11th December 2012

This Saturday high flying Hatfield middleweight Billy Joe Saunders shall be eager to add the coveted Lonsdale Belt to the Southern Area and Commonwealth titles that already furnish his trophy cabinet. 
The former teenage Olympian, now 23, collides with feisty Trowbridge scrapper Nick Blackwell in what promises to be a highly combustible encounter for the vacant British title on Frank Warren’s unmissable ‘Three Kings’ promotion at the ExCel Arena in London’s Docklands, live and exclusive on BoxNation (Sky Ch. 437/Virgin Ch. 546).  Join at www.boxnation.com

Already ranked 15th by the WBO, manager Warren has designs on fast tracking the Romany gypsy to a world title challenge before 2013 is through. However, in this recent interview with boxing writer Glynn Evans, the southpaw they call ‘Superb’ insists his antennae are fixed solely on a brutal demolition of Blackwell at the weekend.
One of your highlights this year was the 30 second blitz of Southampton’s Tony Hill to win the vacant Commonwealth title, then retaining with contrasting wins over Welshman Bradley Pryce (pts12) and Australia’s touted Jarrod Fletcher (rsc2). That must have been satisfying.
It was and the best is still to come, believe me.

Many expected the Hill fight to be close but I caught him early with those little gloves and I do know how to finish. Because he’s so tall (6ft 2in), we’d trained specifically to get underneath Tony and everything went to plan…. just a bit quicker than we thought it might!

Bradley Pryce was a stiff opponent, a good fighter but he wasn’t that hard to work out technically. He had nothing skill or power wise to concern me. I probably had a harder night when I won the Southern Area title last year against Gary Bolden. For some reason, I just weren’t all there that night (against Pryce). If I had been, trust me, he’d have gone the same way as Hill and Fletcher. But I needed to go 12 rounds and that fight prepared me mentally to do it in future.

A lot actually fancied Fletcher to beat me and were really surprised when I did what I did to him but (coach) Jimmy Tibbs and me both knew what was going to happen. We’d watched DVDs of his amateur win over (James) DeGale and identified that he was a bit too ‘straight up’ and open for a counter left over the top.

I knew from how well my camp had gone that, when I caught him clean, it would be over and he made a big mistake by trying to push me back so early. He was unbeaten, up and coming himself so I knew it was my chance to make a statement. I was over the moon with the outcome. That’s my best performance to date. 

How do you account for the dramatic progress this year? In what specific areas have you improved?

I didn’t really get pro boxing at first. I thought provided I drank water and ate fresh food, I’d be okay.  But now I really live the life, take all the right vitamins and supplements. I’ve not really shown what I’m about in the ring but people at our gym have seen a big improvement. Hopefully, my next opponent with hang around long enough for me to really show my classy boxing. 

How have the maligned hands been bearing up? What added precautions have you been taking to protect them?

Since the two ops they’ve been fine, touch wood. I had a little ‘stir up’ around round five of the Pryce fight but thankfully it was only bruising. Now, before training, Jimmy wraps ‘em with two bandages and a sponge. They’re being well looked after. 

Since appearing for Team GB at the Beijing Olympics, aged just 18, you’ve repeatedly said you had no regrets about turning pro and missing out on London 2012. However, when the Games came around and you saw all the hysteria, did you have second thoughts? What did you make of the boxing at the Games?

I’ve still no regrets. The same money isn’t there now that was available when me, DeGale and Gavin signed pro with Frank after Beijing and I’m more than happy with the progress I’ve made in the pros. But, of course, when I was watching it I kept thinking: ‘I could beat him. I’d have won the gold!’

I thought Tom Stalker was very unlucky to be eliminated. I think he caught the backlash of a few debatable decisions that went Team GB’s way earlier. That sort of thing can happen in the amateurs and it’s why I don’t really regret not hanging around for 2012. 

Which of the Brits would make good pros and what advice would you give them?

Stalker will make a good pro. When we used to spar he could always adapt. (Anthony) Joshua did well to come through a couple of close decisions. He’ll make a good pro when he’s ready.

Firstly, I’d advise them to listen to the right people and try to learn something new every day at the gym. 

What have you been up to away from the ring? You’re a proud traveller. Are you still upholding your gypsy traditions?

I live a quiet life to be honest with you, Glynn. I love sleeping and try to spend as much time as possible with my two young boys. They’re both very different. One’s quiet and loves the computer games, the other is loud and likes to be outside on the horses.

I’ve been doing a bit of TV work on BoxNation and any publicity is good publicity but I like to cool it all down as a fight draws close.

Of course, I still follow the gypsy life. Recently, I bought a top class horse for racing in the carts. He’s called Roy’s Boy and I drive him. So far, he’s won three out of three and we’ve a very big race scheduled for 2nd February next year.

I still go out hunting when I can and I like the hare coursing but we usually end up getting chased by the police. It’s a good job I’m fit. I always get away! 

On Saturday, in addition to defending your Commonwealth strap for a third time, you challenge for the vacant British title. As a fighter with major international aspirations, how important is that to you? If victorious, retaining the Lonsdale Belt outright would take up most of 2013. Are you prepared to make that sacrifice?

Believe me, the Lonsdale Belt is the one I always wanted since I was a little boy and this is easily the hardest I’ve trained for a fight. Whenever I’m out running, that Lonsdale Belt is occupying my mind as much as the opponent.

Sure, I can successfully defend the title three times. I’m still only 23 and in no rush.  My team are starting to talk about Europe soon but there’s lots of good domestic fighters who could provide good tests. Prince Arron is moving up from light-middle, then you’ve got Kerry Hope, John Ryder, Eamonn O’Kane… 

How has your preparation gone for Saturday?

Preparation has gone extremely well. I really couldn’t be any fitter than I am. I’m really bouncing and now it’s just a matter of maintaining my weight.

For this fight, I began sparring two weeks earlier than I normally do. I’ve been working mostly with light-heavies. No names! 

What have you seen of co-challenger Blackwell? 
I’ve only seen his British title challenge when he got stopped (retired after four) against Martin Murray who’s clearly a world class fighter. In fact, I thought Murray won his WBA challenge to Felix Sturm so, for me, Blackwell’s only defeat has been against a world champion. He took the risk, fair play to him. He’s about the same age and, Murray apart, there’s not much difference in our records. I’ll let them worry about me, rather than waste my time worrying about me. 
What type of fight are you expecting? Why will you win? 
I expect Nick will try and push me back but so did Hill and Fletcher and look what happened to them. Ideally, I’d like to be able to get my jab going and really show my class. My inside work has really improved so if he’s stupid enough to try and rush me, he’ll get knocked out very quickly. That, I guarantee. He won’t be able to outwork me and he won’t be able to out punch me so it’s difficult to see a way how he can win. 
Finally, the show is billed as ‘The Three Kings’. How important is it to you that the fans and media are talking about you, as opposed to Ricky Burns or George Groves, after the dust as settled? 
Obviously we’ll all be out to steal the show. Coming away with that British title is all that really matters. If I’m the one the media and fans are raving over, that’ll be a bonus.

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