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Billy Joe Saunders vs. Shefat Isufi & Joe Joyce vs. Alexander Ustinov – preview

Alexander Ustinov Billy Joe Saunders Joe Joyce Joyce vs. Ustinov Saunders vs. Isufi Shefat Isufi


By Barry Holbrook: Billy Joe Saunders (27-0, 13 KOs) is a huge favorite to defeat Shefat Isufi (27-3-2, 20 KOs) in their fight tonight for the vacant WBO super middleweight title at the Lamex Stadium, in Stevenage, England.

The odds-makers have the 29-year-old former WBO 160-pound champion Saunders a monstrous 100:1 favorite to defeat #1 ranked WBO contender Isufi to claim the vacant World Boxing Organization super middleweight title. On paper, this fight is a big mismatch. Saunders has been in with a lot of talented fighters during his career like Andy Lee, Chris Eubank Jr., David Lemieux, Willie Monroe Jr., Artur Akavov, John Ryder, Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan, Nick Blackwell, Bradley Pryce, Jarrod Fletcher and Matthew Hall. Even if you want to say those aren’t true world class level fighters, they’re world’s better than the no names that Isufi has exclusively fought during his carer up to this point.


It’s easy to see why Saunders is such a big favorite to defeat the Germany based Isufi. The difference in experience between the two fighters is tremendous. Saunders hasn’t fought a lot of great talents during his 10-year pro career, but he’s been at least fighting world class level opposition in the last seven years off and on. Isufi has yet to fight a world ranked contender since turning pro in 2010. The WBO sees something in Isufi for them to have him ranked #1, but in terms of experience, he’s done zero to be given that kind of rankings. It’s one of those strange things that you see from sanctioning bodies where they rank a fighter highly that has performed poorly, lost a number of times, and never beaten talented opposition. Saunders has a great chance of winning the WBO belt tonight to become their new super middleweight champion.

There’s no names on Isufi’s resume to give an indication of how well he’ll do against Saunders tonight. In looking at some video of Isufi’s past fights, he’s slow, easy to hit, and lacking in talent.

Here are Isufi’s recent wins:

– Mohamed El Achi

– Rafael Sosa Pintos

– Badri Kereselidze

– David Zegarra

– Soso Abuladze

– Daniel Urbanski

– Mikheil Khutsishvili

– Giorgi Beroshvili

It’s kind of a shame that the WBO has given Isufi a #1 ranking with their organization given how dreadful his opposition has been in the last three years. There are so many more qualified contenders in the super middleweight division that deserve to be fighting for the vacant WBO 168-pound title than Isufi right now. Again, we don’t know how the WBO bases it’s rankings. Perhaps they have a formula that they use to give fighters #1 rankings. Isufi might have the perfect wins that the WBO was impressed with in order to give him a #1 ranking. But just looking at the obscure fighters that Isufi has beaten in the last three years, he arguably doesn’t deserve to be ranked at all in the top 15, let alone at #1 in this writer’s view.

This will be the second fight for Saunders since he tested positive for the banned substance oxilofrine last year on August 31. Saunders was popped in a test by VADA while training for what was supposed to be a title defense of his WBO middleweight title against #1 WBO ranked contender Demetrius Andrade. Since oxilofrine was one of the banned substances on VADA’s list of banned substances, Saunders was unable to get his boxing license with the Massachusetts Athletic Commission to defend his WBO title against Andrade in Boston. As such, Saunders vacated his WBO belt rather than wait for the sanctioning body to strip him. Andrade moved forward and defeated Walter Kautondokwa for the vacant WBO 160-pound belt. Saunders chose to move up to 168 rather than take his chances against the talented Andrade, who would have been a real problem for him if he had fought him. After moving up in weight, Saunders defeated journeyman Charles Adamu (33-4, 26 KOs) by a fourth round stoppage last December in a fight that took place at light heavyweight. Saunders weighed in at 178 pounds for the Adamu fight, and didn’t look at all fat. That had a lot of boxing fans wondering how on earth Saunders had been draining down to fight at 160 for the last 10 years of his career. In moving up to 168, Saunders is getting nearer to his natural weight, which could well be in the 180s.

Saunders has a lot of ideas of where he wants to take his career if he’s able to beat Isufi tonight to claim the vacant WBO super middleweight title. Saunders wants to fight WBA Super World 168-pound champion Callum Smith and Saul Canelo Alvarez. The fight with Smith is a possible one, but not for a while. Smith is said to be looking to take three more fights before he turns his attention to Saunders. That might be the only option for Saunders for big fights at 168 unless someone like Chris Eubank Jr. wants to fight him. Canelo won’t do it, and neither will Gennady Golovkin. Those guys want to fight popular fighters, and Saunders doesn’t fit that category. Saunders could face David Benavidez, but he might not want to fight him for obvious reasons. Benavidez hits hard, and he would be a lot of problems for Saunders, who can’t punch. There’s also some excellent light heavyweights that would be willing to fight Saunders like Dmitry Bivol. That’s another guy that Saunders probably wouldn’t be interested in fighting either.

Saunders wins this fight against the little known Isufi going away. It would take a miracle for Isufi to win this fight, and it’s extremely unlikely to happen. Hopefully after this fight the WBO will start doing a better job ranking fighters.

Joe Joyce vs. Alexander Ustinov tonight

Undefeated heavyweight Joe Joyce (8-0, 8 KOs) is a big 50:1 favorite to defeat 42-year-old Alexander Ustinov (34-3, 25 KOs) in their 10 round fight in the co-feature bout. This isn’t a great fight for Joyce, 33, but it’s all he could get. He wanted to fight Derek Chisora, but the 35-year-old reported priced himself out. There’s talk that Chisora wanted seven figures to fight Joyce. That’s a lot of money for a fighter coming off of an 11th round knockout loss to Dillian Whyte. Joyce is in a position where he wanted to fight the better guys, but he’s too much of a risk for them to face him. The best Joyce can hope for is a fight against domestic level heavyweight Daniel Dubois. That’s a good fight, but it’s not one that where Joyce will get much credit for winning due to Dubois’ age. He’s only 21.

Ustinov, 6’7″, has lost his last two fights against Michael Hunter and Manuel Charr. The 283 pound Ustinov is looking like a shot fighter, but not because of ring wear. It’s more of a case of age.

Joyce should win this fight easy. It would be surprising if it goes the full 10 rounds. Joyce will likely take Ustinov out within six rounds.

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