The Big Question: ‘Who wins World War III?’
Who are the three world title winners in Frank Warren's stacked 'World War III' card on 10 October in Manchester? Can Saunders school Lee, Flanagan trump Magdaleno and Smith overcome dangerman Soro? Boxing Monthly's online team give their verdict in this week's 'Big Question'.
Kudos to Frank Warren for assembling a dynamite bill with three pick ‘em world title fights. There are no soft touches or foregone conclusions here.
The all-southpaw affair between Andy Lee and Billy Joe Saunders is an intriguing mesh of styles. The gifted Saunders is likely to start fast and build a significant points lead before the seasoning and power of Lee gradually takes its toll. Saunders does have a tendency to tire late and that could prove pivotal against the canny WBO champion from Limerick. The Irishman has looked the part since teaming up with the shrewd Adam Booth and learned greater patience and improved leverage. My pick is for the resourceful Lee to come on strong and stop the skillful Saunders in the last few rounds of an absolute thriller. A rematch may beckon.
The avoided Terry Flanagan has arguably not received enough respect from the wider boxing community. Sky Sports’ recent ranking of the WBO champion as the fifth best lightweight in Britain seemed fanciful at best. The Mancunian represents a tough night for anyone at 135lbs and Top Rank’s Magdaleno presents the perfect opportunity for him to showcase his ability after that truncated encounter with Jose Zepeda. Magdaleno was unfortunate not to unseat Roman Martinez to win the WBO’s 135lbs belt in Macao in June 2013 and he should ask questions of his fellow southpaw. The feverish work-rate and fighting heart of Flanagan will ultimately prove decisive on the scorecards.
Liam Smith has been thrown in at the deep end against dangerman Michel Soro. The Frenchman has enjoyed a highly impressive 2015, shocking touted Glen Tapia in four rounds (thus derailing my Boxing Monthly feature on Tapia – thanks Michel) and then travelling to Milan to knock out Emanuele Blandamura and win the European 160lbs title. It’s a tough ask for Smith. The unbeaten Scouser has never boxed at this level before leaving some to question whether he will be found wanting at the higher echelons of world boxing. However, I am a believer and feel Smith’s educated pressure and impressive punch variety will see him nick a narrow points decision. - Mark Butcher.
Frank Warren deserves a lot of credit for this bill which features 50-50 fights from top to bottom.
Billy Joe Saunders will start fast and throw plenty to have a commanding lead at the halfway stage. Lee is no stranger to coming from behind to win but I don't believe his power will bail him out this time. Saunders showed in the Eubank Jr fight that he has a good chin and will likely take everything the champion throws at him. As Saunders tires in the second half Lee will close the gap but - just as he did against Chris Eubank Jr - Saunders will do just enough to win via split decision.
Terry Flanagan will want to prove he's a legitimate world champion. The injury sustained by Jose Zepeda robbed him of the opportunity last time. Magdaleno is a good fighter but I think the champion will dominate behind his jab and pick up a clear victory. Unanimous decision for Flanagan.
Michel Soro has quietly built a reputation as being one of the unsung dangermen of boxing. Smith has shown talent but has yet to face anyone in Soro's class. Perhaps this will be the moment when 'Beefy' shines but I feel Soro's experience may be the deciding factor in this one. Soro, split decision. - John A. MacDonald.
When I attended the Manchester press conference, where Frank Warren formally announced his 'World War III' card, the veteran promoter seemed genuinely excited at the prospect of what looks to be the British show of the year.
The headline act, a WBO middleweight title showdown between champion Andy Lee and unbeaten former British and European champion Billy Joe Saunders, is a mouthwatering affair that pits Irishman Lee against Saunders of Romany Gypsy heritage.
Lee, 31, is the puncher going into the fight and his vaunted power has rescued him on more than one occasion recently but Saunders has a sturdy chin and a high work-rate that could see him race into a lead by the halfway point of the fight. Saunders will be wary of Lee's power and I expect him to box cautiously, much more so than when he was dragged into a war by Chris Eubank Jr. My pick is for the more skillful Saunders to box his way to a points win as Lee tries in vain to reduce the Hatfield ace's lead, but don't be surprised if Lee pulls out another John Jackson right hand finish!
Less than a week before Terry Flanagan's first defense against American Diego Magdaleno was announced the rumour around the trade was that the Mancunian would face Liverpool veteran Derry Mathews, even the champion himself thought so! But the WBO ordered Flanagan to face his mandatory in the form of the Los Angeles native, 28-year-old Magdaleno and what a tough fight it is!
Despite being the only British world champion in a stacked lightweight division, Flanagan is still marginalized by many. Sky Sports caused a social media stir recently when they ranked the unbeaten Ancoats fighter as low as fifth in the domestic rankings, but having fought his way from small hall obscurity to world champion status Flanagan isn't fazed by anything outside of the ring and has the aura of being a genuine 'hard nut'
Magdaleno is tough, having come back from his sole career loss at the hands of Roman Martinez in Macao in 2013 when he contested the WBO 130lbs title. He has boxed himself back into title contention and will arrive in Manchester with a serious chance to return home as champion of the world. Flanagan's biggest assets are his southpaw stance, tremendous punch output and his physical size. The Manchester man's fists are on rapid fire when he finds his groove and when he won the world title, albeit in an unsatisfactory finish when Jose Zepeda dislocated his shoulder, he was beginning to find a home for his backhand left down the pipe. From what I've seen of the American, he isn't a tremendous mover and could find himself eating that punch all night. Magdaleno, on the other hand, will feel 'safe' in the knowledge that the champion isn't a huge puncher and, if he isn't miles behind and demoralized by halfway, he will still be in with a chance. But my pick is for Flanagan to retain by a wide points decision and to prove he is the real deal on the world stage.
Liam Smith's first foray into 'world class' also sees him fight for a world title for the first time which is something of a worry for me. 'Beefy' has long been labelled as the best of the fighting Smith brothers by trainer Joe Gallagher but the British champion has often found it too easy at domestic level and international level without having been matched tougher to thoroughly get a handle on his true talent. There is no doubt Smith is talented - he just hasn't needed to show his full arsenal to win his fights - and the match against Soro has come out of nowhere with the Frenchman representing a big test.
Soro is on a run of form that has seen him knockout Glen Tapia and Emmanuel Blandamura, the Italian who fought Billy Joe Saunders for the European middleweight title, so will be brimming with confidence when he travels to Manchester. But I have a feeling that Smith is better than many think he is and will raise his game substantially to finish Soro down the stretch in a gruelling encounter. - Danny Winterbottom.
Firstly, I think these are three great match-ups, all world class and (props where they are due) top marks to Frank Warren for giving us a really great card here. I think BJS-Lee will go down to the wire with Saunders scraping through via a razor-thin verdict in a fight with no knockdowns but plenty of good two-way action.
Flanagan has a tough hill to climb, but I think he's a man on a mission with something still to prove (after the less-spectacular-than-what-he-wanted way he won the title) and he'll scrape by Magdaleno (who has lost the only time he was away from home) in a close, tough contest that may see the American hit the canvas.
I'm a bit surprised Soro is dropping to back to 11st but he's the quiet dangerman of the division and he's mixed in far better company than Smith. I expect him to overcome a good start from the Liverpudlian and come on strong late, most likely with a stoppage in the final three rounds. - Colin Harris.
A vulnerable, hard-hitting fighting Irish world champion against one of the best boxers and best chins in the division. I don't think that Saunders has the pop to necessarily put Lee away but he has the skills to pull out an early lead. The challenger is known to tire and, as we've all seen, the champion carries his power late on into his fights. This is a tale of two fights for me with a Saunders early lead proving enough to edge victory despite what will be a probable onslaught from Lee late on. Saunders' fighting pride can't get in the way and Lee will look to use it to his advantage. I have no doubt that at some point both will have a gunfight. It will be a bout that will have a mix of everything that's good about boxing. A treat lies in wait. Saunders via split decision.
After the anti-climax of his world title win, I'm certain Flanagan will want to show everyone why he should be world champion. I believe Magdaleno will play into Flanagan's hands and lose reasonably wide on the scorecards. Magdaleno is a great test at this stage for Flanagan. It's not swimming with sharks but it's not swimming with a baby dolphin either. This is where we find out if Flanagan belongs. Magdaleno is good, but far stiffer tests lie ahead. Flanagan via unanimous decision.
It would be no surprise if Soro starts favourite in this one. Much has been made of how stiff a test this is for Smith and rightly so. Frank Warren isn't making it easy for his men on the night and that's what makes this show so appealing. Soro's record of late stands up better than Smith's and it was interesting to see him dip into the American scene recently with a good win over Glen Tapia. As for Smith, well this is his time to shine. It's a great opportunity and he has to use every spiteful shot he has at his disposal. I'm expecting a great fight but I think Soro is too much for 'Beefy' at this stage. I think the Liverpudlian will have to bite down severely hard to hear the final bell, too. Would've been nice to see Smith in with a Tapia type before facing Soro. Soro via unanimous decision. - Shaun Brown.
This looks like being the British card of the year. All three world title fights are evenly matched on paper and the entire bill is filled with pick-'em fights.
When I initially weighed up Andy Lee v Billy Joe Saunders, I pictured Lee catching up with Saunders in the final third of the fight and producing yet another come from behind victory. Saunders is the more well-rounded fighter but does seem to tire. Lee should still be around by the midway point and land his big shots more frequently as the fight wears on.
Terry Flanagan will beat Diego Magdaleno. Over the next 18 months, Flanagan might just emerge as the man to beat on the world stage. Magdaleno is an excellent first defence for the Manchester southpaw who - having felt what he had to offer - was extremely confident that he would have beaten Jose Zepeda even before the Californian's shoulder separated but a newly confident Flanagan will win a wide points decision.
I'm looking forward to seeing exactly how good Liam Smith is. I always get the feeling that, if Smith is less than enthused by the challenge facing him, he struggles to raise himself. Michel Soro matched Billy Joe Saunders' achievement by stopping Emanuele Blandamura in the eighth round of a European middleweight title fight so obviously carries power and Smith himself acknowledged that having sparred Soro before. This is likely to be a tough fight. I get the impression that Smith is even better than we have seen so far. I think he'll break Soro down in the second half of a head-to-head war. - John Evans.
I have to give Frank Warren huge credit for getting this card together. He may not have the depth of roster or resources of Matchroom, but regardless he has pulled together what is possibly the domestic card of the year.
Top of the bill is rightly Lee v Saunders. Since Lee teamed up with Adam Booth the progression has been naturally slow but steady and, despite some struggles with Peter Quillin, he impressed me by pulling out a draw in a fight he was expected to lose. Lee has become the classic Booth fighter by starting fights slow and coming on as they progress. I expect this fight to follow a similar pattern. Saunders will start fast and, at times make Lee look silly, but I think Lee's size and power advantages will start to become apparent in the middle rounds and for Lee to retain via very late stoppage.
Despite being the UK’s only 'world' champion at 135lbs, Terry Flanagan is still seemingly the forgotten man amongst the big names on the domestic scene. Sky Sports inexplicably rated him at No.5 on their list of the UK's best lightweights.
Flanagan's last fight was too short to take anything from but I'm still convinced he is the real deal; what he lacks in power he makes up for in work-rate and stamina. After the anticlimactic nature of his title win, this fight is exactly what Flanagan needs, a test without being in with a ‘killer’. I think Flanagan wins and wins big; he'll be fresh after the Zepeda fight and keen to impress in front of his own fans.
The big surprise from Monday's press conference was the announcement of Liam Smith's big chance against Michel Soro for the WBO's vacant 154lbs title. For Liam, I imagine this opportunity is overdue and it does seem like Smith has been treading water since beating Erick Ochieng for the British title. The opposition since then has been underwhelming and it won't have that prepared him for an opponent of Soro's pedigree. Despite this, I think Smith is going to win. It will be close, and maybe even controversial, but my pick is for Smith to nick it on the cards. - Callum Rudge.
Read Editor Graham Houston's extensive preview of the World War III super-show in the September issue of Boxing Monthly - out next week!