Southampton’s Tony Hill insists he isn’t coming to lie down passively when he confronts touted Olympian Billy Joe Saunders for the vacant Commonwealth middleweight title at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday evening (Catch it live on BoxNation Sky Ch.456/Virgin Ch.546)
A former junior Olympic champion and multiple national title holder himself in the amateurs, the 25 year old father of three was making confident noises ahead of the clash of southpaws, when he spoke to boxing writer Glynn Evans.
Though you’ve only had 10 pro fights, you’ve an extensive amateur pedigree. Do you think that compensates?
Yeah, I’ve been fighting all my life. I weren’t a bully as a kid but I was never one to turn a scrap down. Dad was a boxing fan and took me down the Golden Ring gym. I had the first of my 87 bouts (71 wins) when I was just 11and I stayed there right through. I won three national schoolboy titles, two Junior ABA titles plus the Junior Olympics in Michigan when I was about 16.
In the seniors I made the ABA semis, losing to Joe McNally (2007) and also got to the national quarter final stage, losing to Anthony Ogogo (2009). They were close decisions that could’ve gone either way. No one beat me hands down.
I also fought James DeGale, losing on points in a good fight and I beat (Prizefighter champion) Jon Lewis Dickenson in my last schoolboys final. I represented England about 15 times, including over in the USA and in Russia.
What else has helped prepare you for your Commonwealth title challenge?
Lots of top quality sparring. I helped Matt Macklin with his prep for the (aborted) Winky Wright fight and I’ve done a lot with Nathan Cleverly over the last 12 months. It’s not quite as good as having fights but it definitely helps prepare you to compete at a higher level. I must be doing okay because they keep paying for me to go back.
Your pro CV lists two defeats, to Matt Hainy and, in your last gig, to recently crowned European champion Kerry Hope in a British title eliminator. How do you account for those setbacks?
Hainy was a ridiculous match; two good prospects facing each other over four rounds?! Most get to fight journeymen while they’re learning their trade. But the defeat certainly improved me. I learned the need to start far more aggressively. Still, I cringe when I think about that fight. I shouldn’t be losing to the likes of him.
I knew before the fight with Kerry Hope started that I wouldn’t perform. I had a few niggles, the usual sharpness weren’t there and I was a bit weak at the weight. I also underestimated him a bit. He proved he was no idiot winning the continental title against (Greg) Proksa.
He caught me on a bit of an off day but I learned more in that fight than all the others put together. I’d not been past round six before and got sucked into his fight. I discovered how dedicated you need to be and how to pace a fight.
Following a stoppage win on your September 2009 pro debut, you went to the cards in each of your next five. However, prior to the Hope reverse you stopped three in succession, including good men Kevin Concepcion and Paul Samuels. What changed?
Not much. I’ve always had a punch and stopped well over 20 in the amateurs which is a high percentage given the class I was competing in. But I’ve had a few hand injuries, particularly with the thumb. I stubbed it before the Hope fight and that sucked away some of my confidence and rhythm.
Given the defeat in your last fight, were you surprised to get your opportunity to fight for the vacant Commonwealth title?
I was certainly happy for the chance but not really surprised because once you get in the top ten you can always get opportunities. Initially, I was to challenge Saunders for his Southern Area title then fight for the vacant English and now the Commonwealth because (Martin) Murray vacated.
The queue to face ex Olympian Billy Joe Saunders has been short. Why were you keen to step up?
Not much was happening with the British title and I couldn’t see any better routes to a championship. On my day, I’m confident I can beat any of the other British middleweights. Why not start with Billy Joe?
What’s your assessment of Saunders?
I’ve seen a lot of him and he’s very talented skillwise, very quick. He’s blown through everything he’s faced as a pro but the opposition has been pretty low grade and he hasn’t really been asked too many questions yet.
Billy Joe’s not really been pushed since he left the amateurs three and a half years ago and that’s a long time to go without a proper fight. He’s going to get one with me.
Saturday’s fight shall be easily the biggest promotion you’ve been involved in. Any chance you could be overwhelmed by the occasion?
Absolutely none. I don’t care if the ring is in your gym or in Las Vegas, it’s still just a ring. I’ve sold well over 200 tickets. It doesn’t get much better than topping the bill at the Royal Albert Hall and I’m really looking forward to it.
How have you gone about getting yourself in shape for the challenge?
I’ve had at least five weeks notice and I’ve been preparing at the Millbank pro gym in Southampton with my trainer Wayne Batten who is also managing me for this fight. I’ve taken three weeks off from my job as a bricklayer which I always do before a fight. I’ve followed the routines I’ve always followed but done a little bit extra and done it a little bit harder.
I’ve been sparring (14-1 Australian light-middle) King Davidson who’s a southpaw, (ex British, Commonwealth and European middleweight challenger) Steve Bendall who’s been up there plus Chris Eubank Jnr, a gifted prospect with all the moves and good genetics. They’re all good men. I’ll be well prepared.
You’ll enter Saturday’s fight as a 8-1 underdog. Why are you confident you can spring an upset?
Kerry Hope was a southpaw and our fight was very competitive. I only lost on a majority. Would they risk Billy Joe against Kerry Hope right now? I don’t think so.
I’m a very sharp puncher and, compared to Saunders, I’m a very big middleweight. This time, he’ll know he’s been hit. It’s going to be a shock to him. I’m coming to win.
Promoter Frank Warren stages the first professional championship boxing event at the Royal Albert Hall in 13 years this Saturday, sponsored by Rainham Steel.
Billy Joe Saunders’ Vacant Commonwealth Middleweight title challenge against Tony Hill and Matthew Hall’s Final Eliminator for the British Light-Middleweight against Sam Webb headline the show.
The undercard features some of the best talent in Britain including unbeaten welterweight Bradley Skeete; light-welterweight Bradley Saunders; welterweights Freddie Turner and Dean Byrne and light-heavyweight Andreas Evangelou.
Remaining tickets, priced at £40, £50, £75 and £100, are available from:
Ticketmaster: 0844 844 0444