Boxer vs puncher: Saunders vs Lemieux preview
Billy Joe Saunders and David Lemieux meet in a mouthwatering WBO middleweight showdown in Montreal on Saturday in a contest that will help clarify the state of play at 160lbs. James Oddy previews a classic 'boxer vs puncher' showdown...
Ask a fight fan to name the best two middleweights in the world and it’s highly likely they’ll name Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez.
Ask them to name who comes after them, though, and the selection becomes more controversial.
After Saturday the picture should become much clearer.
That’s because two of the division's premier operators meet in one of the world's biggest fight cities of Montreal, Quebec, at the Place Bell arena.
The hometown fighter is the frighteningly powerful David Lemieux (38-3, 33KOs, ranked sixth at middleweight by Boxing Monthly), while his opponent is Hertfordshire’s WBO 160lbs king Billy Joe Saunders (25-0, 12 KOs, ranked fourth by BM).
Saunders' career has been one of frustration since dethroning Andy Lee two years ago this month. That was a tight affair, two knockdowns by Saunders in the third round proving key, yet it confirmed the long held view that Saunders belonged at world level.
This triumph came after an appearance at the 2008 Olympics and a glorious two-year stint as Commonwealth, European and British champion. Notable names such as Nick Blackwell, John Ryder, Matthew Hall, Spike O’Sullivan and Chris Eubank Jr all fell victim to Saunders' slippery southpaw boxing.
Since the move up to bone fide world title level, however, his career has stalled. A year of inactivity was ended in December 2016 when Saunders met the game but limited Russian Artur Akavov. Although a points winner, Saunders looked flat and lethargic in a bout where he was surprisingly without the venerable Jimmy Tibbs in his corner.
Tibbs later confirmed his retirement, while Saunders hooked up with the Ingle gym for a much better performance in September of this year against Willie Monroe Jr. Monroe, a former Golovkin victim, was hesitant in the extreme yet Saunders looked fit and revitalised.
Hoping to meet the winner of the same evening's Canelo vs Golovkin bout in a unification showdown, the draw in Vegas instead left Saunders looking for the next best thing. With another middleweight contender Danny Jacobs preoccupied and with promotional roadblocks preventing such a showdown in any case, Canadian Lemieux was the obvious choice, not least because the WBO installed him as a mandatory challenger.
Lemieux is a former IBF champion and, as his record suggests, is a ferocious puncher. In fact, even in a division with Golovkin, he probably has the hardest one-punch knockout power currently found at 160lbs. His ledger contains some solid names, with Gabriel Rosado, Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam and Curtis Stevens being his standout wins. The Stevens victory, back in March, was a knockout of the year candidate, a short left-hook rendering the New Yorker motionless on the canvas.
Lemieux is far from a subtle boxer. Stocky and strong, he stalks his opponents behind a high guard, sending out a decent jab to set up bombs from both hands. But Lemieux is far from flawless - back in 2011 he lost two in a row to Marco Antonio Rubio (TKO) and Joachim Alcine (MD).
In both defeats he looked short of ideas, although to give the Canadian his due he did learn from both reverses - his punch variety has improved dramatically since. That being said, in his most recent defeat to - who else? - but Golovkin, Lemieux was completely out-boxed as well as out-jabbed while his punch power was completed nullified.
This fight is a classic boxer vs puncher affair. It’s a big ask for Saunders to be able to go to Canada and pull off a points win - but I believe he will. The British boxer boasts superior footwork, defence and ring IQ.
Whilst he has never faced a puncher of the magnitude of Lemieux, Saunders has a proven ability to be able to neutralise inside fighters and heavy hitters whilst landing his own work.
And whilst not a huge puncher himself, his countering and accuracy can keep any opponent honest and even hesitant to apply too much pressure, as the Monroe fight highlighted. Most importantly, Saunders seems to excel when up against a challenge and with his back against the wall.
If Lemieux lands on anyone it can turn, and usually end, a fight.
But ultimately, I don’t think he will be able to outfox the WBO champion enough to land any of those vaunted power punches.
A wide points win for the Brit is my prediction.