By: Ste Rowen
At the Lamex Stadium on Saturday night, Billy Joe Saunders took the WBO super-middleweight crown at the first time of asking but left a lot to be desired for the fans; whilst Joe ‘The Juggernaut’ Joyce lumbered to an early stoppage victory over aged gatekeeper, Ustinov.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; well that’s the mentally that BJ Saunders seemed to enter the ring with when he faced up against Shefat Isufi on Saturday night. The former WBO 160lb world champion saw his opponent, Shefat, as a steppingstone and used him as such. Right from the first bell, the Brit was cruising as he made Isufi constantly miss multiple combinations and fired back with quick hands but a lack of fight-ending power.
At one-point Saunders taunted Isufi in the same way he played with David Lemieux – making his opponent miss widely and then looking into the distance – but, whereas that night in Quebec Billy Joe was facing a legitimate threat with bout-changing power, tonight it was more like Drogon coming up against the Golden Company but less exciting and much more predictable. The away fighter had no answer, struggling to lay a single shot on his confident foe, who continued to call him forward to try and land cleanly.
There was a shaky moment for Saunders in the 6th, when Isufi landed hard with two right hooks that left Billy shakily stepping backwards onto the ropes, but he was savvy enough to move in for the clinch and avoid taking any more significant blows. But it was the only bright spark in a rough night for Shefat. Both men made it to the final bell and the judges scorecards returned as; 120-108, 118-110, 117-111, all in favour of Billy Joe Saunders.
Now a two-weight world champion, Saunders, 28-0 (13KOs) spoke post-fight,
‘‘He caught me in the 6th but he didn’t have me where my legs were gone. I haven’t been in a meaningful fight for 14 months. He’s number one with the WBO for a reason so he’s obviously good.
My ability will always get me further in the sport…I want the big fights, the big names, the big domestic fights and unifications. I moved up from middleweight cos none of them wanted to fight me.’’
It remains to be seen who Billy’s next opponent will be, but with names such as Chris Eubank Jr and Callum Smith, amongst others, fighting at 168lb, Saunders and promoter, Frank Warren will be hard pressed to find an easy matchup they can pass off on the fans if they try.
The co-main event at the Lamex stadium on Saturday night saw Joe Joyce continue his rise towards contending for the top brass of the glamour division, with a 3rd round stoppage of Alexander ‘The Great’ Ustinov. The ‘Juggernaut’ attempted to jump on his opponent immediately; striking from the first bell and forcing Ustinov to either fight fire with fire or look to make it awkward; and credit to the Russian he tried his best to fight back with his own hooks but struggled to get in close to the younger man.
Joyce has a tendency to feint in the slowest possible way and yet still make his opponent take a step back and flinch. So though the speed of the Olympic silver medallist might not be close to someone such as Tyson Fury, the power is clearly a big worry for his rivals. At the start of round 3, Joyce really went in for the finisher, forcing Ustinov to retreat in any and every gap in the ring he could find. Joe through his punches in bunches but began to struggle to land cleanly, even taking a big right hand from his opponent which only briefly halted the ‘Juggernaut’s’ offense. Then, with 1:12 left on the clock, Joyce landed a thudding left hook, dropping Alexander to the canvas, and signalling the end of the bout as Ustinov made a feeble attempt to beat the count.
It wasn’t slick, and it won’t live long in the memory, but it does improve Joyce to 9-0 (9KOs) and the heavyweight prospect spoke to BBC Sport post-fight,
‘‘I just thought I’d start fast and see what would come back…He’s a seasoned veteran and every round was different…I came in warm and ready and it’s great to put in a performance here in Stevenage.
I’d like a world title by the end of the year and set myself up for some really big fights in 2020.’’