BRADLEY SAUNDERS wants to be handed a tough test when he returns to action in the North-East later this month after learning his ‘big shot’ at climbing up the rankings has been taken away from him.

The County Durham light welterweight was due to fight former British and European champion Paul McCloskey but the Northern Irishman has pulled out due to a knee injury.

It is a significant blow to Saunders, given that there was also a strong chance the contest would be given an inter-continental belt which could have doubled up as an eliminator for a bigger title.

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Now his manager, Frank Warren, is pursuing other opponents to face at Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena on Saturday, March 29, which will be on the undercard of Stuart Hall’s first defence of his IBF bantamweight crown against West Rainton’s Martin Ward.

Saunders said: “Not sure what’s happened, I was training my heart out for it. They said there was an injury but I think he just didn’t fancy it at all.

“My opponent will be announced in the next few days. I will be fighting still and it will be a good opponent for the public.”

The North-East show on Tyneside will also include the British cruiserweight title clash between champion Jon Lewis Dickinson and challenger Neil Dawson.

But Saunders will be determined to maintain his eight-fight unbeaten start to his professional career regardless of who he faces. He had, though, been ecstatic at the prospect of facing such a big name so early on in his fledgling professional career before McCloskey’s withdrawal.

Saunders said: “Let you all hear it here first – I was willing to do what no other prospect has done for a long time in taking chances and fighting top people in my weight division.

“Only eight fights and fighting one of the best in Britain, Paul McCloskey. The man has just pulled out, hope we get that fight when he’s sorted. The longer he leaves it, the worse it will be for him.”

Saunders took on British Masters bronze champion Gareth Heard at four week’s notice and headlined his own show in Newcastle against the current Hungarian lightweight champion Gyorgy Mizsei Jr in his previous two fights. Both were stopped midway through the contest in the fourth round after multiple knockdowns.