroe, who will be boxing outside of the United States for the first time. “I’m always in the gym, and I’m ready to go now. I live the life. I can’t wait to show up and show out in London. Saunders is a good fighter and a worthy world champion, but I’m coming for that belt.
“I gave a good account of myself against Golovkin, but I will admit that I got caught up in the moment. Billy Joe has had a lot of luxuries throughout his career that I haven’t had. All of his fights have been here in his own backyard. He hasn’t had to go into the lion’s den to prove himself. He calls me mentally weak, but we’ll see on Sept. 16.”
Said Banner Promotions’ Artie Pelullo, Monroe’s promoter, “I am very happy for Willie. This is a great opportunity. A lot of things had to fall into place for Willie to get this fight. Saunders is a great fighter, and this should be a terrific event.”
Warren also announced that the undercard will feature a pair of up-and-comers from London: light heavyweight Anthony Yarde (12-0, 11 KOs), 25, and 19-year-old heavyweight sensation Daniel Dubois (4-0, 4 KOs) against opponents to be determined.