By Keith Idec
Billy Joe Saunders understands the rationale behind what’s being said and written about Shefat Isufi.
The former WBO middleweight champion is just trying his best to ignore it.
If nothing else, Isufi is rated ahead of Saunders in the WBO’s 168-pound rankings entering their fight Saturday night for its unclaimed super middleweight championship. The unproven Serbian is ranked No. 1 by the WBO, one spot ahead of England’s Saunders.
Saunders (27-0, 13 KOs) and Isufi (27-3-2, 20 KOs) will fight for the vacant championship Mexico’s Gilberto Ramirez gave up to compete at light heavyweight.
“Listen, a lot of people are looking at him and underestimating him a little bit,” Saunders told BT Sport. “I am looking at him and I can, from studying him, see that what he does he does really well. He is not appealing on the eye, but he is better than he actually looks. He is obviously No. 1 in the world for something and he has got to be taken care of professionally. I have been working hard and I am going to get the job done.
“He is unbeaten at the weight and he has cemented his No. 1 spot for a reason. I’ve got to take him seriously but, at the same time, it is hard not to look past him because I lost my world title without getting beat and I want to be world champion as quickly as I can.”
BT Sport will air the Saunders-Isufi card in the United Kingdom, beginning at 2:30 p.m. GMT. ESPN+ will stream the Saunders-Isufi fight in the United States, starting at 2:30 p.m. ET/11:30 a.m. PT.
Their bout will take place at Lamex Stadium, a soccer venue that’s home to Stevenage FC, in Hertfordshire, England, Saunders’ home county.
Saunders is set to fight for the second time since the WBO stripped him of its middleweight title seven months ago for failing a performance-enhancing drug test before his scrapped bout with Demetrius Andrade, who was Saunders’ mandatory challenger.
“Billy can have a million people cheering him on,” Isufi told BT Sport. “There’s only going to be two of us in that ring on fight night. I will give Billy Joe a very tough night. Billy is a very good fighter, very fast and quick, and a good puncher. But I am very confident I will give him a tough time.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.