By Richard Hubbard
Despite the lengthy charge sheet against Avtandil Khurtsidze and his associates including a crime described as ‘murder for hire’, his last scheduled opponent Billy Joe Saunders had no thoughts of sending a quick ‘sorry’ across the Atlantic for his pre-fight verbal assault on the Georgian. Just in case he holds a grudge.
Saunders ridiculed the Brooklyn-based middleweight in some heated exchanges, with one of the more polite jibes calling him a ‘puffed up Danny DeVito’. All in the name of building the fight, of course.
Saunders was due to take on the now incarcerated Khurtsidze on July 8 at the Copper Box before word got out that the 38-year-old who calls himself ‘mini Mike Tyson’ has an altogether bigger fight on his hands with the New York legal system.
Khurtsidze can only hope his alibis are as cast iron as the left hand he clocked Tommy Langford with on his first visit over here in April!
For his part, Saunders isn’t about to offer any sort of retraction of his press conference tirade, although he does harbour some sympathy over the plight of a man who was knocking at the world title door and now finds himself locked behind closed doors.
“Look, it is one of them, I am who I am and I wouldn’t care if he’s King Kong!” stated the WBO world champion. “I’ll stand by it and it is only business to sell the fight anyway.
“I don’t know him to dislike or hate him, it is just that when somebody is coming to take something off you and you know they are coming, you’ve got to be ready.
“Listen, people get brought up in different environments and that is his way of life, having been brought up around that. He has obviously got himself in good positions in life and then got caught at the wrong time, shall I say.”
It certainly must rank as one of the most extreme reasons for a fight falling through, while Saunders admits he took little notice of reports when he first got wind of it on social media.
“It was one of those things that happens and you can’t do anything about it. I was a bit surprised and I saw on Twitter at first. You know on Twitter you get a lot of idiots so I didn’t bother looking into it,” he recalled before joking that perhaps it was fate playing its part in the fight that never was.
“Everything happens for a reason and it might be the WBO gods were saying ‘listen mate, he was going to knock you out so we’ve put him in prison for you for a little bit’.
“It was shocking but it’s life, isn’t it, and in life you shouldn’t be too shocked by anything.”
With Khurtsidze now out of the picture for the foreseeable, the Hatfield man quickly turned his fire on his next mandatory challenger, Willie Monroe jr.
Saunders, who closely studies the form where boxing is concerned, carefully chose his target by suggesting that Monroe’s bottle was found wanting when he called time on his world title challenge against Gennady Golovkin back in 2015 after being put to the canvas in the sixth round.
It was ammunition Monroe only offered a muted response to and Saunders firmly believes he has struck a sore point for the 21-2 New Yorker.
“Yeah, he admitted it, he said he let the occasion get to him. No, when the occasion gets to you, you freeze. I’ve had occasions get to me before, like at 18 years old in front of millions of people at the Olympic Games – big pressure on my shoulders.
“You might freeze, but you never, ever, ever say ‘I’m done’. Never. That is not a good sign.
“I don’t care how good he is,” he continued. “I don’t care if he’s got Golovkin skills, Canelo skills or Mike Tyson’s power – that is not a good sign to see, saying you’re done.
“In the flesh and on paper he is a good opponent. He is one of these people who needs to be goaded and needs to be talked up – then he’ll perform.
“But if something ain’t going his way, he’ll spit it out.”
On September 16 at the Copper Box, we will find out.
Next – Billy Joe on his road to Sheffield and a new start with trainer Dominic Ingle