Saunders vs Isufi: Home Sweet Home For Billy Joe
BILLY JOE SAUNDERS will bid to win the hearts of the Hertfordshire public when he fights for the first time in the county as a professional, seeking to become a two-weight world champion by claiming the vacant WBO world super middleweight title against the Albanian Shefat Isufi.
What Saunders hopes will be his crowning glory will take place in the middle of the pitch at the Lamex Stadium, home of Stevenage FC, and performing on home soil carries considerable appeal for the unbeaten – 27-0 – former WBO world middleweight champion.
“Most definitely and I think it has been a long time coming,” said the 29-year-old. “You see I have mostly boxed in London and been at home, but I’ve never boxed here and it is interesting because I believe I am going to get a very big following.
“I am very excited to be honest with you, excited and nervous, because it is no good fighting at a venue like this and performing like a pillock! I’ve got to put on a good performance, so I am looking to repeat the David Lemieux performance and get the win to make myself the No.1.”
To do that, the southpaw stylist will have to overcome the 27-3-2 Isufi, who is unbeaten at super middleweight after previously campaigning at cruiser and light heavy. Saunders insists he is not a threat to be taken lightly.
“Listen, a lot of people are looking at him and underestimating him a little bit. I am looking at him and I can, from studying him, see that what he does he does really well. He is not appealing on the eye, but he is better than he actually looks.
“He is obviously No.1 in the world for something and he has got to be taken care of professionally. I have been working hard and I am going to get the job done.
“He is unbeaten at the weight and he has cemented his No.1 spot for a reason. I’ve got to take him seriously but, at the same time, it is hard not to look past him because I lost my world title without getting beat and I want to be world champion as quickly as I can.”
Saunders, indeed, could have opted to remain at middleweight and was nominated as mandatory challenger for his old title after Demetrius Andrade assumed his former status following their aborted collision last year.
The Hatfield resident declined the mandatory invitation in order to challenge for two-weight honours and believes the champions and contenders at super middle are far more willing to engage than at 160lbs.
“For one the financial gain was silly, silly change. Then there was nothing going my way and I would have been going to his back yard again, where I didn’t get fairly treated the first time. I know that and I know deep down what went on, but for good fighters it is not about sitting around watching it is about how you come back.
“I have to come back stronger.
“It is open with some good names and some good fights to be made. People might say I am not a big super middleweight, but they will find I will be big enough for it. My style has never been big and bullying, that is not me, my style is being clever and smart.
“I have got unfinished business at middleweight, but I am putting myself in a position at super middle to give myself different options.
“The thing is with the super middleweights is that everyone is willing to fight everyone. There is nobody sitting back hanging out for the last pound and that is what I like about it. I’ve been at the top of the middleweights and the stars at the top want all of the pie and everything their own way.
“It is all on their terms, but I am just in it to win it and prove I am the best. I will put myself in a position at super middleweight where they have got to fight me.
“It is just about timing.”
BILLY JOE SAUNDERS insists he will not underestimate Shefat Isufi in his big super-middleweight test.
Saunders (27-0, 13 KOs) will be in action just 12 miles from his Hatfield home when he faces the German based Albanian at Stevenage FC’s Lamex Stadium on Saturday May 18, live on BT Sport.
The WBO ‘Interim’ title is currently on the line although promoter Frank Warren hopes the organisation’s vacant world title will be at stake as champion Gilberto Ramirez is believed to be considering relinquishing and boxing at light-heavyweight.
Isufi (27-3-2, 20 KOs) is ranked number one in the latest WBO rankings with Saunders right behind him in the second position.
Saunders, 29, said: “It is one of them where people don’t expect too much, but Isufi can be very dangerous.
“He has come from nothing and got his big chance. You don’t get ranked number one in the world for nothing, especially with who he is promotion wise.
“He has boxed his way into that position. I have to take him seriously and deal with him appropriately.”
Saunders has settled well with trainer Ben Davison after splitting with Dominic Ingle and there is no doubt that his words about taking Isufi seriously are true.
The former WBO champion has been living at a hotel on the outskirts of Manchester for seven weeks and training at Ricky Hatton’s gym.
“I am loving it at Hatton’s gym with Ben and I am just enjoying it again, added Saunders.
“I have to be happy at what I am doing and I will get the best out of myself. If It’s not like that it can become a slog.
“There is no secret that 2018 was a terrible year with terrible memories. Everything got to me a little bit.
“I just needed a complete change. It was the same when I was with Jimmy Tibbs. He was the best coach. I always use the term ‘coach’ and ‘trainer’ and he was the best purist coach I have been around.
“I just needed a change then because my head was going stale. Sometimes when your head goes stale you need that bit of change as a fighter and that is what I needed to get that spark.
“I have to stay ready. Because of my style – slick and fast, you don’t get to keep that forever so I want to show it while I’ve got it and beat whoever they put in front of me.”
Billy Joe Saunders v Shefat Isufi headlines the bill at the Lamex Stadium, home of Stevenage FC with unbeaten heavyweight Joe Joyce in the chief supporting contest.
Tickets can be purchased via borotickets.co.uk and are priced as below:
£250 – Hospitality
£150 – Pitch
£100 – Pitch
£75 – Pitch
£50 – Stand
£40 – Stand
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