We are currently in the midst of a golden epoch for British boxing. As recently as July 2016, there were fourteen British boxing world champions.
Yet the last 18 months have not been very fruitful with this number having halved to seven current world champions. The likes of Kell Brook, Tyson Fury and James DeGale have all been dethroned in the last number of months.
On Saturday night, there was a distinct possibility that this number would decrease further as Billy Joe Saunders travelled to Canada to take on Davie Lemieux in what was billed as a 50-50 match-up by pundits and bookmakers alike.
Yet in Quebec, the Brit put on a career-best display as he dismantled David Lemieux over 12 rounds in a resounding decision victory (one judge scored it 120-108).
Lemieux himself is a highly rated middleweight.
He is a former world champion whose only defeat in the last six years came at the hands of Gennady Golovkin, the pound for pound king for many boxing fans. So where does this leave Saunders?
Saunders can be considered the black sheep of British boxing. He is always on the cusp of causing headlines and this does not seem likely to change anytime soon. The most recent example was a lewd tweet which would have drawn scorn had a 13-year-old tweeted it, let alone a world boxing champion.
In spite of his behaviour outside of the ring, his talent inside the ring cannot be ignored and has resulted in the question being asked; Is Billy Joe Saunders the best boxer Britain has to offer?
Determining who is the greatest will always be a difficult debate as comparing records and standards in various divisions is so subjective.
Yet, from looking at his fighting achievements and then taking a greater in-depth look at his recent performances, there is more than ample case to be made that Saunders is the number one fighter in Britain right now.
The English fighter has the amateur pedigree which is so evident when watching him perform.
He won his first 49 amateur fights before qualifying for the Beijing Olympics in 2008 at the tender age of 18.
After turning professional, he went on to defeat Andy Lee for the WBO title, picking up an impressive victory over Chris Eubank Jnr along the way. He has three title defences and has amassed a record of 26 professional fights and 26 wins.
However, as many boxing fans know, a record can be deceptive. It is the most recent performances of Billy Joe that have really cemented his case as Britain’s supreme talent. He teamed up with Dominic Ingle back in June of this year and this appears to have been the catalyst in Saunders regaining his motivation to become world number one.
While he looked sloppy and sluggish in his fight previous to becoming a member of the Ingle stable, he appears to be in the shape of his life since joining the Sheffield based trainer.
Saunders fought against Willie Monroe Jnr in September and put on a slick performance outpointing the American convincingly.
He was the more active fighter, controlled the pace and the gulf in class was evident. There is an argument from his detractors that he lacks power or coasts through fights.
Yet a counterargument would be that the ability to coast through fights against top-level fighters and still have his hand raised demonstrates an incredible amount of talent.
The recent victory against Lemieux however, has shaken off any uncertainty about the talent of Saunders. This was a masterclass in boxing.
The movement and speed of the southpaw were so vastly superior, he made the challenger look like an amateur. Using lightning fast footwork and a strong jab he effectively controlled the distance throughout.
But what was most impressive was the precise combinations and angles Saunders used when he did pass the guard of the Canadian. He landed some of the cleanest shots of his career on the chin of the Canadian.
It would be naïve to name Saunders the best without analysing the competition. Timing has a huge part to play here.
While there are so many talented British boxers, at this very moment in time nobody looks more impressive than the 28-year-old.
James DeGale is coming off a disappointing defeat to a 16/1 underdog. Kell Brook has been defeated in his last two.
Even Northern Ireland’s Carl Frampton has had a very testing 2017 and did not look particularly impressive as he struggled against Horacio Garcia last month.
There are some very skilled British champions, including the likes of Lee Selby and Ryan Burnett among others.
But of all the British world champions, Anthony Joshua is, of course, the name that stands out on the list.
He remains undefeated and has devastating knock out power, finishing all of his 20 professional opponents inside the distance. His performance against Wladimir Klitschko will be remembered fondly by fans as he provided one of the greatest fights of 2017.
Yet this was a 41-year-old Klitschko whose previous fight had been a loss to Tyson Fury. And although it was a highly entertaining fight, there were aspects of the fight which were concerning for the Olympic gold medallist.
Klitschko toyed with his left hand to distract Joshua before stunning him with a straight right which sent AJ to the ground. AJ’s follow up performance, a victory over relatively unknown Takem, did not exactly set the world on fire either.
Joshua has incredible strength but a long way to go before he can match the boxing skills of Saunders. While AJ has shown inexperience, getting caught by the traps set by Klitschko, Billy Joe is the one setting the traps and has, in fact, never touched the canvas as a pro.
The coming year promises to be an exciting one as Saunders looks to finalise a fight with Danny Jacobs, the man who many believe beat Gennady Golovkin.
This fight will give a greater insight into exactly how good Saunders is and a victory would surely legitimise the claim that he is Britain’s number one. But for now, we can only speculate and look forward to the year ahead while admiring one of the most natural pugilists around.
Cathal Geeney, Pundit Arena
Read More About: Anthony Joshua, billy joe saunders, British Boxing, carl frampton, daniel jacobs, david lemieux, gennady golovkin, james degale, kell brook, Lee Selby, Ryan Burnett, southpaw, takem, tyson fury, WBO middleweight champion, Willie Monroe Jr, wladimir klitschko