Boxing, more than most sports, thrives on contrasts, and few fights offer more contrasts than that provided by WBO middleweight titlist Billy Joe Saunders and David Lemieux. Yes, they do share similarities -- they're both 28 years old and both have reached the mountaintop at 160 -- but the differences are more striking: Saunders is a southpaw from England who depends heavily on his jab and deep amateur pedigree while David Lemieux is a right-hander from Montreal who fights best when he's coming forward and throwing bombs. While Saunders competed in the 2008 Olympics for Great Britain, Lemieux chose to skip the Beijing games and turn pro. Will these differences mesh into a great fight, or will they produce an unwatchable mess?
Life After GGG
Lemieux has fought four times since losing his IBF belt to Golovkin more than two years earlier and while he's won all four, two foes (Christian Rios and his most recent foe Marcos Reyes) managed to last the distance. It wasn't from a lack of trying, because Lemieux averaged 65.8 punches per round against Rios and out-landed him 212-92 overall and 195-81 power while creating percentage gaps of 32%-17% overall and 46%-32% power. When he couldn't dent Rios' chin, he smartly went to the body and found great success (107 of 195 power connects, 109 of 212 total connects). Against Reyes, Lemieux averaged a modest 44.2 punches per round but forged leads of 145-115 overall and 112-83 power because he was more precise (33%-25% overall, 41%-26% power). This time the body attack was shelved (25 of 145 total connects, 25 of 112 landed power shots), perhaps because Reyes' spoiling tactics proved effective. That could be good news for the slick Saunders, because when Lemieux met fellow power hitters Curtis Stevens and Glen Tapia, he produced fireworks, then early-round knockouts. Against Tapia, Lemieux averaged 70.4 punches per round, led 90-55 overall and 71-30 power and forged percentage gaps of 39%-35% overall and 50%-44% power while against Stevens he opened the fight with a career-high 117 punches and 42 connects, including 37 power shots, then produced a potential KO of the year in round three with a massive hook. In the end, Lemieux led 93-36 overall and 57-32 power as well as 35%-34% overall and 56%-39% power. The moral for Saunders: Box, don't slug.
Jab or Bust
Very few fighters are more dependent on his jab than Saunders. The proof: In his last six fights the jab comprised 64.3% of his output and 57.9% of his connects, far higher than the middleweight averages of 42.3% (23.4 of 55.3) and 28.7% (4.8 of 16.7). The good news for Saunders is that his jab is effective enough (25 thrown/6.2 connects per round, 25% accuracy) to slow the pace to a crawl as Saunders averaged 38.9 punches per round to his opponents' 43.4. This offensive strategy has reached new levels in his three middleweight title fights against then-titlist Andy Lee, Artur Akavov and Willie Monroe Jr. Against Lee, the jab represented a sky-high 83.2% of his output (243 of 292 punches) and 83.5% of his total connects (86 of 103) while he accumulated similar numbers against Akavov (409 of 579 total punches, 70.6%, 51 of 82 total connects, 62.2%) and Monroe Jr. (236 of 405 total punches, 58.3%; 97 of 159 total connects, 61%). Will Saunders' tense, fast-twitch style prove effective against Lemieux, or will the Montreal mauler plow through the interference?
Inside The Numbers
As Saunders (last 6 fights) jabs goes, so goes Saunders. 25 of his 38.9 punches thrown per round (64.3%- C'Box avg.: 41.6%)) are jabs and 6.2 of his 10.7 landed punches per round (57.9%- CompuBox avg.: 28%) are jabs. He landed just 4.4 power shots per round- 1/3 fewer than the CompuBox avg. His style is effective, as opponents landed just 18% of their total punches (7.8 per round-- half the wgt. class avg.) and just 23.6% of their power shots (4.7 per round). Lemieux is busier and made more contact in his last 5 fights than Saunders (18 landed per round/55.3 thrown- 45.1% power connect pct.). As a result of his aggressiveness, opponents landed 36.8% of their power shots
Because Lee, Akavov and especially Monroe are counter-punchers by nature, they easily fell into Saunders' preferred pattern. If he can force Lemieux into a low-output boxing match, he can hunt and peck his way to a big road win, especially since Lemieux's defense is nothing to write home about. But the more likely result is that Lemieux, especially fighting in front of his home fans in Montreal, will feed off the energy and blast Saunders into a TKO defeat.