Bradley Saunders has his mum to thank for Tyneside debut

Bradley Saunders finally achieves his dream of fighting professionally in the North East tonight. As Stuart Rayner discovers, he has his mum to thank

Boxer Bradley Saunders, who is fighting at Gateshead Leisure Centre
Boxer Bradley Saunders, who is fighting at Gateshead Leisure Centre

With a formidable amateur pedigree, and an unblemished professional record, Bradley Saunders hardly needs anyone fighting his corner. Just in case, he has his mum.

Ever since the County Durham welterweight gave up on the Olympics to turn pro in early 2012, he has dreamt of fighting on Tyneside.

Tonight it becomes reality when he meets Hungarian Gyorgy Mizsei Jr at Gateshead Leisure Centre. He has Tracey to thank.

A shortage of suitable venues has seen professional boxing largely swerve the area in recent years, with Wearside hogging the big North East dates. But Tracey Saunders, secretary of South Durham ABC, was in no mood to take no for an answer.

“I’ve been getting my ear bent by Tracey since Bradley turned pro really,” admits his promoter, Francis Warren. “She’s come up with all sorts of ideas and different options, like marquees and stuff. Bradley’s a massive draw up here but now we’ve got Simon (Vallily) and Josh (Leather) as well we’re not so heavily reliant on Bradley.

“We’ve got a good core of North East fighters alongside (co-promoter) Steve Wraith’s organisation.

“It’s an exciting place for the future of British boxing.”

Not that Warren needed much persuasion. He is the son of Frank, who brought the last big fight to Newcastle when Amir Khan fought Dmitriy Salita at the city’s arena in 2009.

Tickets will be available on the door tonight, but the fact there will be so few is justification enough.

“Ticket sales have been amazing, especially considering Bradley’s topping the bill in an eight-rounder,” says Warren.

“We usually promote around title fights. We’ve done more here than we would do at York Hall by about 300 tickets.

“That’s a huge testament to Bradley and the rest of the guys’ popularity up here.

“We’re already thinking about ways of coming back. I’ve got a few ideas mapped out, we’ve just got to work out what the best fights are for those nights.

“Off the top of my head it would be great to do Sunderland v Newcastle and work something out around that.

“Both sides can benefit from what will hopefully be a North East professional scene that’s buzzing again.”

If an incursion into the North East has been tentatively planned, there is no blueprint for Saunders, who has knocked out five of his seven opponents.

“We’ll sit down fight by fight and assess it,” explained Warren, who crucially brings television with the family’s Box Nation station showing highlights. “There’s fights out there for him now with titles involved but what’s most important is the learning curve.

“With his amateur pedigree I suppose he’s got every right to be in a hurry. He’s that good he, Ronnie (Rowe, his coach) and Seamus Macklin, who’s done a great job with him, can let us know how they’re feeling, what his progression’s been like, then we’ll assess it fight by fight, which is an exciting thing as a manager and promoter.

“I think Bradley can be one of the best – certainly from this area, certainly from this country and going forward I think he’s got what it takes to dominate Europe and win a world title.

“In Ronnie he’s got a fantastic coach who knows the game inside out.

“Bradley’s got pedigree and with his love of the game I think he can go all the way. But he’s got to do it step-by-step.

“I think Bradley’s route will be the traditional one – English, British, Commonwealth, European, then hopefully beyond that.”

Saunders is expecting some butterflies when he strides into the ring tonight,

“I’ll probably be a bit more nervous than I normally am,” he admits. “I don’t normally get nervous but I think with it being here and the show being built around me, I think I will tonight.

“It’s what I want. I’ve got to get used to these sort of things and I’m looking forward to it. It’s a big honour to have a show built around me. My amateur background’s second to none but I’ve experienced nothing like this.

“I’ve boxed up and down the country fighting in front of 200 and 250 fans, but there will be 1,000 there tonight.”

In all the hype surrounding Saunders – a Jaws lookalike was hired for Wednesday’s Press conference to publicise the James Bond-themed show – it is easy to forget he is still learning the pro game. In that respect, Mizsei Jr – a 20-year-old with 23 fights already – should be a good opponent.

“I only found out my opponent a week ago,” Saunders reveals. “The kid I was meant to fight (Krzysztof Szot) pulled out to fight Scott Cardle (in Manchester tomorrow) and I can see why he’s done that, it’s an easier fight for him.

“The kid I’ve got has got a very good record. He’s won 16 and knocked ten out. He’s knocked out more opponents than I’ve had.

“He’s durable and he’ll have come to win, so that’s good.

“I’m very experienced in the amateurs and in the ring is in the ring, isn’t it? I’ll be all right.

“I’m expecting him to try and be awkward and in my face. He’ll try and mug me off, frustrate me, but no one can frustrate Bradley Saunders, no one.”

Middlesbrough’s Shafiq Asif, Hartlepool’s Callum Winton, Gary Fox of Fishburn, Sunderland’s Jordan King, and Newcastle pair Craig Nicholson and Craig Dixon join Saunders, Vallily and Leather on the card.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer