Billy Joe Saunders (-3300) vs. Artur Akavov (+1800), Draw (+3500)
Billy Joe Saunders (23-0, 12 KO) will make his first WBO middleweight title defense this weekend (December 3) against little-known Artur Akavov (16-1, 7 KO). This comes after multiple delays due to injuries and incomplete paperwork.
This will be Saunders’ first fight of 2016 and Akavov was definitely not his first pick. Earlier, it was rumored that a Canelo Álvarez match-up was in the works, which would have had huge PPV numbers. Before that, he was scheduled to defend his title against Max Bursak but the champ injured his hand in training.
Other names — like Gabriel Rosado, Curtis Stevens, and Willie Monroe Jr. — were floated. One by one, they all slipped away. Now he’s paired with Akavov, who is ranked by WBO at number 11 in the division.
Akavov is a distinguished Russian boxer but is largely anonymous outside of his homeland. He only started fighting in the US recently and has yet to make a name for himself. But he’s nothing to scoff at. He is a former WBO European title holder and also held a minor WBF world title.
But this pairing is considered Saunders’ for the taking. The undefeated champion has a record of 23 wins that includes 12 knockouts. He’s a technical and defensively-sound boxer who also packs a significant amount of power.
Akavov has not come up against anyone of Saunders’ calibre and he’ll struggle to handle the former Olympian if the fight goes the distance. The one thing Akavov can hope for is that Saunders is rusty from inactivity. After almost a year of failed match-ups, postponed fights, and broken deals, the middleweight champ may not be on top of his game the way he was a year ago.
With all the delays and setbacks that Saunders has faced in putting together a title defense, maybe a better bet is on whether this fight actually takes place. If and when it does, I see Saunders dominating from start to finish.
Pick: Billy Joe Saunders (-3300)
Photo credit: “Junior Moar” by Martial Arts Nomad, CC BY-SA 2.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0], via Flickr.