It has been more than three and half years since Bradley Saunders went to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games but finally he makes his long awaited professional debut this Friday night on the undercard of Kevin Mitchell’s London return at the York Hall, Bethnal Green.
The 26-year-old light-welterweight from Stokton-on-Tees goes straight into a six-round contest against Jason Nesbitt, with coverage starting at 8pm live and exclusive on BoxNation (Sky Ch. 456/Virgin Ch. 546).
What age did you become interested in boxing and why? My dad had boxed but I didn’t see a lot of him when I was a kid. At the age of seven, my mum took me to the Spennymoor (ABC) gym. I packed up at nine but, a year later, seeing the potential I had, the coaches rang me and suggested I go back.
What do you recall of your amateur career? I had my first amateur fight at 10 and stayed at Spennymoor under (coach) Gary Hodgson until me Dad opened the South Durham club when I was 14.Shortly after, I was away with GB most weekends.
I really have to thank (national coach) Terry Edwards for getting me where I am today. After that I was trained by Kelvin Travis, then Rob McCracken and the current set up. I saw them all come and go. I was there longer than any of them.
All told, I had 183 amateur contests and only lost about 20. I won a straight flush of four national schoolboy titles, two junior ABA titles and two National Boys Clubs titles. In the third NABCs I got narrowly touched off by Amir Khan.
I also won the senior ABAs in 2007 and probably had the hardest route ever, all international lads. I beat Martin Stead, the late Gary Barker in the semis then Nathan Brough, a World Junior medallist, in the final. I was underdog but trounced him something like 24-7. That was the only year the national selectors allowed me to enter and I found that disheartening. There’s nothing better than winning national titles. They did let me have a crack at the British box-offs last year and I beat Scott Cardle in the semis then knocked the Scottish out the Scottish lad in the final.
I’d say at least 100 of those amateur fights were in an England vest. I first boxed for my country as a !2 year old schoolboy against Russia and I medalled at pretty much every tournament I went to except the 2008 Olympics and the European Championships when I got cut. I won a bronze at the 2007 World Seniors in Chicago, silver at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi and two European Union gold medals. Obviously, I went to the Beijing Olympics (where he was eliminated in the second series by France’s Alexis Vastine, whom he’d previously beaten comfortably).
However, for me, the highlights would be my victories over two Olympic champions, Thailand’s Boomjumnong in the Presidents Cup and Russia’s Alex Tischenko at a multi-nations in Croatia. Boxing for England became like a walk to the shops to me. Sometimes, boxing the same lad for the third or fourth time, I’d get bored. However, for those Olympic champions, I was right on it.
Amateur boxing took me around the globe on more than one occasion. One year alone I visited over 20 countries! If I had to stop boxing tomorrow, no one could ever take away what I done in the amateurs. I’m extremely proud of what I achieved.
Why did you decide to turn pro when you did? If I’d turned after Beijing (2008), I’d not have had the right mindset and there’d have been too many late nights. Also, at that time, I’d never been the Commonwealth Games or Europeans and wanted those experiences. Since the Olympics I’ve boxed all the best lads in the world and beaten most of them. I’m glad I stayed on.
I made some brilliant friendships on the national squad with the Olympians and, later, lads like Simon Vallily, Tom Stalker, Luke Campbell and Iain Weaver. However, in the end, after so many years, I started to get bored with it. I was going out with the lads because it was all so easy. When my little boy arrived, I really missed being away from him and it started to go downhill a bit.
I had an injury which prevented me from going the first Olympic qualifier. Tom Stalker qualified so that was the end of my London 2012 ambitions. Since deciding to turn, I’m enjoying it a lot more. I don’t leave my house other than for training. The pros is my time to shine!
Tell us about your back up team: I’m managed by Frank Warren and promoted by Frank Warren Promotions. For me, he’s the best in the business; the man to get me where I want to be.
I’ll be coached by Graham Rutherford and my dad (Jeff). Since the age of 14, I’ve worked with some of the best coaches in the world, including the Russians and Kazakhs but Graham’s as good as any of them. He’s developed 68 national junior champions at the Birtley Boys club. He really does his homework and we’re on the same wave length. He’s no soft touch, mind. He’s warned me that the moment I don’t give him 100% he’ll be leaving. I respect that.
I also work with Eddie Ellwood, a five time Mr Universe and once Britain’s Strongest Man. He sorts out my strength and conditioning and my nutrition. I’ve never made weight so easily or felt so strong.
What’s your training schedule? Which parts do you most and least enjoy? I’ll have been in the gym for six weeks for my debut, starting on New Years Day. I train Monday to Saturday from 9.30a.m until noon, then work with Eddie on Tuesday and Friday evenings, doing all my weights and strength stuff. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday I do my runs.
With Graham, I warm up, do a round on the bag, skip, do eight (rounds) on the pads at a real high tempo then, after a 10minute rest, we’ll focus for an hour purely on technique; just touching the pads but getting feet, distance and position right.
After that, I’ll do a six round circuit, lifting weights, flipping tyres, then smashing ‘em with the hammer. The circuit will also include shuttle sprints. Graham mixes it up every day because he reckons I’ve got a real short attention span. Saturday, I do my sparring with all the lads at the gym, from the very smallest to the very biggest.
I most enjoy sparring and I could stay in the ring forever. I know it sounds wrong but I just love hitting people! I least enjoy running, particularly when I’m coming back after a break.
Describe your style? What are your best qualities? I’m a pressure counter puncher who can whack. I’ve been stopping ‘em consistently since I was a kid. At almost every tournament I went to, I stopped at least one opponent.
What specifically do you need to work on to fully optimise your potential as a fighter? Probably my mindset. Sometimes I think too much, analyse every combination before I throw it when I should just let it all flow out naturally.
What have you found to be the biggest difference between the pro and amateur codes? For a start, having been booed all around the world, it’ll be nice to fight in front of a few supporters. I’ll be bringing around 200 down for my debut. Though I boxed the very best amateurs in the world over the last five years, I’m expecting the pros to be a lot tougher. They say the pace will be slower but, right now, I’m as a fit as I’ve ever been and don’t intend slowing too much.
Who is the best opponent that you’ve shared a ring with? I’m not sure about the best but the toughest was Phil Sutcliffe from Ireland in one of my European Union finals. There was a bit of friction between us beforehand so boxing just went out of the window and we had a bit of ‘rough and ready.’ I beat him 8-1 but Phil could really, really whack and I ached from head to toe for days after.
All time favourite fighter: Probably Sugar Ray Leonard but I really like Manny Pacquaio, not just as a fighter but also as a person. He conducts himself very well.
All time favourite fight: Morales-Barrera I
Which current match would you most like to see made? Amir Khan v Kell Brook. Kell’s a good friend of mine and he’s very gifted. I fancy him over Khan. I just don’t think Amir could stay out of Kell’s way for 12 rounds and he’d end up walking onto a big one.
What is your routine on fight day? I’m up and out of bed from the moment I open my eyes. I’ll go for a little walkabout then have something like porridge and a bit of honey for breakfast. I’ll have a sleep between two and five in the afternoon then its time to get my ‘fight head’ on. At the venue, I always have to go out and visualise the ring, then go through the fight in my head. In the changing room, I’m pretty chilled now. I used to hate my opponents with all my heart but then I’d not box at my best.
Entrance music: Not decided yet. Any suggestions?!
What are your ambitions as a boxer? I’ve set no time scales but, given my amateur breeding, I intend getting to world level as quickly as I can. I’d certainly expect to be fighting for British titles within two years. At light-welter in Britain there’s not much about at the minute. Adil Anwar from Leeds could prove my stiffest rival. I rate him very highly.
How do you relax? I like to go out shooting with my lurcher dogs.
Football team: I’m not really interested. My family are all mixed between Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough and my little lad already has a season ticket at Sunderland but I stay out of it.
Read: Just the Boxing News. Now I’ve more time and I’m more relaxed, I might read a few boxers’ autobiographies.
Music: I listen to anything and everything. I like retro, funky, house, baseline...
Films/TV: I like thrillers and horrors, anything scary. For TV, I find X Factor funny and always watch BoxNation.
Aspiration in life: To become a household name and achieve nice things for me and my lad.
Motto: ‘Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be.’ No point worrying!
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