HE did not occupy one of the centre stage seats when Bradley Saunders took his place on the top table to preview tomorrow’s bonanza of title fight boxing in Newcastle, yet he displayed all the confidence of a champion.
Saunders, based in Spain these days, was suited and booted at the Hilton in Gateshead to give his tenth professional fight with Finland’s Ville Piispanen the big build up before the meeting at the Metro Radio Arena.
After starting his pro career with nine straight victories, seven by stoppage, this weekend’s contest marks another step up for the County Durham fighter as he fights for his first title since turning his back on his successful amateur days.
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The WBO Inter-Continental light welterweight belt is not quite the honour he craves over the longer term, but it would lead to him gaining a ranking to move on towards an even greater prize.
British champion Curtis Woodhouse is one of a growing list of boxers to have turned away from facing Saunders, but Piispanen arrives with plenty of experience.
He has only lost four of his 18 contests, but the Scandinavian has had eight European title contests. Saunders said: “I’m looking forward to making the weight for the first time because you know you are going for a title then.
“Obviously, I’m a very big light-welter so my head’s on making the weight on Friday and doing the job on Saturday. He asked to fight me four weeks ago, and my manager Frank Warren said ‘no, unless it’s for a title’. Luckily enough, the WBO sanctioned it.
“He’s fought at a much higher level than me. He’s fought for European titles numerous times and dropped the European champion in the tenth round, which shows he comes to win and that he’s in there until the end, and he’s actually asked to fight me.
“He’s a tough man. He comes forward and doesn’t take a backwards step. Everyone knows I like a fight. I can box and fight, but no one’s seen the boxing side of me yet. They might see both on Saturday.”
Saunders has relocated to Marbella these days, where he works to a strict training routine at Macklin’s MGM Marbella Gym. He feels his preparations ahead of the 10 x 3min round clash with Piispanen have been just perfect.
“I like to come back to the North-East and fight in front of people I know,” said Saunders, a former Olympian, who travelled the world representing his country.
“I just want to do well for them. I know nothing else except boxing, and I really, really want to help put the North-East on the boxing map. I want us to have another champion like Stuart Hall. That’s what I’m looking to be. I’ve got no doubt in my mind that I will be. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be in the sport. It’s what I’ve wanted since I was a kid.”
Saunders stopped Scotland’s Mitch Prince in the fourth round in April when he displayed his quality and he is keen to deliver again against Piispanen before Darlington’s Hall steps in to the ring.
Hall is already on the world stage and is desperate to defend his IBF bantamweight crown for the second time against Merseyside’s Paul Butler. There has been no love lost in the build up to the contest and Butler suggested yesterday he will not be returning to Ellesmere Port without the belt.
The 25-year-old has won all 15 of his pro bouts but former cruiserweight world champion Glenn McCrory believes Butler’s opportunity has come too soon.
“I think it’s a good fight,” said McCrory. “Paul Butler is a very good talent. He’s the smaller man and people are wondering if he’s got the power and the strength to do it. I can just see this fight has come too soon for Butler. He would have done better with some more fights.
“It’s very easy to underestimate Stuey Hall because he’s not a flash, mouthy individual. But he is solid, trains very hard and what he does, he does very well. He is going to be a very hard man to derail. I think Butler will come again but I think this fight is too early. Hall is bigger, stronger, more accomplished and more experienced.”
Also appearing on tomorrow night’s show will be Birtley’s British cruiserweight champion Jon-Lewis Dickinson when he challenges Commonwealth ruler Ovill McKenzie. Guisborough’s Josh Leather, County Durham’s Thomas Patrick Ward, Sunderland’s Jordan King and Northumberland’s Lewis Scott will provide more local flavour to the bill.
And it was announced yesterday that Chris Eubank Jnr will be on the undercard along with Young Fury, brother of Tyson, who will make his debut.
- A few tickets priced at £40, £60, £75, £150 and VIP £200 are available via Box Office 0844 493 6666 (VIP Packages 0114 243 4443) or from dennishobson.com.