by Cliff Rold
Roughly year ago, WBO middleweight titlist Billy Joe Saunders was taking a beating in some corners of boxing social media. He was fresh off a year long layoff, looked ho-hum against a largely unknown opponent, and was seen as relevant only insofar as he had the belt Gennady Golovkin didn’t have.
What a difference a year makes. What a difference a day makes.
Last Saturday, Saunders reminded everyone he had to be pretty good to beat Chris Eubank Jr. on the way up and Andy Lee for a belt. He had a case for shutting out David Lemieux in Lemieux’s backyard. Saunders disarmed the big punching artillery and boxed Lemieux’s ears off.
Now many of the same people giving Saunders grief not long ago are curious about what he might look like in the ring with Golovkin or a Canelo Alvarez.
Let’s go the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Saunders B+; Lemieux B+/Post: B+; B
Pre-Fight: Power – Saunders B-; Lemieux A/Post: B;
Pre-Fight: Defense – Saunders B+; Lemieux B-/Post: A+; C-
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Saunders B+; Lemieux B+/Post: A; C+
CompuBox is not a science and can often be shown quite inaccurate, if useful as an approximation. The numbers from this fight sure feel about right.
Saunders put on a defensive performance here that was on par with what can be expected of some of the best defenders in the game. According to Compubox, Lemieux threw close to 30 punches per round. He landed in double digits in only the eleventh round.
Saunders did that while throwing more and landing more than Lemieux. While not statistically accurate, many of Lemieux’s misses were intentional. Jabs that feel short to set up the southpaw left; looping rights and lefts to the gloves to keep his power-punching rival in his shell.
Lemieux complained after the fight about running. It was a hollow complaint. The only running Saunders did was run away with a win.
For Lemieux, he’s still only 28 and probably another run of well picked knockout victims from another title shot. Given his struggles to get to 160 lbs., a move up in weight might be a good idea.
For Saunders, the question of what’s next could be all about when a Golovkin-Alvarez rematch develops. If it’s in the first half of 2018, does that mean Saunders stays busy but not too dangerously so, waiting for the winner? If it’s not until the second half of the year, could Saunders slip in as the spring foe for either?
If Saunders and his team determine that there is guarantee of the big fight in 2018, or that another wait would be to their detriment, the HBO investment at middleweight could provide other options. Daniel Jacobs and Demetrius Andrade are world-class opponents under contract there. Jermall Charlo is also out there in the division and the Al Haymon affiliated badass is going to look for a title sooner than later.
Of those options, Jacobs and Charlo would both be exciting opponents who would test the defense and clever boxing of a Saunders. Saunders would be at a firepower deficit against both and they have skill to go with it. Andrade might be interesting technically but the combination of counter punchers could also make for a dreadful evening.
Of course they are all better options than where Saunders was between Lee and Lemieux. We already knew the kid could fight. Now that everyone is reminded, let’s see just how high the ceiling is.
Report Card Picks 2017: 45-18
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]