Peter Wells is back this week to give his official Saunders vs Lemieux prediction on Boxing News and Views ahead of this weekend’s world middleweight title fight.
As the year comes to its final conclusion, we can finally look back at a 2017 that has delivered us with unification match-ups galore, pound-for-pound stars meeting one another in legitimate super-fights, and the retirements of many legends, allowing for us to look back on the careers of these great champions and welcome in a new batch of budding stars.
But before the curtain closes on the year, Billy Joe Saunders and David Lemieux have one last instalment to conclude a fantastic 12 months of boxing.
The pair can also settle a rivalry that has sizzled on social media, and potentially lead us to more unmistakable action in the year ahead.
Middleweight kingpins Gennady Golovkin, Canelo Alvarez and Daniel Jacobs will all watch on this Saturday night with keen interest in the winner of the WBO title clash.
For Lemieux 38-3(33KO’s), he has already missed out on what could have been a life-changing fight with Canelo Alvarez. Lemieux’s loss led to being boxing’s gain as we finally saw Alvarez and Golovkin meet in the ring.
Meanwhile Saunders 25-0(12KO’s) too was caught up in the Alvarez-Golovkin sweepstakes, when Golovkin’s hand was forced to decline an early summer meeting with the Englishman at the demands of Alvarez’s team.
No wonder there is so little love between the pair as they are set to meet in Lemieux’s home country of Canada.
Lemieux was scintillating in March this year, when scorching hot-headed Curtis Stevens in round 3. But failed to deliver the same thrills two months later when outshining Marco Reyes. A lack of time between the two training camps may have been the true cause of a performance that lacked the same exhilaration. But it is also a testament to his power that dominating an opponent over 10 rounds is considered a disappointment.
Well, whichever way this weekend’s clash goes, it is unlikely to be anything close to disappointing. It is the esteemed match-up between boxer and puncher. When under fire, Billy Joe is at his most exciting, releasing fast flurries from his hip, while also being guilty of allowing his opponent to have too much success.
His only visit to the ring this year was a drab one, as he outscored Willie Monroe Jr in a battle between two slick southpaw’s – let’s just hold our hands up here and admit we never expected anything else.
It is the close proximity of his wins that worry people the most with Saunders. Split and majority decision wins over Chris Eubank Jr and Andy Lee, and a far tighter than necessary win over Artur Akavov. Even the Monroe Jr fight left the American kicking himself that he left so much in the ring.
And while so much is being made of Lemieux potentially winning via knockout, it is a point’s reverse that the champion should be most worried about.
Saunders is away from home – for the first time in his professional career one might add – and Lemieux is not naïve enough to just look for a fight ending single punch. The Canadian will put his punches together in bunches, stalk Saunders and look to impress the judges as the aggressor.
At his best, Saunders can manage this fight, but expend too much energy early, and the marauding challenger will break him down as the fight wears on.
Lemieux can be seen to be too one paced for an established boxer like Saunders. But at some point the visitor will allow his man too close, and if Saunders is wobbled at any point, then it will be a long road back to keep his belt.
The pick is for Saunders to come out on top form in the early stages, stinging Lemieux with rasping combinations as he circles the challenger. Not the biggest of punchers, but Saunders can trouble Lemieux as the impact of his punches is increased when Lemieux rushes too quickly to get inside.
A knockout scored by the champion in the opening 5 rounds is a good shout here, and this could create the sort of gap in scoring that Saunders will need as the fight goes into its second half.
But expect the scores to be close after the halfway point, with Lemieux also at his strongest in the early stages.
Up until the end of the 8th, Lemieux will continue to pile on pressure, and is likely to have his best rounds between the 6th and 8th.
But in the championship rounds it will be the challenger who is the more tired of the two, and Saunders can even begin to push Lemieux backwards.
A dramatic opening 8 rounds will be followed by a more sobering final 4, as the fight settles in to a pattern of Saunders dabbing from the outside while Lemieux stalks in search of the odd single punch.
At the end of 12 rounds, Saunders is the pick to have just about done enough in the championship rounds to claim a majority or split decision triumph.