Matador Saunders Tames Lemieux

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

LAVAL, Quebec - All week, Billy Joe Saunders had displayed the confident swagger of a man who knew he not only belonged at the top table but owned it. He would show everyone, he promised, that David Lemieux simply was not in his class. In fact, he proclaimed at the final pre-fight press conference, dispensing with Lemieux was not even in doubt; the only question was whether he could prove – to himself, it seemed, as much as to others – that he could go head-to-head with the likes of Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin. As HBO’s Max Kellerman observed in the aftermath of Saunders’ dominant, star-making unanimous decision win: As far as that latter goal was concerned, it was very much mission accomplished.

It became evident early on that Lemieux (38-4, 33 KOs) might be in for a tough night, as Saunders moved effortlessly around the ring in the first round while Lemieux gave chase. The Saunders southpaw jab was soon firing effectively, and in the second he used it to set up a beautiful combination, punctuated by a left hand that landed with Lemieux pinned in the corner.

In the third round, Lemieux came out behind a rapidly-firing jab, and for a brief moment looked as if he might be able to close the distance to his adversary. A left/right/left combination landed with only glancing power, but it was enough to send the partisan crowd, already scrabbling for reasons to cheer, into a frenzy. But in the fifth, Saunders was the one who moved up in gear, adding extra weight to his jab and steering Lemieux into strong power punches. At one stage, after knocking an off-balance Lemieux sideways with a counter, Saunders turned and saluted the crowd, which did not respond in kind.

Saunders (26-0, 12 KOs) was spearing Lemieux almost at will now, keeping him at range with the jab and following it up with straight lefts. Lemieux’s response was to rush forward more aggressively, which served only to play into Saunders’ plan and power punches. By the tenth, it appeared as if Saunders might even be looking to finish off his opponent, responding to a Lemieux hook with a stiff straight left, and then another, and an uppercut that knocked back Lemieux’s head and sent him walking backward into a corner.

But in the event, Saunders eased up over the final two frames, content to torment Lemieux with his effortless movement, metaphorically waving his red cape with a casual arrogance as the hometown crowd booed relentlessly.

After the scores of 117-111, 118-110 and 120-108 were read out in Saunders’ favor, Lemieux vacillated between cursory congratulations and barely disguised contempt. “My hat’s off to Billy Joe,” he said before noting that his left hand had been hurt early in the contest. “If that’s the way you want to win – hey, congratulations.”

“I know the sort of fighter David Lemieux is, I know the sort of trainer he has,” said Saunders. “I knew what he was going to do.” Having earlier in the week stated that he was once again in love with boxing after having felt somewhat lost of late, he praised his new trainer Dominic Ingle for turning him around. “If it wasn’t for Dominic Ingle, my boxing career would be over,” he said. In fact, far from being over, it is now poised to leap up to a whole new level.

***

Ireland’s Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan relentlessly stalked, battered and ultimately stopped Antoine Douglas in the seventh of a scheduled ten middleweight rounds. There is nothing especially fancy about O’Sullivan – who says family rumor has it that he is distantly related to Victorian heavyweight champ John L. Sullivan, and whose bald head and petit handlebar mustache gives the impression he has just stepped out of a December 1897 edition of the Illustrated London News. But he is efficient with his offense, and he walked Douglas down as he fired a stiff jab and a sharp, straight right hand behind a high guard. Early on, Douglas was scoring with greater effectiveness, deploying his superior hand speed to fend off O’Sullivan with tw-and-three punch combinations. But there was no evident plan to what he was doing, no effort to set up his offense or to steer O’Sullivan into places he might not wish to be. Douglas was purely reactive, whereas O’Sullivan knew exactly what he wanted to do and steadily set about doing it.

Even as Douglas (22-2-1, 16 KOs) likely won the first three rounds, O’Sullivan progressively closed the gap, and landed with ever greater authority. By the fourth, Douglas, who had been using lateral movement to evade O’Sullivan, was now retreating in straight lines that took him into the corners and against the ropes, which was just where O’Sullivan wanted him. Each time he had his opponent hemmed in, O’Sullivan (27-2, 19 KOs) uncorked short, sharp, straight combinations, and with each one that landed, Douglas’ resistance seemed to ebb a little more. By the sixth, O’Sullivan’s punches were snapping back Douglas’ head, and it felt as if the dam might break at any moment.

It did so in the seventh. O’Sullivan backed Douglas to the ropes and uncorked a left hook that clearly hurt him, followed by a right hand that crashed into the side of his head. O’Sullivan followed with right hand after right hand, and then a left/right combination that had Douglas wilting, sagging against the ropes, and then crashing to the canvas along the ropes. He was able to beat the count, but was clearly in no state to continue, and referee Steve St. Germain waved it off with 1:03 elapsed in the round.

***

In the opener, junior welterweight Yves Ulysse, Jr. had too much ring generalship, too much hand speed, too much footwork, too much everything for overmatched Cletus “The Hebrew Hammer” Seldin. Going in, this was a bout that at least held out the prospect of being an interesting clash of styles: Could Seldin, who likes to work in close and swarm his opponents, do so against Ulysse, who works best when able to win space to operate? The answer was a definitive no, and once that answer became apparent a short way into the first round, the contest became a painful procession. Ulysse (15-1, 9 KOs) walked around the ring, keeping a frustrated Seldin – who frequently swung wildly at air in pursuit – at bay, and erupted in brief flurries whenever the American was perfectly within range.

One such flurry dropped Seldin (21-1, 17 KOs) in the first round, a straight right hand did the same in the second, and another flurry completed the troika in the third. There would be no more knockdowns, not much of anything really, as a comfortably and vastly superior Ulysse toyed with his foe. The Quebec boxer did step up his pace in the tenth and final round, strafing Seldin with lead right hands in apparent search of a stoppage; but when it didn’t come, he eased off for the final 30 seconds, content to await the scorecards, which all saw the bout as a suitably lopsided 99-88 in his favor.

 

Watch: Saunders vs. Lemieux Press Conference Recap

Watch a recap of the Billy Joe Saunders vs. David Lemieux press conference ahead of their bout on Dec. 16. The fight happens Saturday at 9:40 PM ET/PT on HBO World Championship Boxing.

 

Watch: One-on-One: David Lemieux

HBO Boxing Insider Kieran Mulvaney goes one-on-one with David Lemieux ahead of his middleweight title fight with Billy Joe Saunders on Dec. 16. The fight happens Saturday at 9:40 PM ET/PT on HBO World Championship Boxing.

Watch: Saunders vs. Lemieux Weigh-In Recap

Watch a recap of the Billy Joe Saunders vs. David Lemieux weigh-in beore their bout on Dec. 16. The fight happens Saturday at 9:40 PM ET/PT on HBO World Championship Boxing.

Watch: One-on-One: Cletus Seldin

HBO Boxing Insider Kieran Mulvaney goes one-on-one with Cletus Seldin before he takes on Yves Ulysse, Jr. on Dec. 16. The fight happens Saturday at 9:40 PM ET/PT on HBO World Championship Boxing.

Weigh-In Recap + Slideshow: Questions Set to Be Answered on a Cold Night in Quebec

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

LAVAL, Quebec – If such an adverb can legitimately be used to describe a man whose crushing left hook shot is the Knockout-of-the-Year front-runner, David Lemieux has quietly been putting together an impressive 2017. While much of the oxygen has been sucked up by Canelo Alvarez grudge matches with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Gennady Golovkin, or by Andre Ward emphasizing his supremacy over Sergey Kovalev before riding into the sunset, Lemieux has put himself in a position to become the only boxer to go 3-0 on HBO in this calendar year.

Lemieux is, surprisingly, only 28 years old – surprisingly, as he has been in the spotlight for so much of his ten-year professional career. As a result, like many of those who have been hyped perhaps unreasonably soon in their careers, he had to ply his early trade in a glare that accentuated his youthful shortcomings as much as his later success. First, he was the all-action all-conquering prospect with the matinee idol looks; then he became the youngster whose dedication and stamina were questioned after surprise losses to Marco Antonio Rubio and Joachim Alcine. Act Three was the comeback, capped by  ascension finally to the highest pinnacle of the sport, from which he was violently flung back down the mountainside by a Golovkin at the peak of his powers. Since then, he has gone 4-0, all but decapitating Curtis Stevens in the process, but the question remains: who, exactly, is the real Lemieux, and just how good can he be?

Billy Joe Saunders, his opponent Saturday in the final HBO boxing broadcast of the year (9:40 PM ET/PT) is, predictably, emphatic on the matter.

When given opportunities at the very highest level, Saunders said at the final pre-fight press conference on Thursday, “some are just not good enough.” And, he said, turning to Lemieux, “you were just not good enough. Simple as that.” Saunders, whose team – including support from fellow Brit boxers Kell Brook and Tyson Fury – crashed loudly through both Thursday’s presser and Friday’s weigh-in in this bitterly cold Montreal suburb, then appeared to allow for a moment of uncharacteristic self-doubt.

“Am I good enough? We’ll find out,” he offered, before making it clear that he wasn’t questioning his ability to handle Lemieux but only wanting the chance to swim in deeper waters.

“In my own heart and mind, I know I can deal with him, and then I want Golovkin and Canelo to see where I really am,” he said.

But despite having zero defeats to Lemieux’s three, and notwithstanding a lengthy career as a professional and an amateur (he reached the second round of the 208 Olympics), Saunders may have even more questions hovering over his place in the grand scheme of things. Some of his most significant victories – against Chris Eubank Jr., for example, or Andy Lee – have been by razor-sharp margins. He arguably has no more track record against truly top-flight opponents than does Lemieux. And while he is undeniably a skilled and crafty boxer, with a magnificent ability to slow a fight to a pace of his own liking and offer his foes very few chances to land cleanly, he does not have the threatening, bone-crunching, fight-changing power of the local fighter. He clearly carries himself with the confidence of a man who genuinely believes he is on another level entirely to his foe; but for both men, Saturday will be a day of reckoning and, perhaps, one that finally offers clarity.

Weights from Laval:

Billy Joe Saunders:  160 pounds.

David Lemieux: 160 pounds. 

Antoine Douglas: 159.2 pounds

Spike O’Sullivan: 158.8 pounds

Cletus Seldin: 141.6 pounds

Yves Ulysse: 141.2 pounds

 

View from Abroad: England's Billy Joe Saunders

saunders lemieux.jpg

By Oliver Goldstein

Billy Joe Saunders makes his HBO debut this weekend against David Lemieux (Saturday night at 9:40 PM ET/PT). Saunders, from Welwyn Garden City, England, was one of a generation of highly promising British fighters to turn professional under the auspices of Frank Warren, back in 2009, with James DeGale and Frankie Gavin. If it’s fair to say that none of their careers have turned out as expected – with Gavin, then reckoned the most talented, proving a particular disappointment – Saunders is still the last standing with an unbeaten record and world title belt.

Saunders’s best win came in 2014, against Chris Eubank, Jr., whose progress since has made that victory look more impressive by the day. His title belt was secured in an up-and-down fight with Andy Lee, with Saunders’s power (or Lee’s limestone chin) the point of difference: the third round, in which Lee was dropped twice, proved pivotal in the end. Neither of Saunders’s subsequent defences against Artur Akarov and Willie Monroe, Jr., however, have seen him at his best. Against Akarov, in particular, the Brit admitted afterward to having “stunk the place out” (proving compellingly honest, though honestly uncompelling).

Before that fight, Saunders had broken off from his long-time partnership with trainer Jimmy Tibbs. After a brief link-up with Adam Booth, formerly in David Haye’s corner, fizzled out, Saunders joined up with Sheffield-based Dominic Ingle, of the famed Ingle Gym. If the benefits of the new arrangement were not immediately apparent in his next fight, which rather became best known for Saunders’s young son bizarrely electing to clock Monroe, Jr. where it hurts at the weigh-in (a clip subsequently, obviously, went viral), Saunders still looked better than he had against Akarov.

Working with Ingle has meant that Saunders’s camps have been relocated, away from comforts closer to home, to Sheffield. The decision to move from Tibbs via Booth to Ingle, then, represents a creditable re-commitment to his craft, which should diminish the chances of Saunders again resembling the anaemic fighter who showed up against Akarov (Saunders confessed after the Akarov fight to putting on three and a half stone in weight during his previous lay-off). “He’s only 27 and he said he’s got too many distractions where he lives,” Ingle told Boxing News when asked about the change. “He needed to get away. All he does here is train, eat, sleep, rest and he’s back in the gym. I think he’s going to settle here.”

Given that Saunders is no house fighter, it’s hard to tell how significant an impact training with Ingle will make stylistically (and Ingle fighters are by no means as unorthodox as they used to be). Still, Saunders’s fighting habits – which include a penchant for lurking on the backfoot, fairly slick head movement, and decent counter-punching abilities – make it a suggestible fit. This is also, then, a suggestible fight, given David Lemieux’s more rough-drawn fighting tendencies. Saunders should see plenty of chances to get his licks in.

Moreover, this is a fight Saunders has needed for a while. Regarded highly for his natural talents, Saunders has essentially continued to fight at the domestic level, despite his winning a world title belt. It is hard not to think this is in part what has diminished his appetite in recent years: why try harder than lolling, after all, when lolling’s all you need do? Lemieux should invite Saunders to test the outer limit of his talents, to find out just where those outer limits lie. If there are still more questions about Saunders than answers, we should know substantially more about him come Saturday night. 

CompuBox Preview and Prediction: Saunders-Lemieux

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

By CompuBox

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?

saunders-vs-lemieux-stats.jpg

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

Prediction

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.