Disgraced Saunders launches fight of his life for a future in the ring
Bad boy Briton has given up WBO crown to appeal against a positive drug test, writes Gareth A Davies
It has been a month of horrible headlines for Billy Joe Saunders: a tasteless video of him taunting a drug addict from his RollsRoyce, which brought a £100,000 fine from the British Boxing Board; footage of the fighter forcing a stranger to strip naked after pulling up alongside the man’s car; and then last week’s shenanigans.
The Massachusetts State Athletic Commission refused the Briton a licence to box following a positive test for a banned substance in August. The ruling meant the 29-year-old lost out on a $2.3 million (£1.7 million) world title defence in Boston next Saturday. Saunders did little for his already tarnished reputation when he told the US authority: “You can go suck my p----.”
Saunders opted to relinquish his World Boxing Organisation world middleweight title and his lawyers are set to appeal against the Massachusetts commission’s decision.
Last night, Mike Mazzulli, president of the US Association of Boxing Commissions, told The Sunday Telegraph that he “commended the action” of the Massachusetts commission. “He tested positive,” Mazzulli said at a Bellator mixed martial arts event in Connecticut. “I would have done exactly the same. It comes down to the liability on the commission if anything happened.”
It is crisis time in the career of bad boy Saunders, though the positive drug test may be bad luck. It apparently came from taking a nasal decongestant, with oxilofrine not banned by UK Anti-Doping in out-of-competition tests like this one was.
Behind this mayhem, Saunders is a supremely talented southpaw boxer. He is undefeated in a 26-fight, nineyear career. His last outing was in December, when he completely outboxed the dangerous David Lemieux in Canada.
Saunders comes from a Romany Gypsy family and has lived on a Travellers’ site near Hatfield in Hertfordshire all his life. He would say that all he knows is boxing. His lineage includes a great-grandfather on his mother’s side, Absolom Beeney, a legendary bare-knuckle champion in the travelling fairground boxing booths between the wars. His two sons, Billy Joe Jnr and Steve, already spar on the site.
Saunders once bought a fourbedroom detached house to live in during his training camps, but found it unnatural. He rented it out and went back to his caravan.
He trains in Sheffield under Dominic Ingle, who has Saunders’s eating habits under control. “I’m s---- about my food”, the boxer told me. Saunders recently ordered a white Rolls-Royce. “Sometimes it’s nice to treat yourself for the hard work you’ve done. I remember a few years ago I was buying rolls off Greggs bakers, now I’m buying Rolls off Royce.”
He is proud of his upbringing. He rides horses and owns a string of them, taking part in carriage-racing fairs against other Travellers.
In the build-up to his fight for the WBO title against Andy Lee – set for Ireland but later taking place in Manchester – it was proposed Katie Taylor could appear on the undercard. When Saunders was asked about women’s boxing, he said: “I think women are there for sex every night, hard sex. Cleaning, cooking, washing, and sex. They’re not there to put on headgear and get punched. That’s my opinion on women, but I’m just a sex maniac.”
Taylor responded on Twitter: “I feel sorry for his wife and daughter if that’s his only view of women.”
At his friend Tyson Fury’s second comeback fight in Belfast in August, Saunders threw a chicken at heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder in a Nando’s and was pursued from the restaurant by the World Boxing Council heavyweight champion’s entourage. The altercation was over a comment apparently made by Saunders which riled Wilder.
A week later, Saunders tested positive for oxilofrine on his 29th birthday. Promoter Frank Warren said: “He may not box ever again. Well, that’s how he feels at the moment.”
For now, the walls have closed in on the Traveller. Rather than finding himself “guilty of bringing the sport into disrepute”, as the British Board ruled against him, Saunders needs to focus on the discipline of his sport to prove he is indeed a true champion.
On the ropes: A troubled Billy Joe Saunders