Beneath the riches and excitement of Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury in the heavyweight division, British boxing is in a state of transition. While some familiar names find their careers perilously balanced on a cliff edge, others are trying to make the climb to elite level.
This weekend sees two former world champions from the UK — Ryan Burnett and Billy Joe Saunders — try to revive their careers in fights shown live on ESPN+ in the US on Friday and Saturday respectively, while Josh Taylor aims to emerge as Britain’s latest world champion in Glasgow, also on Saturday.
And UK boxing needs a new big-name attraction — especially outside the heavyweight division — after the retirement of stars such as David Haye, Tony Bellew, James DeGale and George Groves in the last six months.
Other headline acts such as Amir Khan and Anthony Crolla have recently suffered crushing defeats against two of the world’s best boxers, Terence Crawford and Vasiliy Lomachenko respectively, making it unlikely they will scale such heights again. Carl Frampton and Kell Brook, no strangers to world title fights, are also running out of time to win one again.
However, Burnett and Saunders have pathways ahead of them that offer a route back to the top.
Former IBF and WBA world bantamweight champion Burnett (19-1, 9 KOs), 26, has his first fight since November when a back injury ended a defence against Nonito Donaire. Burnett faces Jelbirt Gomera (14-5, 7 KOs), of the Philippines, at the Ulster Hall in his home city of Belfast on Friday and is expected to progress to set up a shot at WBO champion Zolani Tete later this year.
Saunders (27-0, 13 KOs), 29, takes on Germany-based Serbian Shefat Isufi (27-3-2, 20 KOs), 29, for the vacant WBO world super-middleweight title at Stevenage FC’s football stadium in Hertfordshire, England. Saunders, who now trains alongside former world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury in Manchester, only plans on fighting for another two years after telling ESPN he wants to retire at 31.
After losing the WBO middleweight belt due to a failed drugs test last year, Saunders hopes there is still time left for him to fight one of the big names, which has so far eluded him.
One of those hoping to fill the void left by all the big name retirees is Taylor (14-0, 12 KOs), 28, an immaculate boxer who is trained by Shane McGuigan along with Luke Campbell. Taylor, from Edinburgh in Scotland, was on the same Great Britain boxing team as Campbell at the 2012 Olympics, but was left in tears after missing out on a medal.
Despite that setback, Taylor is a good bet to cement his place as one of the world’s best in Glasgow when he takes on Belarussian Ivan Baranchyk (19-0, 12 KOs) for the IBF super lightweight title in the semifinal of the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS). Win, and Taylor faces American Regis Prograis, the WBA champion, in the WBSS final and a world title unification fight.
For Taylor, the pathway is there for fame and fortune, and British boxing needs him to succeed.
Campbell (20-2, 16 KOs), 31, also has a world title shot up next — but faces the world’s best boxer in Lomachenko.
Taylor and Saunders have easier tasks this weekend, and can increase Britain’s tally of world champions from the current list of five: Joshua (WBA-IBF-WBO); super-middleweight Callum Smith (WBA); featherweight Josh Warrington (IBF); junior bantamweight Kal Yafai (WBA) and flyweight Charlie Edwards (WBC).
Others sharing the same goal as Taylor include super-middleweight Chris Eubank Jr and light-heavyweight Anthony Yarde. Daniel Dubois and Joe Joyce have had less than 20 fights between them but are part of the biggest story in British boxing right now — the heavyweight division — and are among a new generation of UK boxers hoping to replace those closing in on retirement.
But with Joshua, Fury and Dillian Whyte getting all the attention in British boxing, others will have to do something pretty special to steal some of the limelight. Burnett, Saunders and Taylor aim to do just that, starting this weekend.