BRADLEY SAUNDERS was back in the North-East yesterday to promote his return to the ring next month and spoke openly of a desire to claim Curtis Woodhouse’s British crown.

Saunders will be one of the leading support acts in Newcastle on March 29 when Darlington’s Stuart Hall looks to defend his IBF bantamweight belt in a North-East showdown with Rainton’s Martin Ward.

It was confirmed yesterday that Saunders will face experienced Dungiven southpaw Paul McCloskey in a ten-rounder which could yet be given greater significance.

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With McCloskey ranked fifth in the British rankings, a ninth straight career win for the County Durham fighter would see him climb rapidly up the charts from 12th spot.

There is talk that the battle could be given official eliminator status in the next 24 hours with promoters working on the bout being for a world organisation title, and Saunders is intent on making the most of his talent having walked away from his successful amateur career in 2012.

The former Olympian has already had a chat with Woodhouse on the phone, although not to face the former Sheffield United footballer who announced plans to vacate the British light-welterweight crown after defeating reigning champion Darren Hamilton last Saturday.

Saunders said: “I spoke to Curtis Woodhouse on Monday and he said ‘The title’s yours, I’m retiring’. I said ‘enjoy retirement!’ “It’s not as easy as that, of course. But touch wood, when I do a job on (McCloskey), I’ve got to beat one of the best, first.

“If you look at the ratings now, McCloskey’s up there. Curtis is in front of him. He’s retiring, and Amir Khan’s going up a weight. That means the man I’m fighting is No 1 or thereabouts, so if I beat him, surely that leaves me in the No 1 spot.

“Once I beat him, there’s only one person challenging for the title and that’s Bradley Saunders.”

The British belt would be the perfect platform to go on to even greater things, but first of all he knows that he must overcome McCloskey at the end of next month.

Even if the McCloskey bout is given extra importance this week, Saunders knows it will be the toughest night of his career so far.

He has stopped Gyorgy Mizsei Jnr, Gareth Heard, Michael Kelly, Ivan Godor, Danny Donchev and Jason Nesbitt inside the distance. He has also defeated Peter McDonagh and Kevin McCauley on points.

But McCloskey is a former British and European champion who has lost just three of his 27 fights, including a defeat to Dave Ryan in Leeds in December. He is renowned, though, for going to the last bell.

“If he plans to beat me by taking me the distance, he’s in for the biggest shock of his life,” said Saunders, knowing McCloskey’s bid for a WBA world title ended in defeat to Amir Khan in April 2011.

“I get fitter. I’ve trained with a heart monitor, my heart rate’s going up to 175, 180. I’m doing ten four-minute rounds. My resting heart rate gets better.

“My coaches say ‘Your heart’s not normal’. What I’ve got, I’ve got. I’ve got a good engine. I’ve trained all my life. It all builds up over the years, it doesn’t happen overnight.

“If someone plans on taking me into deep water, I assure you, I won’t be drowning.”

Saunders, from Sedgefield, County Durham, is based in Marbella, Spain, in an attempt to stay focused on his ambitions to reach the top of the sport.

And he has been a driving to face such a tough opponent at this stage of his career after discussions with his manager, Frank Warren.

“I don’t want to be tyre-kicking all my life, fighting nobodies. I don’t want to be one of those ‘if-only’ boxers,” said Saunders, “Let me crack on. I’ve had a good amateur career, lots of experience. Paul McCloskey hasn’t beaten two Olympic champions, won silver at the Commonwealth Games. So there’s no reason why I can’t go and compete with him.

“I could have waited until next year to fight him but I wanted to do it on this bill. It’s a tough one, there’s some good fights on.”

As well as Saunders-McCloskey and Hall-Ward, Birtley’s Jon-Lewis Dickinson will be defending his British light heavyweight title against Yorkshireman Neil Dawson on an exciting bill at the Metro Radio Arena.

* For further ticket details or to buy tickets for the night's boxing in Newcastle on March 29 call Tracey on 07944695367.