It’s the last weekend of boxing before the festive break but what a cracker we’ve got to end on. Andy Lee is bringing his middleweight world title to the end of year bash but Billy Joe Saunders hopes to go home with the belt. Liam Smith is defending his super welterweight strap for the first time with Jimmy Kelly aiming to be the party pooper. And there is an undercard and international treats to tuck in to as well.
Twice delayed but just in time for Christmas, Lee Vs Saunders is sure to be worth the wait. The Irishman (34-2-1, 24 KOs) won the belt back in December 2014 and, although he has fought once since then, this is his first official defence. While for Saunders (22-0, 12 KOs) this is his first shot at a world title. We’ve been spared the trash talk but that’s ok, both of these guys are more than entertaining enough in the ring.
Lee is so great to watch because he seems to either win by KO or be KO’d himself. Four of the champ’s last five wins have come inside the distance and in his last two wins he was behind on points but managed find the shot to stop both challengers. Lee’s last fight ended in a draw after he had been down twice and his rival down once. The middleweight supremo doesn’t always turn it around though and his two defeats were via stoppage.
Irish Andy trained for a long time in the world-renowned, and brutal, Kronk gym in Detroit, where the KO is king. But these days Lee is trained by the pragmatic Adam Booth. Booth has plenty of skill to work with though as his steer was an amateur European bronze medallist at 19 and went to the Olympics the year after.
Team Lee-Booth will have a problem finding a game plan to beat the super slick Saunders – who also went to the Olympics at 18, only losing to the eventual silver medalist. The southpaw says he has been adding power to his skills and he has two stoppage wins from his last three bouts.
In the past both fighters have seemed to run out of gas late on but for this fight the two men appear to have had solid camps. If the endurance is there for Lee then Saunders probably can’t get the KO, while Lee’s power is probably slightly overrated. The Hatfield man has the speed and accuracy to take the title on points at 7/5.
- Billy Joe Saunders to win on points:
The main support act at the event in Manchester is Smith’s contest with Kelly. The Scouser (21-0-1, 11 KOs) only just won the vacant belt in October and just 70 days later is aiming to make some Christmas money. Smith doesn’t have any big names on his record but his inexperience looks slight compared to the 23 year old Kelly (16-0, 7 Kos).
During ‘Beefy’s’ unbeaten career he picked up the Commonwealth strap in 2012 and British honours in 2013. He is an accurate, attacking boxer and his form, on paper, is a stunning six wins inside the distance from his last six contests. But stats can be misleading.
From those six opponents, one was stopped by the doctor because of a cut rather than a knockout, while the other five victims had all suffered KO’d defeats earlier in their careers and had a combined record of 24 defeats and 15 stoppage losses.
Kelly himself is undefeated and has fought four times already this year, with three wins coming before the final bell. But the achievement isn’t so great when you consider that those four adversaries had a combined total record of 49 wins, 27 defeats and seven draws. And they are the best the Lancastrian has faced.
None of that means that Kelly isn’t good however. He is a switch hitter who likes to attack and he has dealt with every opponent comfortably so far. In a feisty fight, Smith’s power could be enough to stop the lean Kelly, probably in the middle rounds.
- The best value bet is for Smith to win on points or by a judges’ decision.
Former world champion Paul Butler (19-1, 10 KOs) is also on the bill and he takes on tiny Romanian Silvio Olteanu (15-8-1, 6 KOs) for the European super flyweight strap over 10 rounds. Butler has some of the best skills in the division and with his size advantage it is hard to see this going the distance.
- Back the Brit to win by KO. Bet now
Before all the action in Manchester, in the early hours of Saturday morning, Cuba’s Rances Barthelemy (23-0, 13 KOs) fights Russia’s Denis Shafikov (36-1-1, 19 KOs) in Vegas. This battle for the lightweight world title could be the fight of the weekend and the incredible Barthelemy is decent value as a 1/2 favourite.
- But back the Cuban to win on points to get the most bang for your buck in 2015’s boxing finale.