By Charles Brun: Billy Joe Saunders (27-0, 13 KOs) will be trying to reinvent himself at super middleweight next month on May 18 against Shefat Isufi (27-3-2, 20 KOs) in a scrap for the interim WBO 168 lb title at the Lamex Stadium, in Stevenage, England. The Saunders vs. Isufi fight will be streamed on ESPN+ in the United States, and on BT Sport in the UK.
The WBO is being very kind in giving Isufi a #1 ranking at super middleweight, given his poor resume, filled with no name fighters from top to bottom. Isui, 29, has won his last 10 fights, but he’s done it against obscure opposition. The WBO obviously has their reasons for giving Isufi a #1 ranking, but it’s very hard to understand what their reasoning is. With the level of opposition Isufi has been facing, he probably should be ranked near the bottom 100 spot instead of #1 with the WBO. Judge for yourself.
Here are Isufi’s last 10 opponents that he’s beaten to be ranked #1 with the WBO: Mohamed El Achi, Rafael Sosa Pintos, Badri Kereselidze, David Zegarra, Soso Abuladze, Daniel Urbanski, Mikheil Khutsishvili, Giorgi Beroshvili, Slavisa Simeunovic and Paata Aduashvili. Not only are these obscure fighters, but their records are just HORRIBLE.
The WBO seems to have to have dropped the ball by giving Isufi a #1 ranking with their organization at super middleweight after beating these guys. With this level of opposition, Isufi would be better off ranked well outside of the top 15. In the past, Isufi was beaten by Dariusz Sek (28-5, 10 KOs), Tasos Berdesis and Dennis Ronert. Isufi also has draws against Tani Dima and Ali Chakiev.
Saunders lost his WBO middleweight title recently after testing positive for a banned substance. He was unable to get his boxing license for a title defense against his mandatory Demetrius Andrade last October in Boston, Mass.
As of now, Saunders vs. Isufi will be for the interim WBO 168 lb title, but that could change if the current champion Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez (40-0, 26 KOs) vacates the strap. Ramirez moved up to light heavyweight recently to test the waters in that weight division against former world title challenger Tommy Karpency. Ramirez looked good in stopping the southpaw in the fourth round on April 12 on the undercard of Vasiliy Lomachenko vs. Anthony Crolla on ESPN at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.
Ramirez wants to challenge for a world title at 175 against WBO champion Sergey Kovalev. Depending on whether his promoters at Top Rank Boxing can deliver that fight for him or at least promise to, we could see Gilberto vacate his WBO 168 lb title. That would be great news for Saunders, because he wants the WBO super middleweight title as a bargaining piece for him to face WBA 168 lb champions Saul Canelo Alvarez and Callum Smith.
“I’m just enjoying it again. With me, I’m one of them that I have to be happy and enjoying doing what I’m doing, then I’ll get the best out of myself,” Saunders said via his promoter Frank Warren. “For me it’s about showing what I can do. I can earn money elsewhere, it’s about showing my full potential doing something I love.”
With the way that Saunders has a tendency to be sidelined by different injuries, you have to take a wait and see approach to see if the Saunders-Isufi fight will go down on May 18th or if we’ll see postponement or a pull out by Saunders. He’s had really bad luck with the injuries since 2015. They happen one after another, and have limited his activity. Saunders, 29, has fought only four times in the last four years. The high point of Saunders’ career was his narrow 12 round majority decision victory over Andy Lee in December 2015. Saunders won the WBO middleweight title with that victory. Saunders didn’t make his first defense of the World Boxing Organization 160 lb tite for one year before finally defending it against Artur Akavov in December 2016 in looking poor in winning a controversial 12 round decision.
“This year, I’m just going to keep winning and winning and winning. I’m 29 now, I want to show it while I’ve got it. If someone pops up, they pop up. If not, I’ll just keep beating whoever they put in front of me,” Saunders said.
Saunders should focus on just trying to stay healthy long enough for him to fight twice a year. Fighting once a year isn’t going to enable him to move forward. Saunders fought once in 2016, twice in 2017, and once in 2018. If Saunders continues at his recent activity level, his fight with Shefat could be his only match for 2018. Knock on wood. Hopefully, Saunders stays health, and is able to fight two or ideally three times this year, but one can only go on what’s happened in the past with him. Coming events cast their shadows before. If Saunders only fights once in 2019, it’s going to make it difficult for him to schedule unification fights against the likes of Callum Smith, IBF champion Caleb Plant or the winner of the David Benavidez vs. Anthony Dirrell fight.
Canelo and his promoters at Golden Boy Promotions likely won’t bother trying to setup a fight between Saunders for obvious reasons. He has the wrong fighting style for Canelo, and his past injury problems arguably makes him a risk for scheduling fights. Former middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin hasn’t shown interest in wanting to fight Saunders since he lost his WBO belt. If Golovkin is going to move up to 168, he’ll likely go after WBA champion Callum rather than Saunders.