Big time boxing debuts at the futuristic Copper Box Arena – home to handball at the 2012 Olympics – this Saturday evening, and Queensberry Promotions has assembled a talent stacked card to honour the occasion.
Headlining is Billy Joe Saunders’ lip smacking second defence of his British and Commonwealth middleweight strap against fellow unbeaten southpaw John Ryder from Islington.
Tensions are sure to be high with both principals committed to attack and bringing large vocal followings, it can’t fail to be a humdinger. But who will depart with ‘bragging rights’?
Remaining tickets, priced at £40, £50, £70 and £120 are available from the Eventim Box Office on 0844 249 1000 or www.eventim.co.uk
Watch the whole ‘Rock the Box’ card - which also features Dereck Chisora’s challenge for the vacant European heavyweight crown, plus civil wars between Billy Joe Saunders and John Ryder and Liam Walsh against Joe Murray, and red-hot super-flyweight Paul Butler – live and exclusive on BoxNation, the Channel of Champions, from 7pm on Sky Ch.437/Virgin Ch.546. Join at www.boxnation.com
Boxing writer Glynn Evans found champion Saunders in relaxed mode, clearly reveling in his elevated status as bill topper, when they caught up earlier this week.
What positives did you take from your comprehensive points victory over Cork’s previously unbeaten ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan last time out?
I like to think I showed maturity against a good, tough, durable opponent. I’d been warned about his strength but I didn’t find him especially strong. He kept coming, sure, but he just took a beating. ‘Spike’ could take a shot, I’ll definitely give him that.
Beforehand, you’ll remember everybody was saying that ‘Spike’ was also a tremendous puncher. But, hand on heart, he didn’t hurt me once probably because he didn’t really hit me. Everything he was supposed to do well, his strength, his punch, I managed to take away from him.
I like to think that I showed the boxing people that I belong at the very top, that I’m now above British level. And trust me, there’s a lot more to come.
That hard 12 round fight took place just nine weeks ago. Might that count against you in the later rounds if the Ryder fight follows a similar course?
I doubt it. (Coach) Jimmy Tibbs knows what he’s doing. For this fight, I’ve not sparred one 12 rounder. It’s been six and eights, with the odd ten (rounds). It’s been about saving me.
Thankfully, I’ve retained a lot of the fitness I built up while preparing for the O’Sullivan fight. Besides, it didn’t take too much out of me. I basically did what I wanted, taking hardly any shots. I was able to show my class without really getting out of third gear. If anything, it should stand me in good stead for Saturday rather than work against me.
How has your prep gone at the TKO Gym in Canning Town. Previously, you’d said you were going to train out in Spain.
Yeh, I did but we all sat around and decided to say home. Straight after the O’Sullivan fight, I had two weeks off then I’ve been back on it, working hard again.
I’ve had some quality sparring with my old opponent Tony Hill who’s a real quality fighter when he’s at super-middle. He’s weighing 13 ½ stone in our gym. (Saunders stopped Hill in 30 seconds of a Commonwealth middleweight title fight). I’ve also been working with some other top class guys who I’d rather not name. Everything is spot on.
I know you’ve worked closely in the past with Darren Barker. You must have been delighted when, as you’d predicted, he recently bagged the IBF title against Daniel Geale over in Atlantic City.
Absolutely chuffed for the man. Not only is Darren a good fighter, he’s a cracking fella. No one deserves it more after what he’s been through.
From a personal viewpoint, it makes it easier for me if there’s a world middleweight title to aim for in this country, rather than having to travel to the USA, Germany, Australia or wherever.
I’d like to think that me against Darren could happen sometime next year but, if the fight was made for this Saturday, I’d not turn it down. I was bred to fight. That’s just the way I was made. If someone offered me a fight on the street, I’d take it. I’m a fighting man.
Matt Macklin has been skirting around world class for a couple of years but is now without a belt, following his knockout defeat in a WBA challenge to Gennady Golovkin. He’d represent an ideal opponent to help bridge the gap between domestic and top international class. Would that fight interest you?
It would and it wouldn’t. I was actually due to spar him in the US in preparation for his challenge to Sergio Martinez last year but that fell through.
I’d have no problem fighting Matthew, a very good fighter. But right now, I want to get my Lonsdale Belt outright then fight others who’ve got something I want or will elevate my ranking, help put me in a position to fight for a world title.
No disrespect at all to Matthew, but he faces a long, hard road back after losing to one of the best fighters on the planet. For the right money, I’ll fight anyone.
Saturday’s bill at the Copper Box Arena is certainly the biggest in which you’ve been the headline act. Are you enjoying the limelight?
Absolutely. It’s a luxury.
It makes me extremely happy and proud when I see the posters and billboards. It reflects all the hard work I’ve done in my boxing career and the confidence that Frank Warren must have in me to build his show around my fight. It sort of shows how good I’ve become and drives me on to improve even further.
I always enjoy the media side and the press conferences. Professional boxing is all about building a fan base and allowing the public to find out more about you. It goes with the job.
What has been the reaction to your heightened profile within the Romany community? I’d estimate that about 85% of my community are very supportive and want me to do well. There’s still possibly 15% who’d like to see me get knocked out but unfortunately you get negative people from all walks.
There’s nothing I despise more than jealous people. If anybody works hard and does well, let them enjoy whatever rewards their hard work might bring. I like to see everybody with full and plenty. I’ll be doing all I can to win over those who still doubt me.
What are your feelings to those from outside your community who are curious to find out more about a Romany prizefighter?
I’ve always welcomed those from outside the travelling community and I’m happy to talk to them about our ways, provided they’re respectful. I probably have more close friends from outside the travelling community than I do from within.
Sadly, for the first time, Dean Powell won’t be part of your team on fight night, following his recent passing. Is it possible to explain the influence that Dean had on your professional career?
Such a big shame. Dean helped work my corner for a number of my fights. He made all my matches and helped me with the contract renewals.
Along with Frank and Jimmy Tibbs, Dean was a very crucial part of my team. He was an inspiration, a very honest man who had so much life. It was an honour and a pleasure to have been associated with him.
This fight is dedicated to him and we’ve already had t-shirts made up. He’ll be sadly missed.
Challenger John Ryder, known as ‘The Gorilla’, is feted for his strength. You seemed inconvenienced by Nick Blackwell’s strength when you fought for the vacant British title in December. How do you intend combating Ryder’s strength on Saturday?
I’ve been on record several times that I took Nick Blackwell lightly. I cut a few corners in training, perhaps didn’t push myself as hard as I might have, on a few runs. In the changing rooms, I’m usually a very nervy, agitated person but against Nick, I felt nothing. It was worrying me that I felt nothing!
I got found out a little bit late on against Nick but I’m so happy that it happened sooner in my career, rather than later on against a better opponent in a more significant fight. I’ve learnt my lesson and it definitely won’t happen again.
But I don’t think I’ll be found short for strength on Saturday and John Ryder’s strength certainly doesn’t frighten me. As a teenage amateur, I fought plenty of rough, strong Russians and Ukrainians but one of my biggest strengths inside the ring has always been my adaptability. If things aren’t initially going my way, I can make adjustments to get things right.
Without wanting to sound big headed, I’ve always been good at reading what the opponent is going to do. I half know what they’ll throw before they throw it. It’s something I’ve been blessed with and I intend utilising it fully against John Ryder on Saturday night.
Given your huge sway in amateur and professional experience, does it surprise you that several pundits are calling this a ‘pick ‘em’ fight or even swaying towards Ryder?
Well, we’re two up and coming unbeaten fighters so maybe it’s a hard fight to read until we’re in the ring together and the first bell sounds.
But listen, the bookies odds for me and Ryder are similar to what they were for Mayweather-Alvarez last Saturday yet everybody knew that Mayweather would win easily and that’s exactly what he did. I see this fight being exactly the same. The odds for me against ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan were similar and look what happened there.
Ryder hasn’t travelled beyond round eight yet. Could that prove the deciding factor?
You know, I think it could. There’s a big difference between eight rounds and 12 rounds. That’s the period where title fights are won and lost.
I’m not saying John has got poor stamina but he’s not shown that he can do more than eight whereas my last three have all gone the full 12 round distance. I’ve shown I can cope, no problems. John hasn’t.
Whatever he says, no matter what he’s done in the gym, how fit he gets himself, there’ll be nagging doubts in his mind. He might have done 50 rounds straight off in sparring but all championship level fighters will tell you it’s a completely different proposition doing it under the spotlight, with little gloves and no head guard, when your nerves are tingling. Thirty-six minutes is a very long time and I guarantee that I’ll make him work for every single second that he’s in the ring with me.
What type of fight can fans expect on Saturday night and what gives you confidence that you can retain?
I’ve prepared for a very tough contest that will be fought at a very high pace and I expect there’ll be action right from the start. As long as John Ryder’s still standing, he’s going to pose a threat. I’ve got to be respectful of that. We’ll see exactly what he’s got once the first bell sounds.
In my mind, I’m expecting John Ryder will be the best boxer and the best fighter I’ve ever faced. That’s what I’ve been training for. No doubt, he’ll come out and attempt to apply a lot of pressure. But everybody is mistaken if they’re expecting me to float and bounce. Ryder’s got to be put on the back foot and he will be.
My only prediction is that I will win. In boxing, there’s no place for second place. Winning is bred into me.