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Lee vs Saunders: Betting odds and preview

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Tom Craze breaks down the Andy Lee-Billy Joe Saunders odds for tomorrow's fight in Manchester.

Dave Thompson/Getty Images

Unless you're planning to spend the day after Christmas searching for patchy internet streams of minor cards from Argentina, Belgium, Ghana, Italy, Nigeria or a vacant OPBF super bantamweight title bout from Japan, the chances are that tomorrow will be your last Saturday of boxing in what's been a less-than-vintage 2015.

Still, it's not a bad line-up, and with a long-awaited middleweight clash from Manchester, together with a strong bill on HBO, there's enough to tide us over.

Andy Lee vs. Billy Joe Saunders

This bout - Lee's first defence of the WBO 160lb strap he picked up a year ago - has been a long time in the making. Originally scheduled for September, then pushed back to October, then again to December 19 in quick succession, it is, mercifully, one that should be worth the wait. Mandatory challenger though Saunders may be, this is an excellent, evenly-poised, boxer vs puncher fight and an intriguing clash of styles between two of the best men in what - to the chagrin of most - is effectively a middleweight subdivision functioning below, and happily chugging along without, Gennady Golovkin.

Like most, then, the layers have been struggling to split the two ever since the fight was first announced, and though the phrase ‘50/50 fight' is frequently bandied around by the more hyperbolic members of the boxing press and audience without much regard to its literal definition, this is - for once - a genuine coin toss.

Were bookmakers not in the business of making money, this would be even money the pair. A quick scan of the UK and Ireland's major sportsbooks shows that ten of the firms listed on Oddschecker.com quote both Lee and Saunders at 10/11 (-110). That's as close as it gets. Another seven make Saunders the very slightest of favourites - if indeed the term really applies here with any real conviction - at -120 or -125, with Lee at even money. Only three firms have those prices flipped in Lee's favour (-120 with Sportingbet and Stan James, -125 with Coral), with Saunders evens, but these are fine margins. This is, truly one of those rare beasts in the world of boxing: a true pick ‘em.

So, how do you play it? Lee (34-2-1, 24 KOs) has the more eye-catching form coming in. He has, of course, fought since knocking out Matt Korobov to pick up the vacant belt as a 3/1 underdog, drawing with Peter Quillin in a non-title contest (Lee +240) - the first instalment of Quillin's annus horribilis. You have to go back to Lee's bout against John Jackson to find the last time he was a betting favourite, but again, there wasn't much in it. Lee was quoted at around -145 for a fight that ended with a spectacular come-from-behind win, one brought about by a stunning short right hook that was eventually named as Ring magazine's Knockout of the Year for 2014.

Billy Joe Saunders Media Work-Out Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images

Saunders (22-0, 12 KOs), meanwhile, has had a peculiar kind of year, inactive only for a tune-up-of-sorts against Yoann Bloyer (then 17-27-2 and on a run of one win in his last eight) in a weigh-what-you-want ten-rounder. Saunders weighed in at over 173lb and blasted out Bloyer inside four rounds. And that's it.

What we do know, though, is that Saunders is a fine, technically sound operator, one who dealt with the threat of Chris Eubank Jr (Saunders was -150 to do so), pitched a shutout against Eubank Jr's most recent opponent, Spike O'Sullivan, and outhustled John Ryder. In a meeting between boxer and puncher, the old adage is that you should always favour the boxer, and that's very much Saunders' role here.

It's worth remembering that Lee was considerably down on the cards against both Jackson and Korobov, and should it go the distance here (+187), Saunders, who outpointed a faster, slicker man than Lee in Eubank Jr, will likely be in charge. He's +150 to win with the judges and, given a less-than-fearsome record of 12 KOs in 22 wins (55%, with a quarter of those stoppages coming in four-rounders as a novice), it feels the obvious route to victory. Lee's a best-priced +375 (+300 more widely available) to claim a decision, and as that's something he's done only once in his last six, and twice in his last eight, that's possibly under-priced.

Andy Lee Media Work-Out Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images

Lee's one-punch power - second only to Golvokin at the weight, and arguably not far off - is what makes him a threat to anyone at 160lb, though, and it's the exact type of threat that Saunders hasn't really come up against very often in his career thus far. Eubank Jr and O'Sullivan can both bang, but two of Saunders' best wins, against Ryder and Nick Blackwell are those in which he scrapped his way through tests against two very solid men, but neither are renowned for their ability to close fights (Blackwell now has 8 KOs in 19 wins, Ryder 12 in 21).

A Lee win inside the distance is available to back at +220 (+200 general), but it's worth noting, too, that the Irishman has never lost a fight on the cards. His losses, to Brian Vera and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, have both come by way of stoppage, and it might worth bearing in mind when weighing up the merits of the Saunders KO, priced up at anywhere between +450 and a hefty +700 across the industry.

The draw will be a common prediction among fans and pundits, and while there's obvious logic in backing a stalemate in a pick ‘em, it's perhaps a little simplistic given the style match-up and, from this viewpoint, the feeling that it either ends early, in Lee's favour, or goes the duration, with a decisive points win for Saunders. Still, a draw was the outcome last time out for Lee in a knockdown-laden encounter that left us with a trio of unorthodox 113-113, 113-112 (Lee), 112-113 (Quillin) cards, and at a stand-out +2800 (Sky Bet - +2000 with most other firms), there's a probably still a touch of value.

Merry Christmas.

Elsewhere...

Bryant Jennings (+150) vs. Luis Ortiz (-187)

Nicholas Walters (-1400) vs. Jason Sosa (+750)

Joshua Clottey (-150) vs. Gabriel Rosado (+120)

Yunieski Gonzalez (-137) vs. Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (+110)

Yuriorkis Gamboa (-1400) vs. Hylon Williams Jr (+600)

Liam Smith (-500) vs. Jimmy Kilrain Kelly (+450)

Friday:

Denis Shafikov (+200) vs. Rances Barthelemy (-187)

Ishe Smith (-5000) vs. Tommy Rainone (+1400)

Mickey Bey (-5000) vs. Naim Nelson (+1400)

Follow Tom Craze on Twitter @Box_Bet