This Saturday night, Billy Joe Saunders (27-0) aims to become a two-weight world champion when he faces Shefat Isufi (27-3-2) at the Lamex Stadium in Stevenage, live on BT Sport in the UK and ESPN+ in the U.S.
Saunders hopes to add the WBO super-middleweight world title, vacated by Gilberto Ramirez, to his packed C.V. in front of an expectant hometown crowd.
Since his masterful performance of the sweet science on away turf in Canada eighteen months ago, unanimously outpointing David Lemieux, his career has hit the skids.
That night, he was being spoken about as a legitimate contender to the 160lb throne amongst the likes of Canelo Alvarez and GGG.
Unfortunately, a potentially career-defining fight in the U.S. with the man currently holding Saunders’ old WBO 160lb title, Demetrius Andrade, fell through due to a positive drug test for the banned stimulant oxilofrine. It cost him his hard-earned title and spotlight on a big U.S. show.
He was also hit in the wallet last year when some immature behaviour in his personal life arose on social media. He was fined by the BBB of C to the tune of £100,000.
Just a routine tune-up against Charles Adamu has been his only in-ring action since December of 2017. Saturday night also marks his first fight under new trainer, Ben Davison. He somewhat surprisingly parted ways with Dominic Ingle following relative success.
Serbian-born German, Shefat Isufi, certainly won’t prove to be the defining win Saunders’ career so desperately yearns for. I don’t recognise too many names on his professional ledger, which leans me towards the thinking that BJS is likely to comfortably outpoint him, like he has done with such regularity in his career. I genuinely believe Saunders to be one of Britain’s most talented fighters, and at twenty-nine years of age, really needs to kick on after a win this Saturday night.
Defeat would be disastrous and is simply not an option for a pugilist of Saunders’ calibre. I fully expect to see a hungry and diligent Saunders use his southpaw skills to dazzle and box Isufi’s head off for twelve rounds. Once he gets Saturday out of the way, I hope to see him knuckle down and show the world just how good he really is. He’s very much mastered the art of boxing – hit and don’t get hit! If he raises his game an extra few percent over the next few years, which I believe he’s capable of – I am confident he will add yet more accolades to his collection.
He wasn’t a big-puncher in the land of the middleweights, so there’s no reason to believe he’ll all of a sudden be knocking opponents out at 168lbs, but there are only a few super-middleweights on earth who are capable of out-boxing Saunders.
So, where will he venture next? He’s spoken of ‘unfinished business’ at middleweight, which leads us to believe we still may see him lock horns with either GGG or Canelo Alvarez. One opponent I’d like to see him rematch would be the current IBO 168lbs world champion, Chris Eubank Jr. Their original battle in 2014 was tight and I believe Eubank Jr. is a much-improved boxer these days.
Acting as chief support to Saunders’ world title attempt, Olympic silver medallist, Joe Joyce (8-0) continues his heavyweight education against Alexander Ustinov (34-3). Joyce is impressing so far as a professional and at this early stage is already earning himself mandatory positions for multiple titles.
Ustinov stands at around 6’8” but was shown to be vulnerable in defeat last time out against Michael Hunter – who has campaigned mainly at cruiserweight. Expect Joyce to look like a million dollars and head towards showdowns with British rivals, Daniel Dubois and Nathan Gorman in late 2019/early 2020.
Also, Brad Foster (10-0-1) battles Ashley Lane (13-8-2) with Foster’s British super-bantamweight title on the line and Lane’s commonwealth strap up for grabs in what should be a decent domestic dust-up. Rounding out the card are a whole host of undefeated prospects that Frank Warren and Queensberry Promotions hope to develop over the coming years.
Ian Aldous is a staff writer for World Boxing News. Follow on Twitter @ian7685