Billy Joe Saunders faces a decisive fight against legendary Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez on Saturday night.
Mexico’s super middleweight king is judged by experts as the best boxer on the planet, with many deeming him unbeatable in his current form.
The imperious 30-year-old has grown steadily since his victory over Gennady Golovkin in 2018.
Canelo unified three middleweight belts by beating Daniel Jacobs the following year, then unexpectedly switched to lightweight for a sensational knockout of Sergey Kovalev.
Upon his return from the pandemic at the end of 2020, he set his new goal: to become the undisputed super middleweight champion.
It was music to the ears of WBO champion Saunders, who has been calling for a fight with the Mexican star for some time.
Canelo beat Callum Smith in December to claim the WBA and WBC belts, and is now suing the other two.
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Billy Joe first won the WBO world title in the below weight division – at middleweight – in 2015.
His own inactivity and inconsistencies reduced his chances of winning the super fight, but a move to super middleweight in 2019 proved crucial.
Saunders won the vacant 168-pound WBO crown by beating little-known Shefat Isufi in front of a sparse crowd at Stevenage FC’s Lamex Stadium.
As Canelo now looks to collect all the belts in the super middleweight, it was this victory that propelled Billy Joe to fight boxing’s biggest star past 70,000 at the Dallas Cowboys AT&T Stadium.
The jump in the levels will be important, but it has already been done.
Saunders’ close friend Tyson Fury has twice jumped in his career from less opposition to face a long-defending champion.
The couple bonded in Las Vegas last month as Billy Joe wrapped up training camp, while Fury began preparations for a potential showdown with Anthony Joshua.
Fury flew to Texas this week to lend his support – joining him in prominent press conferences and chants of “There’s Only One Billy Joe Saunders”.
And Saunders will know he can take inspiration from his fellow heavyweight boxing mate’s own as he prepares for the fight of his life.
In 2015, Fury went from stopping European goalkeeper Christian Hammer to challenging Wladimir Klitschko.
Klitschko had reigned at the top of the division for nearly a decade while Tyson’s best wins at this point were two clashes with Derek Chisora.
Either way, he surpassed and sent the veteran champion on an astonishing spectacle that shocked the boxing world.
Three years later, Fury made his comeback after a long time out of the ring due to addiction and mental health issues.
He fought Sefer Seferi in June, Francesco Pianeta in August and then Deontay Wilder in December.
At this point, Wilder was 40-0 (39 KOs) and reigned for almost four years.
Once again however, Fury boxed around the champion for the majority of the contest and although he was knocked down twice, many felt he believed in victory.
The judges controversially scored the draw, so Tyson refused to leave it in their hands for the second meeting 15 months later.
Fury stopped Wilder within seven rounds of their spectacular 2020 rematch, knowing himself as heavyweight king for the second time.
Now it’s Saunders’ turn to try and do the same in the super middleweight.
With the odds against him and having never operated at this level before, few will support him to succeed.
However, Fury will be firmly in his friend’s corner and provide the perfect inspiration for another historic triumph.