The former middleweight titleholder looks to get into the super middleweight race in a couple of weeks.
Former middleweight titleholder Billy Joe Saunders is one of boxing’s best technicians when he’s on his game and dedicated, but that “when” doesn’t come often enough for some people.
Saunders, a former British champion at 160, seemed to finally fully break through in 2017 when he went to Quebec and dominated David Lemieux in an HBO-televised main event. He was thought of as a potentially genuinely interesting opponent for the likes of Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin after that performance.
But 2018 wound up a wasted year for Saunders. A pair of dates with Martin Murray were scrapped, officially due to injury, but with rumors that Saunders was trying to hold out and see if a fight with Alvarez or Golovkin would materialize if their September rematch fell apart in negotiations.
That fight got done, though, and Saunders was left sitting on the shelf. He signed to face Demetrius Andrade in October, but failed a VADA drug test, blaming the positive on a nasal spray. Either way, Saunders’ fight with Andrade was canceled, and Billy Joe was stripped of his WBO belt. He did return in December, weighing in north of the light heavyweight limit for a tune-up win over Charles Adamu.
Saunders (27-0, 13 KO) is now focused on the super middleweight division, and he’s set to return on May 18 in an interim WBO title fight against Shefat Isufi (27-3-2, 20 KO), which will air live on ESPN+ in the United States and BT Sport in the United Kingdom.
Isufi could be charitably described as a fringe contender at 168, but has won 10 straight, albeit against very limited opposition.
Saunders, though, is looking fit and sounds happy to be back and training for a fight on the horizon.
“I’m just enjoying it again. With me, I’m one of them that I have to be happy and enjoying doing what I’m doing, then I’ll get the best out of myself,” Saunders says. “For me it’s about showing what I can do. I can earn money elsewhere, it’s about showing my full potential doing something I love.
“This year, I’m just going to keep winning and winning and winning. I’m 29 now, I want to show it while I’ve got it. If someone pops up, they pop up. If not, I’ll just keep beating whoever they put in front of me.”
There is also a chance that Saunders-Isufi will wind up being for the full WBO title, which is currently held by Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez, who recently moved up to 175 pounds and seems as though he’s going to stay at that weight.