BRADLEY Saunders moved closer to a title shot and allayed any fears over his boxing future – all with some style in London.
Saunders stopped tough Irish customer Michael Kelly in just five rounds at Wembley Arena on Saturday night.
It was the sixth win of a career which promises so much and his fourth inside the distance.
And, arguably, it was his most significant.
Not only was it the first at light-welterweight, the division in which he has real championship ambitions, but it was also his first since major surgery on his left hand.
And the special talent, who is trained in Hartlepool by Peter Cope at Gus Robinson Developments and Eddy Ellwood at the former Mr Universe’s Fitness World, showed there were no ill-effects as he took the seasoned campaigner apart.
Cope told SportMail: “We’d like to get Bradley back in the ring again inside the next two months, may be for another six rounder.
“After that we’ll fight anyone.
“TV and the viewers will love him – he’s exciting to watch and he can box and fight so a title challenge looks a real possibility.
“We couldn’t have asked for any better from him on Saturday night.
“He was in against a decent opponent, someone with a winning record and a game-as-they-come fighter who has only ever been stopped once before, and that was because of cuts.
“Kelly had been involved in a couple of title contests but he couldn’t do anything with Bradley. To box like that after seven months out and after major hand surgery was something special.
“He was apprehensive about his hand but he came through it with no problems.
“If he’d blasted Kelly out inside a round then you’d think ‘can he get through a whole fight OK?’.
“But he did five rounds without any trouble and put in a brilliant performance.”
Saunders almost had the job done inside the first three minutes.
The 27-year-old, from Sedgefield, put down the Dundalk light-welter with a thumping right hand to the body in the opening round.
Kelly survived but survive proved the operative word.
Saunders dominated, using his sharp shots and strength to maximum effect.
He landed punches at will and, credit to Kelly, he battled bravely. But when the ex- South Durham ABC launched into him again in the fifth, referee Bob Williams had seen enough and waved it off on 41 seconds.
“Kelly complained but deep down, I think he knew,” explained Cope. “I spoke to Michael afterwards and he said Bradley was far stronger than Frankie Gavin, who beat him to win the Irish title.
“Bradley has got freakish strength and on Saturday showed he is total class.
“Kelly wasn’t really coming back with anything and I think that’s why the ref jumped in when he did.”