Saunders, the World Boxing Organization’s undefeated super middleweight titleholder, set his video in a makeshift home gym that featured a punching bag, and he dedicated it to “all you dads, husbands, if you’ve got girlfriends, etc.,” who are “isolated away in very tight spaces” with their partners.
“If your old woman is giving you a little bit of mouth and you try to be patient, you try to be calm, cool, but after the seventh day or sixth day, you’re just about to explode,” Saunders, 30, told the camera in a clip that reportedly went public after it leaked to WhatsApp. “All of a sudden she’s coming at you, spitting a bit of venom in your face, ready to say something, you may have left the dishes out, I don’t know what you’ve done but you’ve upset her.”
Saunders then threw a hard overhand right at the punching bag, saying that viewers should visualize their partners’ chins, and he followed it by showing how to dip down on the left knee before springing up with a left hook to “finish her off.” He added, “That should do the trick,” and ended the video with no overt indication that he was not serious.
The British Boxing Board of Control said in a statement Monday that it suspended his boxer’s license pending a hearing under its misconduct regulation at an unspecified later date.
Saunders (29-0-0, 14 KOs) had reportedly agreed to a fight against Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez (53-1-2, 36 KOs), the World Boxing Association’s super middleweight titlist, on May 2 in Las Vegas. That fight, which figured to deliver Saunders a payday well into seven figures, has been put on hold because of the global pandemic, and it is unclear if his suspension and sudden notoriety may cause Alvarez’s camp to look elsewhere.
Saunders’s video garnered a torrent of criticism, including from a British academic and anti-domestic violence activist, Nicole Westmarland, who told the BBC: “We are living though the most dangerous time for women in abusive relationships. So for him to do that, in this environment, is completely shocking and unacceptable.”
With residents of numerous countries being advised, if not ordered, by their governments to shelter in place as much as possible to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the likelihood of an increase in incidents of domestic abuse has emerged as a major concern.
“We know that when there’s added stress in the home it can increase the frequency and severity of abuse. We’re trying to prepare survivors for that,” Katie Ray-Jones, chief executive of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, told The Washington Post last week.
Claressa Shields, who is widely regarded as one of the best female boxers in the world, responded Sunday to Saunders’s video by posting one of her own that offered a self-defense lesson for “women in abusive relationships.” Noting the right-left combination Saunders had taught, Shields used a punching bag to show women how to duck and throw a punch aimed squarely at their abusers’ testicles.
Saunders retweeted Shields’s post with applause emoji, and in his apology he said he would make a donation from his next fight to a charity that helps victims of domestic abuse. He also promised to host self-defense workshops and seminars for survivors and current victims.
“I looked at it as a bit of a joke at first — I obviously wasn’t thinking right — but looking back at it now I can clearly see the destruction it has caused among the women suffering from domestic violence,” Saunders said Monday in an interview with talkSPORT. “It was a silly mistake, but I didn’t intentionally mean to cause harm to anyone, and I certainly wouldn’t promote domestic violence.”
In 2018, Saunders was fined 100,000 pounds (more than $120,000) by the British Boxing Board of Control after a video surfaced that showed him telling a downtrodden-looking woman that he would give her £150 worth of drugs to perform a sex act (via BBC Sport). After Saunders offered an alternative option of punching a passerby, the woman complied, at which point he drove off.
The video, called “sickening” (via the Guardian) by police in Nottinghamshire, England, was described by Saunders at the time as “banter” that went “wrong.” He said in a tweet, “Apologise to everybody who’s took offence, totally in the wrong — can’t do anything but be sorry.”
“You have a responsibility as a boxer, as a high-profile sportsman, not to take advantage of people,” Saunders’s promoter at the time, Frank Warren, told BBC Sport. “He knows that now better than anybody. It was very poor judgment on his behalf, and hopefully that’s behind him now.”
Saunders’s current promoter, Eddie Hearn, said Monday that he was “appalled” by his fighter’s latest video.
“It was so frustrating because I know Billy well; it’s one step forward, four steps back with Billy Joe Saunders, and it is frustrating,” Hearn told talkSPORT. “You just can’t do it, especially when you’re in your position. It’s unacceptable for [an average person] down the street to do it. It’s much more unacceptable for a world champion boxer to be doing it.
“Thinking you’re having a laugh, or not having a laugh — young people are watching that video,” Hearn continued. “People who are in abusive relationships are watching that video. You cannot do it; it’s unacceptable.”
Saunders, who claimed to have received death threats aimed at him and his family, said to talkSPORT: “It wasn’t done for social media likes; it was just done out of pure careless thought. Like I said, my eye at this moment in time was on coronavirus and people dying, and I wasn’t thinking about causing friction for women around the world and promoting harm.
“Which I clearly have done, and I can only put my hands up and apologize for that.”