Promoter Frank Warren has called on Billy Joe Saunders to put his horror year behind him and live up to his potential ahead of his interim WBO super middleweight title shot against Shefat Isufi at Lamex Stadium in Stevenage, Hertfordshire on May 18.
The 29-year-old Saunders was forced to vacate his WBO middleweight title ahead of a planned title defence against Demetrius Andrade last October after testing positive to the banned substance Oxilofrine. An online video showing Saunders verbally abusing people on the street also damaged his reputation.
The Isufi fight – which will be Saunder’s first in almost 18-months – was expected to be for the full WBO 168-pound title after current champion Gilberto Ramirez was expected to vacate to move up in weight.
“If Ramirez vacates before then, then it could still be for the world title but, irrespective of that, he needs to get busy,” Warren said to the Mirror.
“He had a dreadful last year coming off that great win against David Lemieux at the end of 2017. It all turned to s**** for him. Some of that was down to him and those ridiculous things he was doing on video on social media — although the thing with Massachusetts was diabolical, with him having to vacate his title.
“But that has all gone now, he can’t worry about the past, he has to move forward, he’s still only young and has done it at every level.
“I hope he’s more mature now for it because if he’s not, he’s an idiot.
“His performance against Lemieux was one of the best I’ve seen from a British boxer boxing abroad against a world-class opponent. He was disciplined — and when he gets in the gym he has discipline.
“Bill is one of those guys who has to have a fight. If there’s no fight going on, he has too much time on his hands. But if he can stay focused and do what I believe he can do then he could be one of our best post-War fighters. It’s up to him.
“He has a fantastic boxing brain, he’s got a great chin, he can punch, he can move — he has it all but he has got to be disciplined.”
Warren is hopeful that a fight with former middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin can still be made after previous attempts to match the pair fell apart.
“We’ve signed for Golovkin twice, they sent us the contracts and he pulled out for various reasons,” Warren said.
“At the end of the day, Golovkin can only fight Canelo once more and after that they both have to fight somebody. That’s why I want Bill to fight for the world title.”