Gianluca (Rio) di Caro – London
This Friday, WBO Inter-Continental lightweight champion Kevin Mitchell is set to face Spain-based Felix Lora in a non-championship bout at the famous York Hall in Bethnal Green, London. Mitchell, 27, returns to the ring for the first time since stopping John Murray in July last year at the Echo Arena in Liverpool and this fight is said to be a warm-up ahead of a challenge for Ricky Burns’ newly-acquired WBO lightweight crown.
With such an important bout waiting in the wings ‘Mighty’ Mitchell will surely be looking to impress in front his home crowd, in similar style to his utter destruction of arch rival John Murray last year. Earlier today, I caught up with Kevin at the pre-fight media workout at his home gym – the TRAD TKO Boxing Gym in Canning Town, London – to talk about the John Murray fight as well as the upcoming fight against Felix Lora and more.
Rio – Kevin, first things first… Congratulations, your magnificent battle with John Murray was named 2011 Fight of the Year by Boxing News and BoxRec; how do you feel about that?
Kevin – Thanks to the readers of Boxing News and BoxRec who voted for the fight. I’m so pleased that everyone enjoyed the fight, it’s always an honour to be recognised for achieving something [and] it was good to give my fans something to cheer for after the [Michael] Katsidis fight [Mitchell suffered a third round technical knockout loss].
Rio – The media as a whole showered accolades on you for your magnificent performance on the night, but how did you see the fight?
Kevin – I see it as a 50/50 fight. After the beating by Michael Katsidis I wanted to put the record right – I watched that fight again last night, Katsidis did his job, I weren’t right and I got beat. Everyone was saying Kevin’s finished, he got done in two rounds. Which wasn’t a bad thing as it made me push harder. As of 2012 I’m going to push even harder as I want a world title. Yeah, it was a terrific fight, but I always knew deep down that I’d beat him, I knew I’d be too much for him, too much difference, I can change things, I can fight, I can box, I can punch hard.
Rio – Okay, back to this Friday’s fight, even though it’s a non-championship bout I know just how seriously you have been taking your training, you were even in the gym over Christmas and New Year – So just how do you feel training has gone.
Kevin – It’s been going well, I’m bang on target for the fight this Friday. I feel fit, did most of my sparring with Colin Lynes after some earlier rounds with Gary Corcoran, got my fitness up and then sparred with Colin and an Italian guy here called Freddie [Federico Tavares] helped me out. Thanks to them, and of course Jimmy and Mark (Tibbs), I’m spot on for Friday.
Rio – Do you know much about your opponent Felix Lora?
Kevin – He’s gonna be a tough guy for ten rounds, I know I’m able to put him away if I want to, but I’m not going in there and try and blast him out, I’m gonna go out there and get some rounds in, if I nail him I nail him but if I don’t it’ll be good to get the rounds in.
Rio – I know you never look past any opponent, but the word is that after this there’ll be a Summer showdown with Ricky Burns for his world title – what are your thoughts on this?
Kevin – I’ll beat Burns and then I’ll knock Brandon Rios out.
Rio – Rios has said that he’s moving up to light welter – are you that determined to fight him that you’ll move to light welter to fight him?
Kevin – Yeah, I’ll move up if I have to, I want to fight him. There’s a lot of needle there, he’s got a big mouth, he thinks he’s a powerful man. I don’t care if he goes up a weight. I’ll win the title at lightweight, defend it a few times and then I’ll go up to light welter and beat him up.
Rio – Sure is some needle there – okay, finally is there anything you would like to say to your fans?
Kevin – Thanks to all the fans that are going to turn up at York Hall on Friday, I promise you all a cracking fight.
Kevin Mitchell versus Felix Lora headlines the sold out Frank Warren Promotions event at York Hall, Bethnal Green, London, on Friday, February 10 and broadcast live on BoxNation (Sky platform channel 456 & Virgin 546).
Alan Dawson – London
Southern Area middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders was a late addition to the Bethnal Green card at York Hall in London on Wednesday, December 14 and the undefeated Hatfield southpaw displayed his typical smooth moves inside the ring but gained a premature technical knockout victory as the referee – Jeff Hinds – deemed durable weight-jumping journeyman Tommy Tolan in no fit state to continue when he really could have boxed on.
Official verdict: First round teekayo for Saunders.
Teak tough Tommy Tolan, who had mixed it with sturdy domestic level opposition including bronze medal Olympian from the 2008 Games; Tony Jeffries and former Prizefighter champion Rocky Fielding, made his ring-walk with a poker face as he headed for the red corner. His opponent, the stylish combination-puncher Billy Joe Saunders, jigged his way to the blue and enjoyed the positive reception he received.
Showing a feint of shoulder and skillful shot selection, Saunders bagged himself an early victory, picking Tolan off with uppercuts, right hands and, perhaps because too many were unanswered, the referee waved the bout off with a little over one minute’s worth of fistic action completed. Saunders looked sharp and was no doubt the superior mover, boxer and fighter, yet the stoppage – considering Tolan’s ability to survive – was clearly premature.
“It’s impossible for an Irishman to come over and beat an Englishman in his own country, especially in my own town, d’ya know what I mean?” Quipped Saunders to Box Nation following the official announcement of his first round technical knockout victory.
With the loss, Tolan dropped to 4-8-0, 3ko while Saunders – who contested his fifth bout of 2011 – rose to 12-0-0, 8ko.
Alan Dawson – London
Well conditioned middleweight Gary Boulden showed good durability and a tremendous chin against an authoritative Billy Joe Saunders who out-worked Boulden in nine of the ten rounds at Wembley Arena in London on Saturday, November 5. Saunders claimed the Southern Area championship by bedazzling Boulden with his classic southpaw stance, accumulation of punches and ring generalship.
Referee’s verdict: Saunders victory.
Walking with a swag that befitted his entrance music (James Brown’s ‘Paid the cost to be the boss’) Saunders, an exceptional prospect blessed with boundless technical ability, strutted to the Wembley Arena ring kissing his red gloves and saluting to a swiftly-filling stage ready to witness his challenge of the Southern Area middleweight championship. Defending titlist Gary Boulden, from London like his dance partner, eyeballed Saunders when he made it to the canvas for the official introductions and the commencement of play.
From the off, Saunders came out the traps with intent. Showing great footwork and a mature appreciation of range/distance, Saunders refused to allow Boulden to find his own groove by popping him with his trademark southpaw jabs and right hand short-range hook shots that were accompanied with left uppercuts. When Saunders unleashed the trigger, he could pound Boulders’ frame with eight punch combinations. To give Boulden a fair shake, he was no mere heavy bag… no, he fought back. He showed good ability with three punch flurries, kept a conventional two forearm’d shield protecting his tucked-in chin but, from the opening round alone, it was obvious that Saunders was at least one clear level above.
Saunders changed to an even higher gear in the second round, peppering Boulden with face-crunching punches at will. He boxed to the body, firing either side of the defending champion’s midsection before returning his attention upstairs to clobber his noggin’. Not only was Saunders’ offensive artillery outstanding, but his defensive capability was on point too as his upper body movement was straight out of the textbook. His ability to evade was highlighted when he turned his shoulders to force Boulden into missing and swinging at air instead of flesh; this meant he lost enough balance to end up on the canvas (no punch/ no knockdown).
A proven puncher to the body from past wins (he stopped Kevin Hammond with body-work), Saunders again pummeled Boulden’s midsection with hard leather. In an attempt to fight fire with fire, Boulden sought to unleash his own body shots but Saunders took a step back to make his man miss – again. In the final minute of the third round, though, he landed a strong right hand; the perfect foil to an awkward southpaw. Saunders even returned to his stool with swelling below his right eye that was perhaps a byproduct of Boulden’s stiff right cross.
Saunders upped the tempo even further in the fourth, landing two right hooks from point blank in swift succession before connecting with a left uppercut. Sensing a potential knockdown or finish, Saunders began letting his fists go, and go, and go, and go until eventually, Boulden was bleeding from the brow. Saunders finished the round by sending left hands into Boulden’s belly and another round had to go to the Hatfield 22-year-old dubbed Superb.
In the fifth round, Saunders eased off the gas a touch, perhaps because the flurrying from round four had taken something out of his lungs. Boulden was therefore able to take advantage and sneak a bit of momentum. Such was the confidence that Boulden obtained from the fifth, he began showboating by leaning forward and sticking his chin out with his gloves behind his back – much like Joe Calzaghe did versus Roy Jones Jr.
Boulden was buoyed by his previous success and boxed well at the start of the sixth but Saunders stole the momentum back by the second minute due to his southpaw jabs and his relentless one-two combinations that involved the left cross attached to the right hand jab. In the seventh, Boulden thundered an uppercut into Saunders’ chin that had such power it forced Billy Joe’s bonce back but his legs remained strong.
The seventh featured some bizarre lateral movement from Boulden who seemed to be under the impression that running away from Saunders in side to side motions with a joker’s expression on his mush would embarrass his opponent, rather than himself. Unfazed, Saunders just shrugged his shoulders and continued to work. Boxing in a loose fashion, Saunders’ corner implored their ward to get the hands higher and become tighter – something the 22-year-old took heed of immediately.
In the penultimate round of the bout scheduled for ten, both fighters sported bruises and darkening around the eyes. Head movement ensured Saunders was able to duck under Boulden’s left hooks but the prizefighter from Shepperton was mostly fighting on the backfoot. Saunders stunned Boulden with left uppercuts and left hooks and forced Boulden into survival mode… he wasn’t just back-stepping, he was jogging in retreat before clinching in a last ditch effort to hear the bell signaling the end of the ninth.
In the final round, Saunders sustained the pressure he built up in the ninth, catching Boulden well. All of Saunders’ good work in the preceding rounds culminated in the final stanza as he bombarded Boulden and never left him off the hook, however, the 25-year-old stood up to the onslaught despite all the wear and tear that was evident on his face.
A distance fight is something that had been lacking from Saunders’ education as a professional. He handled his first ten-rounder well, showed occasional signs of fatigue – particularly after his attack-happy fourth round – but overall harassed Boulden in a near non-stop fashion. Saunders, though, a modest prizefighter, claimed he was three marks away from a perfect score: “Out of ten, I’d give myself seven for performance,” he said to Box Nation.
“This is the first of many [titles],” he added. “It’s something I’ve missed my career – ten rounds. Money can’t buy that, it’s better than all the stoppages in rounds one and two. I hit him with something… I’ve got to go back to the gym and learn how to deal with that better, when someone doesn’t go down. His experience as champion, he knew how to weather the storm.”
Saunders’ trainer, the renowned Jimmy Tibbs, said: “I wanted to congratulate [Joe], when you’re fighting a man who is continually getting knocked about a bit then going backwards, he did well, all I can say is this is the first of many [titles].”
Billy Joe concluded by declaring his ambitions of climbing the domestic rankings in Britain: “There’s still the English title, Nick Blackwell is a good fight. I’ll have a week off then go back to the gym.”
With the win, Saunders moved to 11-0-0, 7ko while Boulden dropped to 5-3-2, 0ko.
Tommy Barber – London
In his first outing for five months, highly-rated middleweight prospect Billy Joe Saunders stopped lightly-regarded emerging journeyman Norbert Szekeres in the space of a single round at the Echo Arena in Liverpool on Saturday, October 15. Saunders, of Hertfordshire, is now focused on fighting Gary Boulden for the BBBoC Southern Area title at 160lbs in Wembley Arena on Saturday, November 5.
“I didn’t mean to go in there and stop him in the first round really, but I’ve got Gary Boulden in three weeks, I’m trying to save stuff,” Saunders said to Box Nation following a victory in which he barely misplaced a glove. “I knew I’d eventually wear him down by putting stuff together. I hit him with a good shot.”
Saunders sustained a hand injury last year but his 2012 performances have been commendable due to swift triumphs over Turgay Uzun, Kevin Hammond and now Szekeres. In each win he has displayed technical finesse, punch accuracy, good combination work and superb use of angles and movement.
“It’s down to the hard work [of his corner],” Saunders explained. “[Trainer] Jimmy Tibbs has got me working hard on the diet, strength and conditioning, and fitness and the skills. Now I’m back from the hand injury I’m performing better and better. Really, I wanted five or six rounds but that’s boxing innit, you can catch someone early.”
On his upcoming fight with Boulden which was initially slated to occur on the Liverpool bill, Saunders commented: “Ticket sales make more sense in London with Gary Boulden, I’ve got him on the fifth of November.”
Trainer Tibbs said: “He’s very powerful, a powerful puncher and if you’re caught with a good punch then you go. This kid is the youngest kid I’ve felt that could go all the way.
“If he lives it, he can do it.”
Saunders rose to 10-0-0, 7ko due to the stoppage win.