The fight topped of the bill after the well documented withdrawal of firstly Dereck Chisora, and then Tyson Fury, who was due to fight late stand in, Belarusian Alexander Ustinov, but pulled out the day before after his uncle and former trainer Hughie was taken seriously ill following a routine operation.
Hatfield southpaw Saunders (11st 5lbs 8oz) made a tentative start against Blandamura (11st 5lbs 5oz), who wasn’t afraid to put pressure on and attempted to get in Saunders’ face throughout the fight.
A cut appeared above Saunders’ left eye and he stepped on the gas towards the end of the second. In the third, Blandamura had an answer for almost everything Saunders threw, walking through shots to land his own.
Consistent, snappy jabs kept Blandamura fairly quiet throughout the fourth until a spirited burst resulted in the Italian being hurled to the canvas, and while Saunders’ ability to deal his opponent wasn’t in question at this point, he spent periods in retreat and understandably looked a little rusty, and at times lethargic, in his first fight for ten months.
The Italian was a tricky opponent. While there were few signs of Saunders’ dazzling hand speed, he was landing more consistently. Blandamura’s attacks were crude but perhaps enough to edge some of the rounds on a neutral card.
Saunders was tiring, but ended the fight superbly when Blandamura walked onto a crisp overhand right that knocked him senseless. He didn’t go down, but was rendered incapable of defending himself by the shot and stumbled towards the ropes. The referee, Frenchman Robin Robin Dolpierre, should have noticed Blandamura’s state and waved it off immediately, but instead decided on an attempt to administer a standing count while Saunders instinctively rushed over to make sure of the finish. The towel came in with Blandamura sagged and supported by the ropes, not in a good way, and requiring immediate attention by the doctors. Thankfully, he recovered shortly afterwards.
Saunders will be the first to admit that he didn’t box that well, but got the job done in style nonetheless against an experienced, unbeaten opponent. For my money, Saunders will need to be a lot fitter and sharper before being expected to prevail against WBO champion Peter Quillin, and could do with another test or two beforehand.
Public interest is swelling, however, for a needle match between Saunders and Chris Eubank Jnr (17-0), who made the audience draw breath earlier in the evening with a violent and precise first round stoppage of Croatian southpaw Ivan Jukic (19-3).
The booing that Eubank Jnr has experienced in some of his previous appearances had subsided somewhat in Manchester after the audience witnessed him completely batter an unknown import making his first visit to the UK. However, the manner of the stoppage sent out a chilling message.
Social media banter between the pair in the run-up to their respective fights has been spicy, and both Saunders and Eubank Jnr’s after-fight interviews were peppered with references to each other. Now promoter Frank Warren has a decision to make. Public demand for the fight to happen sooner rather than later could well force the promoter/broadcaster's hand.
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