BRADLEY Saunders is aiming to be the North-East’s next world champion.
On a night when Stuart Hall relinquished his IBF bantamweight belt, Saunders took a massive step forward in the World Boxing Organisation’s light-welterweight division.
The 28-year-old knocked out Ville Piispanen in only 81 seconds to win the WBO inter-continental title in the chief support bout to Hall v Paul Butler.
It gives Saunders not only a world ranking but further strengthened the belief of an already supremely confident man that he is destined to go all the way.
Make no mistakes, Piispanen is no hired-in foreign dummy tailor-made to make the Sedgefield fighter look good.
The 30-year-old from Finland had boxed 53 championship rounds and just six months ago had gone the distance with European champion Michele Di Rocco in Italy, flooring the Italian in the 10th.
He had been stopped only once in his 26-fight career and that as because his corner could not stop his nose from bleeding.
True, Piispanen might not be in the highest world echelon of the light-welters but he has sat at Europe’s top table for a considerable time.
But Saunders took him apart in brutal fashion.
He began brightly, his jab finding the shaved tattooed head of the Finn and then just a minute into the bout he drove in a devastating left to the body.
Piispanen fell to the canvas, his face contorted in pain.
In truth, like George Groves seven days earlier at Wembley, he never looked like getting up.
Saunders was despatched to the neutral corner by referee Phil Edwards and he knew he would soon have the WBO belt around his waist.
The Preston referee duly went all the way to 10 to signal celebrations in the red corner and in the Metro Radio Arena.
Many hailed, quite correctly, the finish of Carl Froch in knocking out Groves – this was certainly on a par with the world middleweight champion.
“Going off his record, I never thought it would end like that,” Saunders explained.
“He went 12 rounds with Lenny Daws and has just gone 12 with the European champion in Italy and dropped him as well.
“That proves he comes to win.
“The shot I got him with I’ve been working on in the gym.
“When he was talking to me after the fight he said ‘I’ve heard stories you can punch but, blow me, no one has ever hit me with anything like that before’.
“He’s a seasoned professional, someone who has performed against the best in Europe and won titles.
“The only other time he’s been stopped was a bloody nose by Guiseppe Lauri.
“He’s never, ever been stopped like that – I have blown him away in under a round.”
That 81 seconds of magic has put him in the WBO mix.
“I just want to go in one direction, to the top,” he told SportMail.
“I’m not in this sport just to be a boxer, I want to be number one.
“If I didn’t think I could be number one then I wouldn’t be doing it.”