Unbeaten middleweight Billy Joe Saunders continues to edge ever closer to his dream of becoming the first of travelling stock to win a boxing world title.
A 2008 Beijing Olympian at the age of just 18, the brilliant Hatfield southpaw has already cruised to Southern Area, Commonwealth, British and Intercontinental honours as a pro.
And collecting the European title against unbeaten Italian Emanuele Blandamura at Manchesterís Phones 4u Arena this Saturday (26th July), on the undercard of Tyson Fury v Alexander Ustinov, could provide the ideal dry run to a world title challenge, for the man already ranked number one in the WBO rankings.
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The 24 year old was in a talkative mood when boxing writer Glynn Evans rang him on Saturday evening to discuss recent developments.
Ten months on, how do you reflect upon your Lonsdale Belt winning 12 round pointís decision over Islingtonís John Ryder? Did you learn anything new from that fight?
Iíd had a long 12 week camp for the fight with Spike OíSullivan Ė no mug- just a few months before. I performed very well against a fella listed number four with the WBO at the time but only had five days off before resuming at the gym.
Jimmy (Tibbs, his veteran coach) did a very good job getting me rests but I think we all knew I was a little over the peak. I was 100% fit but not fresh. And I donít need to make excuses because I won the fight clearly enough.
I certainly donít want to take anything from John Ryder. Heís a real good talent; strong inside and a better boxer than people give him credit for. Heís got good distance and isnít as easy to hit as he appears.
I was probably only 65-70% of what Iím capable of and my right hand started swelling bad from about round three but I learned from that fight how to get through when everything isnít going my way. I learned I can still compete and win at a good level when Iím not at my best. I take confidence from that.
Five of your last six title fights Ė including the last four Ė have lasted to the cards. Do you punch hard enough to flourish at the very highest level?
If Iím honest, Iíve had 19 professional fights and not once have I made the weight correctly. Not once, did I not use sweat gear at the gym or for my roadwork. That saps a lot of the goodness out of you. You can get away with stuff early on against the journeymen types but definitely not at the level Iím entering.
But for this European title fight, Iíve got a dietician on board and Iím doing it all to the letter. Iím pushing cruiserweights about in sparring. I donít classify myself a banger, Iím a box-fighter but youíll be seeing a far stronger, more powerful Billy Joe Saunders on July 26th.
Bizarrely, the one opponent that you did stop ĖAustraliaís Jarrod Fletcher Ė has since surpassed you and is challenging for the WBA title in his next fight. Surely that must ire?
You know what? It doesnít. Jimmy Tibbs always drums into me that Iím only 24 and, even though Iím (WBO) number one contender, it doesnít matter if I have to wait until Iím 26 to challenge for a world title.
Iím hearing Matt Korobov has been named mandatory ahead of me for (WBO champ) Peter Quillin and I honestly donít care. Iím in this to WIN a world title and hold on to it, not just to challenge for one. Iím a very strong believer of what will be, will be.
Iím quite happy to allow Frank Warren to do his job, to his time scale. For him to land me a European title shot on home ground after nine months out injured is fantastic. Iím very grateful. As long as I keep working, keep getting paid, Iím happy.† Iím past a prospect now, Iím a serious contender but Iím still not the finished article.
If I win in Manchester, and then have to have a defence or two, no problem at all. I genuinely believe Iím the best middleweight in Britain now, ahead of Martin Murray and Matt Macklin who are both very good fighters.
If all goes to plan, might one of those defences be against a certain Christopher Eubank Jnr, who features on the Manchester undercard?
People are right when they say I donít need him. He brings absolutely nothing to the party. He needs me. Thereís no Nick Blackwells or John Ryders on his record; no titles to be gained.
But Iím big on pleasing the fans, the man who works nine to five and pays £50 for his ticket to watch me fight. Iíll fight who they want me to fight. And Iíve got 30,000 people on Twitter saying theyíll pay to watch me give the boy a hiding.
Heís very arrogant. He irritates everybody. It would be a great pleasure to be the one to give him a hiding. Iíd be absolutely distraught if I didnít waste him inside six rounds. If Frank tells me the match is made, Iíll be over the moon!
After such a great win over Ryder, it must be frustrating to have been stuck on the sidelines for 10 months.
A bit but I definitely needed a rest after four hard 12 rounders, back to back. In the past, Iíve had problems with my left wrist. It swells almost every fight. But, against Ryder, I damaged the tendons on my right hand.
Then just before Christmas, when I returned to training for a fight in February, I slipped and fell whilst running and properly finished off the tendons that were already damaged. It knocked me back but everything happens for a reason. I just rested up and got the best medical attention possible.
In what specific areas have you improved in the gym since the Ryder fight? Having won the Southern Area, Commonwealth, British and InterContinental belts, what gives you confidence that youíre now ready for top international class?
I know I can do 30 rounds no problem and Iíve already got all the skill and ability. The main thing has been working with the dietician to get my weight right and improve my punching power. If you put shit fuel in a car it donít run right. Same with food and the body.
I get confidence just from looking at the reigning champions. Iím not ready for (Gennady) Golovkin yet, I admit that, but Iíd not be shy of going in with any of the others. Jarrod Fletcher is going for the WBA title yet I blew him out in two rounds. Like Murray and Macklin at domestic level, theyíre all getting old while Iím maturing and growing. Look what Iím already capable of now and then consider what Iíll be like in another 12 months.
(IBF boss) Sam Soliman should never be a world champion at 40 years old. Quillin is strong and punches harder than me but technically, Iíve forgotten more than heíll ever learn. Heís not in my class. When I have to turn it on, I beat him ten times out of ten.
(WBC king Miguel)Cotto didnít shock me beating Sergio Martinez, Martinezís performance shocked me.† He looked an old man. Iíd have loved to have been in the ring with him that night. Cottoís style is perfect for mine. Heís constantly in your face and he ainít the best of boxers.
The Phones 4u promotion is sure to be a huge event, enriched by both Romany and Irish travellers supporting yourself and Tyson Fury. Is there rivalry between Tyson and yourself Ė and your respective followers -† as to who becomes the first traveller to challenge for, and hopefully win, a world title?
Not at all. Tysonís an Irish traveller, Iím Romany but weíve been very, very good mates since we travelled the world on England squads together in the amateurs. Some fans perceive him as brash and arrogant but thatís just to sell fights. Those who know him well will all tell you heís a true gentleman with a heart of gold. And all his family are the same.
Weíre already making history as it is. I think (light-heavy) Johnny Frankham was the only gypsy to win a British title before us but he didnít hold on to it for too long. He didnít get near world level. If Tyson wins a world title before me, Iíd shake his hand and sincerely congratulate him. Iíve no doubt heíd be similar if I win one before him.
Given itís the most significant fight of your career, would you rather be headlining yourself or are you content to be chief support on such a blockbuster event?
Oh Iím very happy to be on this show because I know how many people will be there. Itís just about the biggest arena around at the moment.† Itíll be rammed with gypsy boys to support Tyson and me plus all the other boxing fans. Itíll be a great night of boxing with stacks of media interest. Itíll be a huge platform for me.
How has camp gone?
Perfectly. Iíve rented the Newlands gym in Woodford, Essex from Lee and Riley Wilson. Me and Jimmy Tibbs have it all to ourselves. The TKO in Canning Town is still my gym but its one big family and people are constantly talking to ya, breaking your focus, when youíre training.
Being away in Woodford, is like being away in camp. I get my work done without distractions, rest, sleep, repeat. I feel a lot better for it. Iíve been sparring (former ABA heavyweight champion) Simon Barclay and on Monday (7th), Iíll start sparring with Nick Blackwell and Spike OíSullivan.
What do you know of Blandamura? What qualities and weaknesses have you identified and how do you counter and exploit them?
I know itís hard to pronounce his name! Heís not a big puncher but heís got a very good workrate and he ainít a bad boxer from what Iíve seen.† But itís a case of whoís he been in with?
His defence seems very poor. He throws, then drops his hands, then moves away. His hands donít come back and Iíll be able to splatter him in between. He advances from all angles and shapes. He lacks the grounded class thatís embedded into me from boxing at all those top international amateur tournaments.
Heíll discover that Iíve a great work rate too. Iíll look to apply pressure, make him hit thin air, then push him back and take him to places he ainít been before. If I perform as Iíve been performing in the gym, I donít think heíll last ten rounds with me.
Winning the European will be a big achievement for me and Iíll be really thankful. Then Iíll be floating on the top of the water.
If I win impressively, Iíll be knocking on all the world championsí doors, just waiting for someone to answer.
Tags: Billy Joe Saunders