Billy Joe Saunders won the vacant WBO world super-middleweight title with a unanimous points victory over Shefat Isufi at Stevenage’s Lamex Stadium.
The former WBO middleweight belt holder joined the list of two-weight world champions in dominant style, showing punch variety and classy movement.
The 29-year-old was briefly wobbled by a right hand in the sixth round but found poise again to capture the belt.
Judges scored the fight 120-108 117-111 118-110 in favour of the Englishman.
Earlier in the night British heavyweight Joe Joyce, a 2016 Olympic silver medallist, extended his record to nine wins from nine when a left hook in the third round floored Alexander Ustinov, who could not answer the count.
Isufi’s missed chance and Saunders options
Saunders’ victory follows a chaotic 18 months during which he gave up a world title over an adverse doping test and was fined £100,000 for a social media post.
But in making it 28 wins from as many fights, he opened up future options of unification fights at 168lbs or a move back down to middleweight, where Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez holds three of the four world titles.
In truth, he was levels above Isufi, who showed heart and resilience and according to BBC Radio 5 Live pundit Andy Lee, “let a golden chance slip” when he had his moment of joy in the sixth round.
“He caught me in the sixth,” said Saunders. “It didn’t have me where my legs were gone. I haven’t been in a meaningful fight for 14 months. He’s number one with the WBO for a reason so he’s obviously good.
“My boxing ability will always get me further in the sport I believe.
“I want the big fights, the big names. The big domestic fights, unification fights. I moved up from middleweight as none of them would fight me.”
Bill can beat the big boys
Saunders’ world title win arrived shortly after Scotland’s Josh Taylor captured the IBF super-lightweight world title some 367 miles north at Glasgow’s Hydro Arena.
While Taylor’s ascent to world honours has been relatively smooth, Saunders has embarked on a far more turbulent ride in recent times.
Despite coming through a tune-up contest in December, this was billed as his step back into a positive light and the skills he has always possessed were there to see as he landed a superb mix of shots early on.
He threatened an early finish in the third round, ducking a shot before teeing off with a left hook to launch an attack which had Isufi backed up, before ending the round with two driven uppercuts.
His jab looked sharp, left hooks were crisp and there was a general swagger as Saunders swayed from the hips, while the footwork which has confused bigger names in the past came in handy after his brief worry in the sixth.
Isufi, who lost for the fourth time in 33 fights, had Saunders “at his mercy” according to 5 Live’s Lee but the home fighter rediscovered poise and perhaps the only other concern was how he took a few shots late on when posturing with his hands held low.
“He’s got great footwork, he’s got great anticipation and fast feet,” said promoter Frank Warren. “He’s a very underrated fighter. I think in the next fight we are going to see an even better Billy Joe Saunders.
“I really do think on his night, Billy has the beating of Gennady Golovkin and Canelo.”
Saunders mentioned the name of WBA super-middleweight champion Callum Smith as a potential future opponent but Warren believes the Liverpudlian has other options for his next two fights.
But from a 2018 described by those around him as “dreadful”, Saunders can now boast being a two-weight world champion, and big occasions could be on the horizon.
BBC Radio 5 live analyst Andy Lee added: “A good fight overall from Billy Joe Saunders. Real flashes of genius in there. His defence is really good, he’s hard to hit and he can hurt you.
“He has the belt now, so he has something to entice people to come and fight him.”BBCsports