This Saturday night, two of the world’s top middleweights will face off as Billy Joe Saunders (25-0, 12 KOs) takes on David Lemieux (38-3, 33 KOs) for Saunders’ WBO Title at Place Bell in Laval, Quebec. Perhaps more important than the belt is that the winner of this fight will be set up to take on the winner of the upcoming Gennady “GGG” Golovkin-Saul “Canelo” Alvarez rematch in May.
Neither Saunders nor Lemieux moves the needle for fans outside of the fightsphere, but this is an intriguing matchup that goes under the “styles makes fights” umbrella.
Billy Joe Saunders
Saunders is a technically sound craftsman whose boxing skills far outweigh the power he has in his gloves. He’s able to collect rounds by picking apart opponents. “The Superb One” is a bit of a polarizing figure in the division. Sure, he’s a talented fighter, but ever since he took the WBO title off of Andy Lee two years ago, Saunders has ducked out of fights with the monsters of the division. And even his win over Lee wasn’t all that convincing. Saunders was terrific out of the gates, but Lee, who is similar to Lemieux but not as powerful, stormed back and made what looked to be a runaway decision a much closer fight. It was Saunders in a nutshell. There’s a lot there to like, but he just hasn’t been able to put it all together and turn himself into an A-sider outside of his home country.
Nobody will ever question the 28-year-old’s boxing acumen, but there are definitely chinks in his armor, and he’s got his hands full on Saturday as Lemieux fancies himself a brawl.
Whereas Saunders has made a career out of out-boxing his opponents, Lemieux’s career is built on his punching power and his lack of fear. Back in October, 2015, the Quebec native fought and was stopped by Golovkin at Madison Square Garden. Since then, he’s rattled off four straight wins, including a vicious knockout-of-the-year candidate against Curtis Stevens in March.
There are few middleweights, if any, that can match Lemieux’s one-punch power – and that includes GGG and Canelo. When Golovkin signed on to fight Lemieux, there were plenty in the boxing world who wondered if the Kazakh star knew what he was getting himself into. Although Lemieux’s performance that night ended with him getting pummeled, it wasn’t for lack of trying. He’s a heat-seeking missile, and going up against a fighter who’s not known for his power could be just what he needs to get a crack at Canelo, Golovkin or even Daniel Jacobs.
This fight is not going to set any records at any sportsbook, and it has flown under the radar in an unbelievable year for boxing, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something in the price.
The paths to victory for this fight are pretty straightforward, Saunders will win if he’s smart and keeps Lemieux at distance. Lemieux will win if he can find an opening and put Saunders’ well-regarded chin to test.
The odds suggest that this is close to a 50/50 fight no matter what number you can get. But that, to me, is a bit off. Saunders will need to be on his game from start to finish against a knockout-seeking brawler like Lemieux, but we’ve seen too many times where he’s had lapses in the ring. Since Saunders probably won’t be able to KO Lemieux, who has been stopped in two of his losses, I think the Canadian will be able to stick to his script, which is taking risks and feeding off the energy of what should be a raucous home crowd. There also seems to be a genuine hatred between the two fighters, which also plays into Lemieux’s hands, as it could lead to Saunders losing his way and taking unnecessary chances. There’s value on taking Lemieux up to -140, as I think he wins this fight just about 60 percent of the time.
Pick: Lemieux -105
Boxing record: 6-1-1, +17.25 units