BILLY JOE SAUNDERS will bid to become a two-weight world champion when he challenges for the vacant WBO super middleweight world title against Shefat Isufi at The SSE Arena, Wembley on Saturday April 13, live on BT Sport.
Saunders, a former Southern Area, Commonwealth, British, WBO International and European champion, was an undefeated WBO world champion at middleweight, having won the belt in December 2015 with a points victory over former champion Andy Lee.
Successful defences followed against Artur Akavov, Willie Monroe jr and, most notably, a career-best performance against David Lemieux on away soil in Canada
The 29-year-old was set to make a further defence last October against mandatory challenger Demetrius Andrade, but eventually opted to relinquish his title after the Massachusetts commission refused to licence him to fight in Boston after an adverse finding in a VADA test.
The Hatfield southpaw would have been clear to defend under the rules of the British Boxing Board of Control, as well as the UKAD and WADA agencies that govern doping protocols.
Still undefeated at 27-0, Saunders returned to the ring in December in a keep busy exercise against Charles Adamu and was recently installed as mandatory challenger for his previous title, with Andrade now holding the belt.
Saunders will now break new territory by moving up to 168lbs and seeking to reign at a second weight class.
His opponent is the WBO No.1 ranked Munich-based Serbian Isufi, who holds a record of 27-3-2 with 20 KOs.
The 29-year-old is the holder of the WBO Intercontinental title and has made two defences of the belt he won by defeating David Zegarra via an 11th round stoppage for the vacant title in July 2017.
He has previously fought for and won the IBF European title at light heavyweight, as well as the WBC Eurasia Pacific Boxing Council cruiserweight title. Isufi is undefeated as a super middleweight.
“It is a brilliant opening for me,” said Saunders on his shot at a second world title and went on to explain his reasoning for passing up his mandatory status at middleweight.
“You’ve got these rumours that Andrade is going for shoulder surgery, as well as the financial side of it with the split – it all doesn’t add up.
“Me winning this super middleweight title will put me in a great position for unifications with the likes of Callum Smith, while we’ve got Chris Eubank boxing James DeGale at the weekend.
“There are a lot of big, big fights at this weight, but my real home of homes is middleweight, so I can move down at any time I want and be back as mandatory for my middleweight title and then become a three-time world champion.
“So I am really looking forward to it and Isufi comes as a really stiff test. He is very, very strong and you have to be really switched on and calculating with this sort of opponent. He is one of those who, with what he does, he does very, very well when the bell goes.
“He has boxed at light heavyweight and cruiserweight so he is going to be a big, big lump and I need to make sure I am on it and stay away from those big bombs.”
Saunders went on to acknowledge that the winning of another world title will afford him the licence to remain active and not be left waiting where big fights are concerned.
“Boxing has its ups and downs, so when you get a world title opportunity it is hard to turn it down,” he considered.
“I have to take my hat off to Frank Warren because he has delivered for me after we were finding it hard to make the Andrade situation happen at this time.
“It will 100 per cent happen in the future, not on their terms, but on mine because I am the bigger name and have beaten the better men. I will prove it by going up a weight, winning another world title and take it from there.
“If the big fights at middleweight come along then fine, but if not I am giving myself another gate to walk through. I have been stuck in one room where I have been looking around and none of these big middleweights want to fight. I have put myself on offer to them and even when I was world champion it wasn’t happening.
“I am opening another door now and giving myself a little bit more variety when it comes to opponents.”
Promoter Frank Warren added: “This is a fantastic opportunity for Bill to become a two-weight world champion. He has operated at middleweight for a long time and reached the pinnacle, so we both now believe the time is right for him to step up and prove himself at super middleweight.
“If he is successful against Isufi – and nobody is taking the threat he presents lightly – the possibilities are huge, with unifications and great fights all out there for him.
“I am sure the fans will get behind Bill in their numbers and support him in bidding to become a world champion once again.”
An announcement will be made soon on when tickets can be purchased for this event.