The former Olympian was due to face Dave Ryan 17-8 last April but has since been forced to sit out on the sidelines for several months after damaging tendons and ligaments in his right hand in training for the big fight due to take place in Newcastle.
Instead, the Derby man known as ‘Rocky’ took on the in-form John Wayne Hibbert 15-3 on the huge night of boxing on May 30th in the country’s capital that saw exciting heavyweight, Anthony Joshua become the first of 37 opponents to ever stop ‘The Kingpin’ Kevin Johnson.
Essex boxer, Hibbert came into the fight off the back of six straight KO victories and caused the champion plenty of problems throughout the contest knocking him down in rounds three and five and appeared to be on course to dethrone the 32-year-old Commonwealth titleholder.
Ryan found himself on the canvas in the third round by a clipping short right after finding himself caught square in the corner and then again in the fifth from three shuddering rights to the body.
But every bit of him a true champion, Ryan rallied instantly and turned the fight on its head with a great seventh round performance rocking Hibbert before finishing him off by putting the challenger down twice in the ninth and giving referee, Victor Loughlin no option but to step in and stop the contest.
Now fighting under the Matchroom banner himself after making the switch from Box Nation last October, Saunders 12-0 was watching the action unfold from his Marbella home.
“I thought Dave Ryan was very, very good. He’s got a lot of grit and determination and he showed everything that I expected to come from him,” said the 29-year-old MGM fighter.
“To win after two knockdowns shows just how he good he really is. He shows time and time again that he gets up and what it takes to be a champion because he’s solid.”
The latest victory for Ryan has seen him since elevated above Saunders in the rankings.
“I couldn’t be happier for Dave Ryan, to be honest,” said Saunders. “I would say he is one of the most underrated fighters in Britain.”
Saunders is still looking for the fight with Ryan for his Commonwealth strap later this year.
“I think a lot of fans after that will want to see me and Dave Ryan fight. I text Eddie Hearn during the show to say that I will fight any one of these anytime. I’ll fight anyone, he knows that.”
Saunders has been recovering well in sunny Spain and plans to travel to the UK this Friday for training.
“I’ve had a few injuries, everyone knows that, but I’m back punching now and I was on the pads today so I’ll be punching all this week. My hand feels a lot better and looks a lot better as well now. It actually feels in better shape than when I had it done before to my other hand.”
Hand specialist, Mike Hayton operated on the Beijing 2008 Olympian at The Alexandra Hospital in Cheshire making it the second successful procedure on the same patient having repaired his left hand in December 2012 following an injury sustained in the fifth round of his fifth professional fight against the only opponent to take him past six rounds – Irish light-middleweight champion, Peter McDonagh.
“Hopefully be back out in September and again in October,” he added. “I just want to be as busy as I can but I’m not rushing it, taking it one step at a time.”
The Sedgefield star remains relentlessly optimistic drawing on a lifetime of experience to stay positive, “It is really frustrating but everything happens for a reason. It’s not like I’ve been left behind, I’ve been doing this for so long now that I now there’s ups and downs and I’m used to it.”
Back in training and doing what he loves, Saunders is revelling in being active once again, he excitedly quipped, “MGM Marbella is bouncing right now, my little brother, Jeff has been over all week, Jamie Conlan’s here, he’s fighting top of the bill on July 4th over in Dublin, Scotty Cardle been over, Declan Geraighty and Thomas Stalker are in. It’s bouncing in here at the moment.
“I’m lucky to have a great team around me and I’d like to thank my manager, Daniel Kinahan for looking after me and my family,” Saunders concluded.
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