ESPN+ Boxing Preview: Saunders Looking to Become Two-Weight Champion
By: Ste Rowen
It’s been a long time, if ever, that someone has recognised Saunders as the #1 in his division, but on Saturday night the slick southpaw has the opportunity to present himself to a new weight class when he steps into the ring with Shefat Isufi for the vacant WBO super-middleweight title.
‘‘I had a terrible 2018, my title was robbed off me.’’ Saunders, 27-0 (13KOs) told the media on Thursday, ‘‘I jumped at this fight when it was offered, and I will become a two-weight world champion.’’
The former world champion was stripped of his WBO middleweight belt last year just weeks before his showdown with Demetrius Andrade when the Brit failed a drugs test for the banned stimulant oxilofrine. It was a moment that set fire to any of the momentum Saunders had carried through from his 2017 dismantling of David Lemieux. Instead of Andrade in October, Billy Joe fought and beat Charles Adamu in December; a bout in which he weighed in at 178lb.
But training again with Ben Davison and sharing the gym with Tyson Fury, Sanders believes he’s back to his best and ready for more than just becoming a two-weight world champion,
‘‘I’ve been training with Ben and it’s been good, enjoyable and great bouncing around with Tyson. I’m enjoying boxing again.
If I do bring it, I should box his head off. Whatever he brings I will fetch ten-fold more…I’m not looking past Isufi, but I am looking for the big names. I know I’ve got it inside me, and nobody’s seen my best…I have to be on my A game and send a message to the other super middleweights.’’
Isufi, 27-3-2 (20KOs), shouldn’t, in theory, set too big of a challenge for the former middleweight champion. Sitting at number one of the WBO’s 168lb rankings, the Serbian-born German has a basic style that, if he doesn’t jump on Billy Joe early, will mean he’ll paying for it as the fight draws on.
Shefat, the former WBO ‘Inter-Continental’ holder also spoke ahead of Saturday,
‘‘If Billy Joe did win, I will congratulate him, but it will be the other way around. He is quick and a hard puncher, but I can also punch, and one punch can make the difference.’’
However, if Saunders is anywhere close to the fighter that defeated Lemieux, or Andy Lee, the UK could be crowning its newest world champion by Saturday night.
Co-main for Saturday’s night world title bout at the Lamex Stadium in Hertfordshire, is ‘The Juggernaut’ Joe Joyce as he attempts to topple Alexander Ustinov as Joyce continues his climb to the summit of the heavyweights.
Joyce, 8-0 (8KOs) was last seen in the ring making swift, brutal work of Bermane Stiverne’s head and body when, in February, the former WBC world champion was broken down by the thudding puncher in six rounds. The Commonwealth champion is keen to continue his knockout streak but is fully aware of the experience his opponent holds,
‘‘Ustinov is a very experienced, big, strong, tough and this is a step up. I have to beat him to get to the next level.’’
Alexander ‘The Great’ Ustinov at 42-years-old is undoubtedly coming to the end of his career and goes into Saturday’s matchup on the back of two defeats. In November 2017, the Russian, 34-3 (25KOs) was dropped en route to a 12-round decision loss to Manuel Charr, then one year later he was stopped by rising heavyweight star, Michael Hunter in nine rounds. The ‘Juggernaut’ however is looking at Ustinov’s strengths rather than his pitfalls,
‘‘I know what he has in his arsenal and what I have to do to beat him. He can punch but I take a shot and give one back.
I’m looking for nine KOs out of nine.’’