Billy Joe Saunders vs. Shefat Isufi – official weights
By Trevor McIntyre: Billy Joe Saunders and Shefat Isufi made weight on Friday for their fight for the vacant WBO super middleweight title this Saturday night at the Lamex Stadium, in Stevenage, England. Former WBO 160-pound champion Saunders (27-0, 13 KOs) weighed in at 168 pounds, and looked in excellent shape.
Isufi (27-3-2, 20 KOs) came in at 167 ¼ pounds. During the face off, the two were head to head with Saunders doing a lot of talking, and standing on his toes at times to tower over Isufi, who then crouched down to look even smaller. As the two were walking away, Saunders reached over and gave a light slap/pat to the face of Isufi. It looked harmless. There was no bad blood between the two. Isufi walked off as if nothing had happened. Saunders is a big favorite to win this fight. Isusi, 29, has largely unknown fighters poor records. The World Boxing Organization chose to give Isufi a #1 ranking anyway, which has a lot of fans wondering what the sanctioning bodies’ rationale for doing so.
The fight is a complete oddity. Saunders recently tested positive for the banned substance oxilofrine last October, which wiped out a fight between him and Demetrius Andrade. Shortly after that, Saunders vacated his WBO middleweight title. Despite the positive test for oxilofrine last year, the WBO has given Saunders a #2 ranking at 168.
Saunders and Isufi will be fighting for former WBO super middleweight champion Gilberto ‘Zurdo’ Ramirez’s recently vacated title. After three years as the WBO 168-pound champion Ramirez decided to move up to 175 to take on the lions at light heavyweight. There are potentially big paydays in that division for the 27-year-old Ramirez, as his promoters at Top Rank control three of the four belts in the division with their champions Artur Beterbiev, Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Sergey Kovalev.
It’s considered a given that Saunders will beat the 29-year-old Isufi without any problems to win the vacant WBO super middleweight title. There’s already interest on Saunders’ part in fighting the other champions at 168. Saunders is specifically interested in facing WBA champions Saul Canelo Alvarez and Callum Smith. A fight between Saunders and Callum is more realistic. Canelo won’t likely bother fighting Saunders due to his spoiling style of fighting, southpaw stance, and his lack of popularity in the United States. Canelo needs to fight popular fighters due to his huge DAZN contract he was given. Saunders isn’t popular even in his own country.
Joe Joyce vs. Alexander Ustinov – weights
2016 Olympic super heavyweight silver medalist Joe Joyce (8-0, 8 KOs) weighed in at 261 pounds for his 10 round fight against 42-year-old Alexander Ustinov (34-3, 25 KOs). The 6’7″ Ustinov weighed in at 283 lbs, and looked in shape.
Joyce had been talking recently about coming in lighter for this fight, but his weight was only four pounds lighter than the 265 lbs that Joyce weighed for his previous fight against 40-year-old former WBC heavyweight champion Bermane Stiverne on February 23. Joyce stopped Stiverne in the sixth round of a one-sided. It’s unclear why Joyce is suddenly fighting old timers. This is his second fight in a row in fighting a guy over 40. Before that, Joyce fought 36-year-old Joe Hanks. His management seem to be focusing on putting the 33-year-old Joyce with older fighters. He doesn’t have a lot of time to be messing around fighting older guys. Joyce got a late start in his pro career due to his long amateur career, and he can’t afford to fight lesser heavyweights for too long before going after the top guys in the division. Joyce fell asleep on the stage during the final news conference this week. There was a lot of talk about that. Some fans are wondering whether Joyce is getting enough sleep.
Ustinov comes into this fight having lost his last two matches against Michael Hunter and Manuel Charr. Ustinov’s best days are clearly behind him at 42. The Big Russian fighter can still punch, but he’s very slow of hand and foot. Joyce is slow as well, but he’s a tad bit faster, and moves well.
Joyce will be making debut with new trainer Adam Booth
This will be Joyce’s first fight with new trainer Adam Booth. Joyce had recently been trained by Abel Sanchez at Big Bear, California. Joyce says he made the change of trainers, because he wanted to work on his head movement, and it’s easier for him to train in the UK than it is for him to travel to the U.S each time for training camp, and have to rent a place. Booth is a decent trainer. He’s helpful l to some fighters, but others don’t make huge leaps with him. Booth does best when he’s got a guy that comes to him already pretty well complete. It’ll be interesting to see if Booth is able to help Joyce improve his game. Booth won’t be able to do anything about Joyce’s lack of hand speed. That’s his biggest problem.