Bradley Saunders: Fighting in the North East means more than London 2012

Yesterday Bradley Saunders could not wait to get out of the country, but he is even more excited about returning home next month to fight

North East boxer Bradley Saunders
Boxer Bradley Saunders

Bradley Saunders could not wait to get out of the country to resume training, and he cannot wait to get back home to fight.

Yesterday the 27-year-old was taking a first look around Gateshead Leisure Centre, where he will fight on November 22. It will be his eighth professional bout but he views it as a “debut” – the first time he will compete in the North East for “seven or eight years”.

It is, he says, much more important to him than boxing at London 2012 ever was – just as well, because he was denied that dream.

If his desire to fight in the region makes the Sedgefield man sound like a home boy, it is far from the truth.

Now he is in Spain, until the week of his fight. Today he caught an early flight to Marbella, where he trains at MGM – Macklin’s Gym Marbella. Matthew Macklin’s training base has all the facilities a top professional needs, and with a glittering amateur career (164 wins, just 19 defeats) and a 100% pro record, that is what most expect Saunders to be.

As important to Saunders is what is not in Marbella.

“I just needed to get away from England, to be quite honest,” he says as we chat in the Leisure Centre’s cafe. “I’d say 95% of English people are brilliant, you’ve just got that 5% and everyone knows who I’m on about.

“I don’t need to be around England, around those attitudes. Over there everyone’s happy, everyone smiles, there’s no attitude. Back here there’s attitude everywhere.

Bradley Saunders at Gateshead Leisure Centre
Bradley Saunders at Gateshead Leisure Centre

“You would come out of the gym into all the attitude, all the hustle and bustle. I just thought, ‘I’ve got to go away, I can’t be doing with this.’

“I come out of the gym over there with my vest and shorts on and people are saying, ‘Hi, how are you doing? Well done on your last fight.’ And they mean it.”

It means being away from seven-year-old son Layton.

“It was the same with GB,” Saunders shrugs. “I’d be away Monday to Friday, sometimes three weeks at a time. He just thinks his dad’s a boxer and he’s gone away training. It doesn’t make any difference to him whether it’s Sheffield or Marbella. I’m on the phone to him most nights, it’s brilliant.

“It’s a new start and I’m going to do my utmost. It’s a business now, not a game. It’s my job and I’ve just got to do my best for my family and my little boy.”

One thing Saunders misses about the North East is fighting there. It is a drum he has been banging for some time, and he has had the right people around him. His promoter Francis Warren is the son of Frank, a confirmed fan of the North East having hosted high-profile shows at Newcastle Arena.

That Saunders and the Warrens are finally back is a big deal, as is the presence of television cameras. Under Phil Jeffries, Wearside has hosted some big fight nights in recent years – on Saturday Rainton Meadows hosts an English title contest – but Tyneside has been largely ignored.

Co-promoter Steve Wraith has made it his mission to address that and hopes for three further fights in 2014. Warren’s connections mean a BoxNation highlights programme will feature Saunders’ show the next day.

“Fighting in the North East is all I’ve ever wanted to do because I am a North East lad,” says Saunders. “I’ve fought in London and Glasgow and it’s good but it’s not really appealing to me. I want the North East because that’s something to be proud of.

“I’ve been doing it that much in the amateurs I’ve got to quite like fighting away, being the underdog. I’m going to enjoy being the home fighter everyone’s screaming and shouting for,

“It can only be good for myself, the Frank Warren stable and for Steve’s fighters. I think Frank’s already sold on the North East and on me, to be quite honest with you. He doesn’t speak to a lot of his fighters very often but I speak to him regularly. After every fight he’s alongside the ring.

“I think it’s because he likes a knockout and it’s got a lot to do with me producing a few of them (five in seven fights). Hopefully I’ll be back for another big show within the next year.”

A Beijing 2008 veteran, Saunders was part of the squad being readied for the 2012 Olympics, but a broken thumb and the form of captain Tom Stalker saw him miss out, turning professional shortly before the tournament. Does he see his last four years as an amateur as wasted?

“No, definitely not,” he replies. “Since then I’ve beaten two Olympic champions, Manus Boonjumnong and Aleksei Tishchenko, I’ve been to the Comonwealth Games, the Europeans, I’ve got a lot of experience. I don’t begrudge holding on, I enjoyed every bit of it. It’s got me to where I am now. The second Olympics, there was no big fascination for me, it was my mam and dad that wanted me there. I’d already been to an Olympic Games, I’d felt what it was like.

“Flying all around the world taking part in different competitions was like a mini-Olympics.

“I wanted to be a professional before I went to the Olympics, daft as it sounds, but my dad told me to look on it as experience and I started enjoying it more. I was the wild-card who went to the World Championships and got a bronze medal (in 2007, qualifying him for Beijing) but if it wasn’t for my dad saying, ‘Hang on,’ all those doors wouldn’t have opened for me.”


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