IN what will be 21-months since Bradley Saunders’ (12-1) shock defeat to Frenchman Renald Garrido (14-11-1), the Beijing 2008 Olympian is heading back to the ring on June 23 in Newcastle in a bid to rebuild his career.
Topping the talented Tyneside bill at the Walker Activity Dome will be Olympian Josh Kelly (2-0) against Northern Area title contender Tom Whitfield (4-1) in the latest JDNXTGEN show, live on Sky Sports and Sky Sports Facebook.
In his first appearance since 2015, the former WBO Inter-Continental champion plans to resurrect his career after successful surgery on both hands, which were left badly damaged after his sole career defeat.
It was back in September 2015 at the Liverpool Olympia, on the undercard of Stephen Smith’s sixth-round stoppage win over Devis Boschiero, that Saunders, 31-years-old, was unexpectedly disqualified by referee Steve Gray for an intentional head-butt on his French opponent.
The Sedgefield super-lightweight’s 13th fight proved to be superstitiously unlucky when he ruptured ligaments in both fists in the scheduled eight-round bout with ‘Le Lion’ from Marseille.
The injury-plagued County Durham puncher was taken straight to hospital after the maiden loss for emergency surgery.
A recurring injury, hand specialist Mike Hayton first operated on the left hand of Saunders in 2012 after an eight-round points win over three-weight Irish champion Peter McDonagh in just his fifth pro bout.
That operation was a success with Saunders returning to reel off six stoppage wins out of seven, including an 81-second demolition of Ville Piispanen to claim the WBO Inter-Continental super-lightweight title in June 2014, whilst still signed to Frank Warren.
After switching to Matchroom, Saunders then hurt his right fist in the spring of 2015 whilst preparing for a shot at Dave ‘Rocky’ Ryan’s Commonwealth crown.
Hayton fixed that too and, after a six-month layoff, he returned to the ring against Garrido with one eye on a big Commonwealth title showdown against then-champion John Wayne Hibbert, who has just recently announced his decision to return from retirement.
This next fight on June 23 will be a make or break fight for the County Durham star. All eyes will be on his performance to see if he still has the potential to reach the heights that were previously expected of him.
Training with Peter Sims in Hainault, Saunders now counts Tyler Goodjohn and Craig Richards as teammates.
He said, “I don’t want any regrets when I’m older. I’m happy with what I’ve achieved already but don’t want to reach an age where I wish I had boxed again.
“So while I can, I will crack on. Just don’t want to live my life with any regrets.”