Talk can get you pretty far in life, but everybody has to live up to the chat eventually. Tonight, British world champion Billy Joe Saunders will find out whether his skills match his mouth, as he defends his WBO middleweight title against David Lemieux in Canada.
Outspoken, crude and on occasion completely inappropriate, Saunders is an enigma wrapped inside the casing of a school bully. On his best day, he is one of the most enjoyable boxers to watch anywhere in the world. Yet all too often, he’s the British summer of sport. A surprising and electrifying beginning, before fading into an untimely chill.
Despite his flaws inside and out of the ring, Saunders remains undefeated in the professional ranks with a perfect 25-0 record, and he has beaten some excellent names over the past eight years. Andy Lee, Chris Eubank Jr and Nick Blackwell were all handled by Saunders, but his recent performances have lacked vigour and spite. A switch to the Ingle gym has worked wonders on his physique, but it’s yet to be seen if the stamina which has let him down so often, has been rectified.
Aside from eating junk food and talking nonsense on Twitter, stamina has been the biggest issue for Saunders throughout his career, and is the one lacking attribute which has stopped him from becoming a truly world class fighter. Despite knocking down Andy Lee twice early in their December 2015 bout, Saunders struggled to a majority decision victory over the Irishman. Eubank Jr dominated the second half of their fight, while John Ryder and Artur Akavov both found success as their fights with Saunders progressed.
It’s a worrying habit for the champion, especially as his opponent tonight will do everything he can to start the fight off in style. David Lemieux is one of the hardest punchers in the middleweight division, with 33 stoppages from 38 wins. The Montreal star has home advantage this evening, and the 28-year-old is serenely confident at the chance to win his second world title.
Lemieux previously held the IBF title after beating Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam, before losing his belt to Gennady Golovkin in 2016. That was the third loss of Lemieux’s career, but he seems to be at ease with himself for the first time in a while, as Saunders claims to be too. A happy fighter is a dangerous fighter so they say, and it will be intriguing to see if the smiles of both men equate to something spectacular.
The movement and dynamism of Saunders will be essential against Lemieux, who will be attempting to exploit any weaknesses in defence to unleash his devastating power-shots. Saunders will be aiming to tire out the Canadian while conserving his own energy, and those tactics will be fascinating to watch, especially amidst a hostile atmosphere in Canada.
Saunders has never been the away fighter before, he’s always enjoyed the home dressing room and the lavish attention. This will be a test of his mental and physical assets.
This has been a hard fight to call for boxing fans, and it’s proved to be even more difficult for the bookmakers. Saunders is a narrow 5/6 favourite, with Lemieux available at even money. The closeness of the betting reflects the ambiguity of the potential result. Will boxing skills defeat power, or will the physicality destroy the art?
Future fights with Saul Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin are being dangled for the winner, which has ramped up the ramifications significantly. This is a contest which deserves its own attention however, and as the last big fight of 2017, all eyes will be watching.
The talking is over now for the current champion. Win tonight, and he can use those verbal skills to hype up an exciting future. Lose, and the humbleness will have to materialise. We’re 12 rounds away from finding out who the real Billy Joe Saunders is.
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