NORTH-EAST boxing looks set for an exciting 2014 and County Durham boxer Bradley Saunders wants to help lead the charge to the top.
Saunders' first fight as a professional in the region ended in an eighth straight win at Gateshead Leisure Centre eight days ago.
The 27-year-old has intentions to keep fighting in the area as he pushes towards title fights of his own.
It could be that Saunders' next outing will be on a show when a belt is up for grabs, even if it means not taking centre stage like he did when he stopped Hungarian Gyorgy Mizsei Jnr in the fourth round.
Sharing the bill with Birtley's British cruiserweight champion Jon-Lewis Dickinson on February 22 at the same Gateshead venue is an option after the turn of the year.
While the likes of West Rainton's Martin Ward, if he successfully claims the Commonwealth bantamweight title on December 7 against Gabriel Odoi Laryea, or Darlington's Stuart Hall, set for an IBF world crown shot on December 21, are also possibilities in the New Year.
Sunderland's Kirk Goodings is another boxer from the region making rapid progress having earned English champion status in October by defeating Middlesbrough's Paul Truscott.
The likes of Hetton-le-Hole's Jordan King and Guisborough's Josh Leather are among a long list of others making the boxing fraternity sit up and take notice.
Saunders, cheered on by more than 1,000 fans when he stopped Mizsei, is desperate to play his part in putting the North-East on the map.
“I will push on next year,” he said. “I don't want to be the top of the show all of the time, but I know that crowd out there came to watch me.
“The next fight doesn't have to be a title fight for me, but if it isn't it has to be on a title fight show. Maybe we will be on with Jon-Lewis Dickinson. I'm generating tickets and I don't mind fighting on somebody else's show.”
It was an exciting night all round at Gateshead eight days ago but Saunders' display – along with the manner in which Leather stopped Hungarian Renato Toth and King defeated Plymouth's Angelo Crowe – provided reasons to be hopeful of greater nights.
The Sedgefield pro, who has claimed six stoppages from his eight contests, said: “There was a temptation to go at him from the bell, but I knew I had to hold myself back. I knew after the first two rounds how tough he was.
“I was hitting him with some solid jabs and he was still there. I'm glad I took it easy early on. I boxed in the North-East years ago, I've been to a million shows since but I have never seen a crowd like that.
“I will stay in the North-East. I have been on shows in London, Scotland, everywhere in the world, but that meant a lot more to me.
“There were people in the crowd who I've never seen before in my life. When I went to the shop on the day of the fight, the man behind the counter asked if I was looking forward to the fight? I asked how he knew, he said 'everyone in the town does'. That was in Newcastle. I want to build on that and become a name in the North-East.”
King's performance indicated he could also have bigger nights ahead. With a healthy contingent of fans behind him, the 21-year-old outpointed Crowe in a pulsating tussle of power.
It was only his second fight – having beaten Lithuanian Egidijus Kaksys on his debut – but there were flashes of the boxer who won Junior ABAs and Golden Gloves during his time with Hetton-le-Hole ABC.
“I was doing well in the amateurs, boxing for England, but when I missed the ABAs through flu, I didn't want to wait another year so I turned pro,” said King.
“I won a lot of junior stuff and when Hetton ABC was shut down by the council that was another reason to turn pro when I did. It was sad. I had fought there from the age of 11 and I'd won the lot.
“Now I want to climb as high as I can. I will be at a high level, I know I will and I really fancy it. I want titles. I'm light heavyweight now but I will get down to super middle.”