Boxing

Saunders in ring dispute with Alvarez

Alvarez posed for photographs alone on Tuesday when Saunders did not show up
Date: 8 May (9 May UK) Venue: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Belts: WBC & WBA world super-middleweight titles (Alvarez), WBO belt (Saunders)
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live and live text commentary on BBC Sport website at around 0400 BST

Billy Joe Saunders did not attend his first media obligation of fight week as his team said his bout against Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez was “off” because of a dispute over the fight night ring.

Saunders is due to fight the Mexican in Texas on Saturday for three of the four super-middleweight world titles.

The Briton’s father is angered by the use of a proposed 20ft ring.

“We apologise to the fans,” said Tom Saunders. “I can’t let my son box in a 20ft ring. This we cannot give in to.”

British super middleweight John Ryder has posted an article on Instagram which states he is flying to Arlington, Texas in the event Saunders pulls out.

Saunders’ father told IFL TVexternal-link the “fight’s off” and warned that his son would not meet Alvarez to pose for photographs and field questions on Tuesday.

He said Saunders’ team want a 24ft ring but have compromised in agreeing to 22ft. He says they have been told “it’s a 20ft or book your flights home”.

“What they are trying to do is take Billy Joe’s legs away,” he added.

“I am not going to let my son box in a 20ft ring with what is supposed to be pound-for-pound the king of boxing.”

Some of 31-year-old Saunders’ best attributes as a fighter are his footwork and movement, and he was widely expected to adopt a hit and move strategy in facing Alvarez.

The strategy is made easier if there is ample space in which to move in the ring.

Later on Tuesday, Alvarez, 30, said: “The truth is I don’t care about the size of the ring. I will just go in there and do my job. It’s not the only excuse he has had, he has had plenty of excuses.”

Saunders then uploaded footage of those comments to his Instagram account, saying he is “pleased the issue is sorted”.

However, there has not been any confirmation of an agreement being reached.

Rules set out by the Texas Department for Licensing and Regulation state a ring must measure between “16ft square and no larger than 32ft square within the ropes”.

It is not the first time the subject of the ring has proven controversial in a high-profile fight.

When Tyson Fury beat Wladimir Klitschko in 2015, his team had threatened to pull out of the fight on the night because of a layer of foam under the canvas which they believed was in place to hamper his movement. The material was subsequently removed.

Saunders – unbeaten in 30 bouts – holds the WBO world super-middleweight title while Alvarez – who has one loss in 58 contests – has the WBA and WBC belts.

The fight is widely seen as the biggest at any weight so far in 2021 and will be broadcast by BBC Radio 5 Live at around 04:00 BST on Sunday morning.

‘A bid to unsettle’ – analysis

BBC Sport boxing reporter Luke Reddy:

It is hard to believe Saunders will walk away from a colossal pay day and a fight he has longed for over an issue such as this but this debate has now lasted over 24 hours.

The fact Ryder appears to be flying to the US as a possible replacement perhaps shows organisers have a mild concern a resolution may not be found.

But perhaps this is simply mental warfare from Saunders and his team. His close ally – Tyson Fury – made a point of unsettling Klitschko during the build-up to a fight where he was a sizable underdog, as Saunders is here.

One would expect this is Saunders trying to indeed unsettle a champion who likely gets most things his own way given his status within the sport.

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