WITH a first belt of his professional career fastened around his waist, Bradley Saunders set his sights on achieving the bigger prize of becoming the best light welterweight in the world .
Saunders stunned the Metro Radio Arena and the boxing world with just how quickly he stopped Finland’s experienced Ville Piispanen and enhanced the belief of his manager Frank Warren that the North-East could soon have a new global No 1.
Stuart Hall’s split points defeat to Merseyside’s Paul Butler meant the end of the Darlington boxer’s three-contest reign as IBF bantamweight champion. Hall still has designs on returning to that level, although Warren is convinced Sedgefield’s Saunders has all the ingredients to reach the very top.
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County Durham’s Olympian stopped Piispanen, whose only other stoppage during more than 60 rounds of boxing was due to a bloody nose against Giuseppe Lauri, with just 81 seconds on the clock.
Warren said: “I think North-East boxing will be back. We have got Bradley Saunders, dare I say it. I am going to put a lot of weight on him. I have been saying for quite a while, he is a tremendous talent. I really do believe, provided he stays focused, he could definitely be a next world champion.
“Being 28, he has matured mentally. All you need to know about him is what other fighters think about him. I offered Curtis Woodhouse and Willie Limond their biggest purses yet. They refused to fight him.
“People up here love their boxing, and their sport, they need some success. They have had some already but there’s more to come. The North-East has been a little bit of a sleeping giant. Now we have got to bring the talent through and get some regular shows going.”
Piispanen arrived with a decent enough reputation, having previously fought at European level. Yet Saunders displayed, once again, how hungry he is to reach the top in double-quick time by quickly going about stopping the Scandinavian.
Saunders had already landed his fair share of shots when a clinical right was followed by a deadly left body shot and Piispanen was floored. He could not return to his feet and Saunders boasted an eighth stoppage from ten victories.
And, with the WBO inter-continental belt in tow, Saunders said: “I just want to crack on really. I’m heading in one direction. I’m not in boxing just to be a boxer, I want to be No 1.
“I’m past caring about who I fight so long as I become No 1 in the long run, I’m not bothered. I can say who I want to fight, but you know what? It doesn’t happen. I’ll fight whoever I can. Whatever makes sense as a fight. And if they stand there for long enough, they’ll get what Piispanen just got.
“I’m getting well guided. I want to be in with the best now. My little boy has a belt to look at now. I want to be in with the likes of Erik Morales and make sure I reach the top and get more, have photos and the memories of me in with the best. I want to be world champion.”
The path to the top for Birtley’s Jon-Lewis Dickinson was halted, however. The cruiserweight had made a decent enough start in his bid to add the Commonwealth crown, but big-hitting Ovill McKenzie lived up to his reputation.
As the end of the second round bell was about to ring, McKenzie connected with a left and then a right and Dickinson fell on his back. Despite climbing to his feet, he wobbled again and the referee stopped it with 3min 9sec recorded. Dickinson’s title, although he holds the Lonsdale belt after three successful defences, had gone.
Dickinson said: “The plan was to have some time off after this because I am getting married in August. Then I will come back. I wasn’t getting hammered in there. I got beat by one shot. I’m on the losing end of a good shot, I’m healthy still. I will reassess.
“I’ve got my Lonsdale outright. It would have been nice to have the British and Commonwealth titles. My aim is to get to the top of the world, it happens to the best of boxers. The best fighters in the world are knocked out, it was a single shot. Look at Lennox Lewis, it was single shot. I will be back to fight at the end of the year.”
Chris Eubank Jnr – with his eccentric dad in the corner – put on an incredibly entertaining display to stop the Czech Republic’s Stephan Horvath inside six rounds.
At the start of the night West Rainton’s Thomas Patrick Ward won his featherweight bout with Michael Ramanelesta on points despite having blood pouring from the former's left eye.
In the first fight of the evening, Welshman Rhys Evans defeated Mansfield’s Rob Sharpe 40-37 in the light-welterweight contest before Doncaster’s Dave Allen had too much power to prevent Hackney’s Larry Olubamiwo from emerging for the third round.
Doncaster’s Jason Cunningham made it 12 straight wins by defeating David Kvaratskhelia when the Georgian retired after four.
Guisborough’s Josh Leather was defending a four-bout winning start to his pro career and he did not disappoint against Tommy Carus. The Liverpool boxer, with one defeat from his previous seven, rocked the Teessider with a strong right in the first but he recovered.
Sunderland’s Jordan King has won for the third time in a row. He easily overcame Lithuania's Vaidas Balciouskas early in the second round after flooring him twice. Then Northumberland's Lewis Scott, sporting a naughty pair of zebra print shorts, claimed a fifth straight win to defeat Poland's Mariusz Biskupski on points.