by Shaun Brown
Some eyebrows were raised as news filtered through yesterday that the unbeaten Billy Joe Saunders would travel to Canada to defend his WBO Middleweight title against the organisation's number one contender David Lemieux.
Saunders' reign has been an inactive one, and somewhat criticised one too, since taking the belt from Andy Lee two years ago.
He struggled in his first defence against the unheralded Artur Akavov. 12 months later, before out pointing a non-threatening Willie Monroe Jr just last month.
Now, he has something of an acid test and his promoter Frank Warren told Boxing Scene today, before the fight was confirmed for December 16 in Lemieux's back yard, that this is the sort of fight that the 28-year-old Brit needs right now.
"He needs to kick his career up the arse and I think this will be good for him," Warren said candidly.
"Bill likes to be tested, and for him it says a lot about his character that he's willing to go there. We've had lots of conversations about this, obviously. The end of the day he could have fought here but Bill felt it was best for him to go there."
The invisible carrot being dangled for Saunders could well be a mega-fight against Canelo Alvarez or Gennady Golovkin in 2018, which is part of the reason that Saunders-Lemieux is taking place.
"If we go to Canada we get primetime HBO and we feel that's important for him at this stage of his career," Warren explained.
"Obviously, he's got to win the fight and winning over there, we believe, will force the issue with getting Golovkin or Canelo.
"He knows he's got to go out there and look a million dollars and that for him is going to be something that inspires him, I hope."
Saunders v Lemieux screams boxer versus puncher. The elusiveness and boxing brain of Saunders against the heavy handed Canadian, who has power to turn anyone's lights out as Curtis Stevens found out in March. An ending that is a sure-fire contender for knockout of the year.
"He's a big puncher, there's no doubt about that but if boxing was all about who punches the hardest we wouldn't need judges or referees," Warren opined.
"For me, all I'm concerned with is that he gets a fair shake out there. Bill's not a slouch when he wants to let them go himself. Bill's got pace, good work rate and he's got a great boxing brain, and he's never been on the floor as a pro. I just feel this fight will bring the best out of him. The fear factor, the whole thing."
With poor judging in the public eye this year, last year and so on, Warren himself told 'Scene that he will be making sure that a neutral official and judges are in place for Saunders' third title defence.
"That's what we've told them, we want neutral officials, of course we do. That's what we're looking for. It's important. We've seen some bad judging over the last few months, which has not been good for the game, and we need to ensure that the people who will be there will be competent and fair. I'm sure they will be."