By Gianluca (Rio) Di Caro
Back in May, at the O2 Arena, George Groves and James DeGale may have been the headliner but without doubt the true star of the show was a youngster from Hertfordshire, Billy Joe Saunders.
After his sensational performance and second round stoppage of Kevin Hammond it should come as no surprise to anyone that Billy Joe gets another big show outing, as chief support for TRAD TKO Boxing Gym mate Kevin Mitchell when he takes on John Murray for the WBO Inter-Continental title, at the ExCel in London on the 9th July.
Whilst to some Billy Joe may seem to be an overnight sensation following that magnificent win, to those in the know he’s anything but.
Billy Joe had a stellar amateur career, won 80 of his 86 bouts, amongst his most notable achievements were winning the Commonwealth Gold in 2007, the Strandya Cup in 2008 and at the tender age of eighteen was the baby of the Team GB squad at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
In December 2008 Billy Joe turned professional and in doing so joined fellow Beijing Olympians Gold Medallist James DeGale and Frankie Gavin in promoter Frank Warrens world class stable.
Billy Joe’s pro career got off to a flying start with no less than three second round stoppage finishes. The first against Hungarian Attila Molnar in February 2008, this was followed up in May against German Ronny Gabel in Belfast and just two months later his third victim was Nottingham’s Matt Scriven.
In September 2009 Mansfield based Latvian Alex Spitko became the first to stay the course with the classy southpaw, albeit to no avail as Billy Joe still won and won big by a shutout 40-36 points margin.
Billy Joe’s final outing in 2009 see him travel Newcastle to face soon to be British Masters Light Middleweight champion Lee Noble. Another excellent points victory ensued for the youngster, this time by a 60-55 margin.
It wouldn’t be until May 2010 until Billy Joe was in action again and like on July 9th Billy Joe was support for his gym mate Kevin Mitchell, when he fought Michael Katsidis at Upton Park. Billy Joe’s opponent was Huddersfield’s Andy Butlin and yet another excellent performance see Billy Joe victorious by a 60-55 performance.
A seven month sabbatical followed before Billy Joe traveled to the Echo Arena in Liverpool for only his second bout of 2010. It was an short day at the office for Billy Joe as Birmingham’s Tony Randell lasted just three minutes and thirty nine seconds against the in form Hatfield juggernaut.
York Hall in Bethnal Green was home to Billy Joe’s first bout of 2011 and Turkey’s Turgay Uzan hs first victim of the year, and victim is very much the correct word. Billy Joe just palin beat up Uzan, hurting him bad early in the first round with a vicious left to the head that damaged his ear drum. Uzan did try to make a fight of it but Saunders was just too good for him and sent him to the canvas in the second after another big left. At the end of the second it was clear Uzan was in distress causing his corner to retire him on the stool.
Now we’ve come full circle as Billy Joe’s next fight was against Kevin Hammond, and we all know what happened then.
I managed to catch up with Billy Joe after a training session, with Jimmy and Mark Tibbs at the TRAD TKO Boxing Gym in Canning Town, to ask him a few questions about his upcoming title fight and a few other subjects.
Rio – You’re chief support to your gym mate Kevin Mitchell’s showdown with John Murray on the 9th July. How do you see the fight against Gary Boulden going?
Billy Joe – He’s got a decent record, but I can’t see him going the distance. I reckon this is the best I’m going to perform. I definitely can’t see him going the distance and if he does he definitely won’t win.
He’s been talking a lot of crap and saying that he’s going to win and that. I’ll put everything I own, I’ll even put my shoes on it that he’ll never beat me.
I’m going to punish him for all that crap talk, I’m going to punish him for five or six rounds, I’m not even going to think about stopping him. I’m going to badly hurt him, I’m not going to stop him early.
Each time I hurt him I’m just going to step off and then go back to punishing him. I’ll play with him for the first half and then knock him out in the later rounds.
Rio – Your last fight, on the undercard of Groves-DeGale, you put on the performance of the night. I know it didn’t last long as you stopped him but how did you see that fight?
Billy Joe – Yeah stopped him in the second round. Kevin Hammond had never been stopped before, I was the first to stop him, he’s been in with some good heavy punchers and that.
Rio – I know you’ve had a hand injury, but why was your career so slow getting off the mark as such?
Billy Joe – I don’t know really, injuries really held me back. To be honest I could have pushed it, the first time I did push it and ot back in and broke it again. So when I had the operation again I had that little extra time.
I was only twenty when I had that break, I’m twenty one now, so I had that little bit more extra time to make sure it was done.
The last three fights I got back in there and got a bit of style and the punches back together and started stopping them again.
Rio – This will be your first title challenge so are we going to see you focusing on the championship trail from now on?
Billy Joe – I’m improving now and moving on and these fellas with the big titles I’m gonna start chasing them.
British Champion now and Commonwealth Champion Martin Murray I watched him the other night and I’m not fazed by him at all to be honest. Who he boxed was twenty year old, he just wasn’t ready but I’m not like an ordinary twenty or twenty one year old, I’m more more mature.
Come the end of this year I’m aiming for the British and Commonwealth. Hopefully by Christmas I’ll have them.
Right now I’m focusing on the English and clearing up domestically at the minute.
Rio – Let’s take a step back to your amateur career, I know this is a bit of a stupid question but the highlight of your career, was that going to the Olympics?
Billy Joe – It was good yeah. Back then when I was eighteen I was a little bit more wild than I am now. If I went to the Olympics now, that I’m twenty one, now that I’ve grown and am more mature in my head I reckon I’d do a lot, lot better.
The Cuban that beat me, I beat him comfortably three months before, really comfortably but he came back an beat me by three points. It was closer than I thought it was though. He beat me fair and square.
For eighteen it was a big stage the Olympics, you’ve got the whole planet watching you. I enjoyed it as well, it was one of the best moments of my boxing career but I didn’t go win that gold so now I’m want to go and win a world title and put that to rest.
Rio – Staying with your amateur career, besides the Olympics, what were the highlights for you?
Billy Joe – The highlights to be honest was the achievements that I done in such a short space of time. That’s what people don’t realise is that when I put my head down, like I am now, I can move on quick and catch up.
Since I was sixteen I’ve been fighting elite fighters in my amateur career, at the end of my amateur career I had eighty six fights, only lost six, and that was fighting world wide, fighting top men, Russians, Ukranians, Cubans and every country and that was week in and week out. To do that is why I moved on so quickly, I should have been in the 2012 Olympics but I pushed myself and put that extra work in and got in the 2008.
For the first round of the Olympic qualifiers I boxed Andrey Balanov, the number one Russian, and I come down, whereas before I would start getting slow, he was Olympic Bronze medallist, European Gold medallist and World Champion, and I boxed him, after the first round I came back to the corner and I was eleven one down and I thought to myself there’s no Olympic games, I’m not going to qualify for the Olympics here.
I dug in for the second round and pushed him and pushed him and I knew I could see him breathing. The third round I came, the score was fourteen thirteen to him going into the final round, and I came back and beating him twenty four to fourteen. That was one of the best wins for me really.
Rio – Of those 86 fights which hold the fondest memories for you?
Billy Joe – Qualifying for the Olympics really. The final bout, when I looked at the score and I was twenty one ten up and I was in the Olympic games. That was the biggest one for me. Even though he was probably one of the easiest opponents I boxed. He was in front of me, he was good but he lacked something.
When I looked at the score and see I was that far ahead it was so good.
Rio – Did you find making the transition to the pros hard at first?
Billy Joe – No, it suited me down to the ground the pros. I never stop and just keep digging and digging and refuse to lose. I’m really at home being a pro.
Rio – You’re trained by Jimmy and Mark Tibbs here at the TRAD TKO, how’s that going?
Billy Joe – They’re brilliant, they really are the best coaches around. I was a boy when I started with them, now I’m a man and Jimmy and Mark are turning me into a good, good professional.
Rio – Finally as I said at the beginning, you’re main support to your gym mate Kevin Mitchell WBO Inter-Continental title fight against John Murray on the 9th July, I have to ask how you see this fight going?
Billy Joe – I think Kevin will be too much for Murray. He’s good at what he does but he’s never been in with anyone that can box like Kevin can.
Kevin’s been looking really good in the gym and I rate Kevin to beat him.
I reckon Kevin will beat him a lot easier than people think, because some styles suit you, and he suits Kevin’s style.
Rio – Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today, and I wish you the best on the 9th July and all the success in your career.
Billy Joe – My pleasure.
Billy Joe Saunders versus Gary Boulden for the Southern Area Middleweight title is the chief support for the Kevin Mitchell-John Murray WBO Inter-Continental title showdown at the ExCel in London on the 9th July.
Tickets priced £50 are available on-line at www.tkoboxoffice.com or call in person at The TKO Boxing Gym, Gillian House, Stephenson Street, Canning Town, London E16 4SA or call the Billy Joe Saunders ticket line on: 07717 535801