Saunders vs Khurtsidze presser: Mad men ... kind of

Paul Zanon
16/05/2017 6:37am

Paul Zanon reports from the Billy Joe Saunders vs Avtandil Khurtsidze press conference, and witnesses a few unexpected twists to the usual verbal sparring...

WBO middleweight king, Billy Joe Saunders takes on Georgian challenger, Avtandil Khurtsidze on 8 July at the Copperbox, London. The event has been entitled ‘Mad Men,’ and the presser held at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Central London, yesterday certainly kicked off with a touch of spice.

Saunders was quick out of the traps to throw a verbal assault at his 5ft 4inch rival, who, for the record, couldn’t understand a word that was coming out of the WBO champion's mouth.

“If you take the muscles away, he’s probably a featherweight," Saunders claimed. There was also a reference from the Hatfield man that the Americans like their fighters "juiced", intended no doubt to antagonise Khurtsidze’s trainer Andre Rozier, who was in attendance and hails from New York.

Saunders continued: “He’s gonna be eating the jab all night ... If I can’t beat him [Khurtsidze], I’ll stop boxing.”

By now an interpreter had sat beside Khurtsidze to assist with the dialogue. Despite Saunders' lengthy verbal onslaught, the man who slayed hot prospect Tommy Langford in five rounds last month, briefly replied: “This is just another fight.”

Saunders' retort was lightning fast. “Let me translate. He’s [Khurtsidze] gonna get beat and get paid.”

Andre Rozier had had enough by now and decided to defend his rather laid-back fighter, telling Saunders: “He’s gonna eat a jab and feed you a left hook for dinner.”

And with that, a heated argument broke out between Rozier and Saunders for the next three minutes.

Khurtsidze, meanwhile, just sat there shaking his head laughing.

With the pre-fight verbal hype out of the way, it was time to get the fighters to pose for a face-off. After Saunders' initial attack on Khurtsidze straight after the Langford fight, not to mention the lack of respect shown throughout the presser, the wise money was on some form of theatrical altercation.

Nobody saw the unexpected twist coming which concluded the presser - whilst looking into each other's faces with steely eyes, the photographers asked the fighters to put up their fists, to adopt a fighting pose. Saunders obliged instantly, but Khurtsidze remained glued to the spot, unsure of what the photographers had said.

Saunders, in a polite and gentle manner, tried to explain to Khurtsidze to put his hands up, but after about 30 seconds realised he was getting nowhere. In the end, Saunders opened his arms and embraced Khurtsidze (who stands seven inches shorter). The room erupted with laughter.

Bottom line? Saunders isn’t actually a bad guy. Yes there is genuine 'hate' between boxers on occasions, but this wasn’t one of them. Saunders likes a bit of bravado, but the warm embrace encapsulated the true mood. The two boxers parted ways with a big smile and a pat on each other’s shoulders.

How will the fight go?

There’s a couple of months to go, but if Saunders can get into shape, as he claims he’s doing in Marbella with heavyweight colossus Tyson Fury alongside him, then the undefeated WBO world champion has to be a heavy favourite.

Yes, Khurtsidze can bang, but Saunders has a very good record of not getting hit. If his ring craft is still slick and his fitness is good, Saunders should win this easily by a wide points margin.