BILLY JOE SAUNDERS unwrapped the biggest gift of his career before swiftly setting his sights on the leading lights in both divisions he has now won world titles in.
Having despatched Andy Lee to claim the WBO middleweight title back in 2015, it was an altogether simpler task when it came to joining Britain’s club of two-weight world champions.
The little-known and unfancied Shefat Isufi, who had worked his way into the upper echelons of the WBO rankings, never looked like he belonged in a world title fight against one of the best pure boxers in Britain at the moment.
These were easy pickings for the Hatfield man, who barely had to get out of first gear at Stevenage Football Club’s Lamex Stadium on May 18 to claim the 168lb title left vacant by Gilberto Ramirez’s decision to move to light-heavyweight.
Indeed Manchester City’s 6-0 drubbing of Watford at Wembley in the FA Cup Final a few hours earlier was not even the most one-sided rout of the day.
So simple did Saunders find proceedings that he switched off completely in the sixth round and got clipped hard by a left hook which sent him reeling. After that wake-up call, he was happy to cruise home for a wide win.
Benoit Roussel had him a 120-108 winner while Terry O’Connor (118-110) and Matteo Montella (117-11) were slightly kinder to Isufi.
“In the first five rounds I wouldn’t say I was getting bored but I was just doing whatever I wanted,” Saunders said. “He was just playing eat-the-jab, I couldn’t miss. I got hit but not hurt. You have to go through these experiences at this level instead of making the mistake in a Golovkin or Canelo fight. This is all learning.”
Both of those middleweight kingpins are now once again on Saunders’ hitlist after years of trying and failing to get them in the ring.
But now this super-middleweight title has opened the door to fellow Brits Callum Smith and Chris Eubank Jnr.
“I know Callum would step up and have the fight,” Saunders said. “He’s one of the best at the weight and I’d love to put myself against him.
“Eubank can be on the radar but only on my terms.”
Earlier, Joe Joyce maintained the flying start to his career with his ninth straight stoppage victory. There were rumours at ringside that “The Juggernaut” had been struggling with a chest infection all week and he made a sluggish start in the chilly Stevenage air. However it was not long before Joyce, in his first fight since linking up with Adam Booth, got to Alexander Ustinov, who arrived off the back of two losses.
The writing was on the wall towards the end of the second round, when Joyce began to crank up the pressure, although the bell stopped his onslaught.
But there was nowhere for Russia’s Ustinov to hide in the third as Joyce finally clubbed the 42-year-old onto his knees, where he stayed until rising just as referee Victor Loughlin completed his 10 count. The official time was 1-55.
There were just two seconds left of Brad Foster’s 12-round showdown with Ashley Lane for the British and Commonwealth super-bantamweight titles when the former finally forced a stoppage.
Foster, a former champion kickboxer, looked equally adept from either stance and dropped Lane as early as the first. The Bristol resident, however, managed to compose himself and stayed standing until the 12th, when Foster floored him for a second time.
He was up in time to beat the count but when the Lichfield man pinned him against the ropes and began to unload, McCann had no choice but to wave it off after 2-58 of the 12th.
Light-heavyweight Willy Hutchinson also got the job done inside three rounds, with the Czech Republic’s Ondrej Budera failing to handle his opponent’s switch of attack from head to body.
Budera had already hit the deck twice before one final flurry from Hutchinson forced Kieran McCann to jump in and stop the punishment after 2-41 of the third.
There were two upsets on the card as both Harley Benn and Boy Jones Jnr were unexpectedly beaten. Hornchurch’s Benn was 6-0 when he arrived at the Lamex but lost his undefeated record to Lee Hallett, who had lost all 16 of his previous professional bouts. Here, however, the southpaw from Canning Town boxed beautifully to earn a 39-37 nod from McCann.
Jones Jnr, meanwhile, dropped a majority decision to still unbeaten Willenhall lightweight Shaun Cooper, who was awarded victory by both Terry O’Connor (97-93) and Matteo Montella (96-94). Benoit Roussel had it 95 apiece and Marcus McDonnell was the referee in this WBO youth lightweight title bout.
Nine-time national champion Dennis “The Menace” McCann kicked off his professional career in style, tearing through Kamil Jaworek in just 104 seconds. The Kent man had already dropped the Polishman once before Lee Every stepped in.
Hainault’s James Branch notched the first inside-distance win of his career, beating Jan Hrazdira after 2-04 of the second, when a body shot rendered the Czech visitor unable to beat McCann’s count.
Harvey Horn moved to 6-0 with a lopsided points win over Nicaraguan Joel Sanchez, with Every scoring it 60-55 to the Chigwell man. The referee was also in charge as both Lisa Whiteside and Graham Tirrell chalked up 40-36 victories.
In her pro debut, Preston’s Whiteside saw off Dani Hodges of Burntwood while Tirrell did the business against still-winless Scott Hillman of Eastbourne.
There were also wins for Budapest’s Balazs Bacskai (80-70) and Connor Wright of Milton Keynes (40-36), neither of whom dropped a round against Davi Eliasquevici and Owen Jobburn respectively. McCann refereed both.
The Verdict Saunders becomes two-weight world champion at a canter, but tougher tests lie in wait.