by Cliff Rold
How silly can boxing be sometimes?
If WBO middleweight titlist Billy Joe Saunders wins Saturday night, his name will surely come up as a potential unification opponent for Gennady Golovkin down the road.
If David Lemieux wins, he will be a second time middleweight ‘champion’ after losing his IBF title to Golovkin. In boxing, for the price of a sanctioning fee, reality can be what one makes of it.
That bit of boxing idiosyncrasy aside, we’ve got an interesting fight here. Saunders has some quality wins, but Lemieux is a fighter not everyone is built to handle. A relentless puncher, Lemieux is far from unbeatable. This is a real test for both men and should be a quality main event in an uneven 2017 at HBO (9:40 PM EST/6:40 PM PST)
Let’s go the report card.
Billy Joe Saunders
Title: WBO middleweight (2015-Present, 2 Defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 160 lbs.
Hails from: Hatfield, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom
Record: 25-0, 12 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 3-0
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Andy Lee MD12
Previous Titles: IBF Middleweight (2015)
Height: 5’9 ½
Weight: 160 lbs.
Hails from: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Record: 38-3, 33 KO, 2 KOBY
Record in Major Title Fights: 1-1, 1 KOBY
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Joachim Alcine L12; Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam UD12; Gennady Golovkin TKO by 8
Pre-Fight: Speed – Saunders B+; Lemieux B+
Pre-Fight: Power – Saunders B-; Lemieux A
Pre-Fight: Defense – Saunders B+; Lemieux B-
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Saunders B+; Lemieux B+
Saunders isn’t just facing a potential style danger. He’s also on the road in this fight, heading to Quebec for what should be a hostile crowd. If he gets dropped early, how much benefit of the doubt will he get?
Lemieux has to knock him down first. He’s capable of dropping anyone and has some highlight reel wins. The Canadian can also be outboxed. The jabs of Joachim Alcine and Gennady Golovkin were as potent against him as any power shot and could be the key for Saunders.
The UK product has a nice southpaw right lead and is clever is bringing the left behind it. He’s also a subtle, and perhaps underrated, defensive fighter. Saunders isn’t easy to find and has at least enough pop to get respect from opponents. While he has gone the route in his last three fights, Saunders did have Lee down twice early in his title-winning affair.
Lemieux was a question mark in terms of stamina after a stoppage loss to Marco Rubio but he’s been ten or more rounds more than once since. Golovkin stopped him, but he stopped everyone at middleweight for several years. Saunders is a style risk for Lemieux as well. He’s not looking to win inside the distance and so Lemieux will have to try to make him work at a rate that is uncomfortable. If Saunders establishes his jab, and can take the big shot, does Lemieux have enough diversity to find a way to win?
This should be a fun fight. Lemieux has lots of wins but seems to have had a ceiling to date. Saunders lost some momentum after wins over Andy Lee and Chris Eubank Jr. but can recapture it with a win here. Saunders is a tricky fighter with real skills. Of note here, he also seems to come up bigger when he’s not seen as a big favorite. It says here he survives an early onslaught before using his jab, a little bit of holding and hitting, and some keen timing to pile up points in the middle of the fight, ultimately escaping Canada with a competitive decision win.
Report Card Picks 2017: 44-18
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]