In short, the preliminaries to Billy Joe Saunders Super Middleweight World Title challenge are disappointing to say the least.
New Frank Warren acquisition, Joe Joyce (8-0, KO8) has a run out in Stevenage, with a view to stiffer tests in the near future. The opposite corner will be occupied by Alexander Ustinov (34-3, KO25), a once touted heavyweight hope, who can now be best described as a gatekeeper at best.
2016 Olympic Silver Medallist Joyce has been flawless through his professional campaign thus far, but at 33 years old, his handlers are keen to fast track him to the top as quickly as possible. 2018 saw six wins, all by the short route, and in his last fight, he stopped former WBC Heavyweight Champion, Bermane Stiverne, in six rounds in a defence of his Commonwealth crown.
Ustinov has always been on the periphery of World Title level, without making the step up in class. He has some decent names on his record, including solid contenders in Monte Barrett and David Tua (both unanimous).
But these wins were long ago, with the Belarus based Russian losing his unbeaten record in 2012, knocked out in eleven rounds by Kubrat Pulev in a challenge for the European Title. His last two fights have seen back to back defeats. In November 2017, Manuel Charr outpointed Ustinov in a challenge for the vacant WBA Heavyweight Title, with Ustinov floored in the eighth. His last outing saw rising Heavyweight contender, Michael Hunter stop him in nine, one sided round, in Monte Carlo in November 2018.
Prediction: Joyce will hope for a similar outcome in Stevenage and will want to make a statement by impressing with a knockout victory. Ustinov, at 42, doesn’t have the desire he once had, and will more than likely come to England to survive the distance. I think Joyce can turn up the heat on the visitor and force a stoppage around the halfway mark.
There is also a domestic unification fight, as another Warren signing, Brad Foster (10-0-1, KO3), who holds the British Super Bantamweight Title, taking on Commonwealth Champion, Ashley Lane (13-8-2, KO1).
Lichfield based Foster has had a quick ascent in his career and is on a four-fight winning run since a surprise draw with Brett Fidoe in June 2017. His last two fights have seen him pick up the Midlands Area belt in July last year, by beating unbeaten Leon Gower by retirement in eight. He backed this up by a real jump up in class, widely outpointing former British Bantamweight Champion, Josh Wale, in his Barnsley backyard in March.
Northampton born Bristolian Lane, began his career as something of a journeyman. He has been matched tough, with defeats on his record including Kal Yafai (Lost TKO4), Josh Wale (twice), Ryan Farrag (Lost TKO7) and Jason Cunningham (unanimous).
He is unbeaten in six fights and picked up the Commonwealth Title in September 2017 by handily outscoring Michael Ramabaletsa in Swindon. This though, will be his first defence of the belt.
Prediction: Lane has been stopped four times in his eight defeats, and Foster is a man on the rise. Although Lane is on a decent winning run, Foster is much fresher, and only 21 years old. These are two men with few knockouts on their records, and the pick is for Foster to dominate the contest, in a comfortable point win.
The rest of the card is prospect heavy. Willie Hutchinson (7-0, KO5), Kody Davies (8-0, KO3) and Ryan Garner (8-0, KO6) all feature, and the artist formerly known as Boy Jones, now Ben Jones (18-2-1, KO8) also making an appearance.