Billy Joe Saunders will take to the ring on December 16 in Canada as the reigning and defending WBO middleweight champion, being the proud owner of a belt which he won way back in December 2015 when defeating fellow traveller Andy Lee.
But since outpointing Irishman Lee with a majority decision success to become world champion at the Manchester Arena, Saunders has only defended it on two occasions, with unanimous decision triumphs over Artur Akavov and Willie Monroe Jr., more recently.
Against game Russian Akavov, the undefeated world title holder was far from impressive and perhaps even lucky to get such a comfortable decision in the end at the Lagoon Leisure Centre on Scottish soil. The win over American challenger Monroe Jr was a lot better, having then undertaken Dominic Ingle as his newest coach.
But the latter bout was still a drab affair and did nothing to further or boost Saunders’ appeal to a broader audience, as he outworked the New York-born southpaw quite comfortably. For most of the title defence, he was barely made to work at all, with Monroe having come in with a bizarrely inefficient gameplan.
However, the 28-year-old will next face undoubtedly his toughest career test to date against former 160lbs champion David Lemieux, a far more serious challenge than an inexperienced and youthful Chris Eubank Jr, an indifferent Andy Lee and the far from threatening Willy Monroe Junior.
Hard-hitting Canadian Lemieux will enter the ring ropes as the evens outsider in the latest boxing odds to prevail on home territory, a promising price for a fighter on a strong surge of victories of late. Since being viciously stopped in a gallant showing against the division kingpin Gennady Golovkin in October 2015, the 28-year-old has earned four consecutive wins, including two big knockouts of Glen Tapia and Curtis Stevens.
Of all the opponents Saunders has gone toe to toe with to date, none have possessed the punching power of Lemieux, and that could be a decisive factor come fight night. The latter home hope is promoted by Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy, who are seemingly keen to match the Canadian up with main cash cow Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez next year, rather than throw him in with ‘GGG’ once again in a highly awaited rematch.
Despite being the favourite to prevail and maintain his unbeaten record on what will be his maiden venture outside of the UK in his professional career, it seems the odds are actually stacked against Saunders for this latest encounter.
It has been evident, too, that Saunders doesn’t boast the massive power capable of keeping a fleet-footed Lemieux away from the danger areas throughout their match-up. Knockout artist Lemieux produced what could eventually be voted stoppage of the year back in March when he brutally put Stevens’ lights out in New York City.
Could another vicious stoppage success be on the cards on home soil? It’s up to Saunders and Ingle to execute their upcoming gameplan perfectly to secure what would be a highly impressive victory on the road, but it looks likely of being a truly testing night in Quebec.