The 12,500-capacity SSE Arena at Wembley will be rocking on April 13 when local favourite Billy Joe Saunders (27-0, 13KOs) faces off against Serbian Shefat Isufi (27-3-2, 20KOs) for the vacant interim WBO world super-middleweight title.
Hatfield's Saunders, a former long-reigning WBO world middleweight champion from 2015-2018, gets his shot at the interim World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight strap after he announced his plans to go for glory at 160lbs and 168lbs.
Saunders stepped back in the ring in December after serving a year’s suspension for a (controversially) failed drug test. The Englishman faces a very tough opponent in Isufi, who is currently ranked #1 in the WBO super-middleweight standings, a division that Saunders doesn't have any real experience in. Although, in his last bout he weighed in at a career-high of 178lbs when he defeated Charles Adamu (32-13) in four rounds last December. He also weighed in over 173lbs for his fourth round stoppage win over Yoann Bloyer (17-27-2) in the fight preceding his WBO world title win over fellow traveller Andy Lee (34-2-1) in December 2015. Both of his appearances above 160lbs ended in fourth round finishes, which could suggest he has more power at the heavier weight.
'Superb' Saunders is currently a strong favourite with the bookies, and punters will be able to find some good free bet offers in the weeks leading up the bout.
Billy Joe Saunders is back and he means business
Billy Joe Saunders wasted no time getting back into the swing of things in his return to boxing in December. He defeated Ghanaian Charles Adamu in four rounds at Manchester Arena, and in doing so he sent a signal to the rest of the boxing world that he was back with a bang! The 29-year-old southpaw from Hertfordshire has a perfect 27-0 record across all weight divisions, including 13 knockouts.
Interestingly, Saunders’ last five wins have all been by decision or by his opponent retiring. The last time he actually knocked out an opponent was against Frenchman Yoann Bloyer in July 2015. As it happens, that was also Saunders’ most recent appearance at Wembley’s SSE Arena, the venue where he’ll meet Isufi.
Saunders has expressed his eagerness to win in this new weight division, saying that it will put him in a great position for unifications with the likes of Callum Smith, Chris Eubank Jr., and James DeGale.
“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."
Isufi is a tough opponent in this weight class
Shefat Isufi is an extremely tough opponent, given he’s undefeated in this weight class. The 29-year-old German, who was born to an ethnic Albanian family in southern Serbia, has won his last 10 bouts overall. His last loss was in 2015. He has a 27-3-2 record overall. Notable, 20 of his 27 wins have come by knockout.
Despite having competed in 32 bouts to Saunders’ 27, Isufi has actually completed fewer rounds: 152 to Saunders’ 179. This is a significant difference, with Isufi averaging just 4.72 rounds in his bouts and Saunders averaging 6.62 in his bouts.
Verdict: It’ll be closer than the odds suggest
The above stat could have two meanings, depending which way you look at it. On the one hand, Isufi is accustomed to knocking his opponents out quickly. On the other, Saunders has never lost a bout. If this goes the distance the Englishman will probably have the advantage in terms of stamina and experience. What’s more, Saunders will have a parochial home crowd willing him on.
With all that said, Saunders is currently paying as low as 1/14 at the likes of bet365 and Betfair, while Isufi is paying 14/1. Isufi is at superb odds for anyone willing to back the underdog. The bookies will undoubtedly have more detailed odds on things like number of rounds and mode of victory as the WBO World Super Middleweight Title bout draws closer.