Former WBO world Middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders can secure a place in British boxing history if he wins his vacant Super-middleweight title bout with Shefat Isufi at the Lamex Stadium, Stevenage in Hertfordshire this weekend.
Billy Joe will join a small group that includes Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Joe Calzaghe, Steve Collins, Ricky Hatton and Duke McKenzie as Brits that won world titles in 2 weight divisions.
2018 is a year that Saunders would wish to forget from a professional standpoint. A failed drug test in the lead up to a WBO middleweight title defence against Demetrius Andrade left him with no option other than to relinquish the title.
The Hatfield man had long wished to make his name in the huge American market and Andrade was a well-regarded former Super-welterweight champion that would give him the sort of exposure that he needed to go on to bigger fights against the likes of Gennady Golovkin and Mexican sensation Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.
There are those that believe Andrade would have been too talented for Saunders to deal with, but they may be the same people that believed defending the title against former IBF champion David Lemieux in his homeland of Canada was a step too far. Saunders performance against Lemieux was nothing short of excellence. At times he made the Canadian look like a rank amateur, punching at a target so elusive and then having to take heavy counters as punishment.
The December 2017 Lemieux fight should have been a springboard to bigger opportunities, and when the Andrade defence was announced it seemed a place at boxing’s top table beckoned, but as stated earlier, that was when it all went awry.
From nowhere, promoter Frank Warren has manufactured a shot at the vacant WBO 168lb title which could put Saunders in line to face Callum Smith the WBA Super Super-middleweight champion, widely regarded as the best at 168lbs.
To reach that summit, Saunders has to get past Shefat Isufi, a resident of Munich, Germany but born in Serbia. The German has a record of 27 wins, 3 losses and 2 draws on his 32 bout record. His 2017 win over Peru’s David Zegarra looks decent but nothing on his record matches the level of opposition that Saunders has faced during his 10 years as a professional.
Wins over Chris Eubank Jr, Andy Lee, Artur Akavov, Willie Monroe Jr, David Lemieux and the new WBA Interim Super-middleweight champion John Ryder show the difference in experience between the two antagonists.
In his 27 fight unbeaten record Saunders has stopped 13 of his opponents. Will the added weight add power to his punches or will it take the sting out of them? It will be interesting to see.
The 2008 Olympic bronze medallist should win by a lopsided decision.