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 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.
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 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.
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.
Photos: Ed Mulholland
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
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.
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.
Not long ago middleweight titlist Billy Joe Saunders must have thought he was snakebitten. He had been inactive, failed in bids to land marquee fights, and made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Then, last summer, in the strangest twist of all, his scheduled championship defense against Avtandil “Mini Mike Tyson” Khurtsidze was cancelled when Khurtsidze was swept up in an FBI dragnet of Russian mob operatives in New York City. Now, Saunders takes his first step into the international spotlight when he faces crackerjack puncher David Lemieux at the Place Bell in Laval, Quebec, Canada, on Saturday night in the intriguing main event of HBO World Championship Boxing at 9:40 PM ET/PT.
For a while, Saunders (25-0, 12 KOs) seemed hell-bent on embodying some of the worst excesses of the modern prizefighter: specifically the social media blowhard who turns the ring into a waltz session whenever he actually steps into one. But Saunders deserves credit for hitting the road to face a dangerous foe. No matter what his limitations are, Lemieux, who atomized Curtis Stevens last March in one of the most frightening knockouts of the year, is potential dynamite for anyone who shares the ring with him. With only a handful of outings over the last few years, however, Saunders is now looking to become an X-factor in a compelling middleweight division, which includes Canelo Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin, and Daniel Jacobs. A potential jackpot matchup with any of these money men is why Saunders is rolling the dice against Lemieux.
In his last fight, Saunders scored an uneventful decision over Willie Monroe, Jr. at the Copper Box Arena in London. Saunders hardly lived up to his nickname, “Superb.” In fact, Monroe probably took more punishment prior to the fight, when Stevie Saunders, all of eight years old, punched him in the groin at the weigh-in. It was a poor contrast for Billy Joe: his own son seemed more inspired by the prospect of swapping blows with Monroe than he did. Saunders is a southpaw cutie who sets a glacial pace, minimizes exchanges, frequently grapples, and relies on an accurate jab to go along with an old boxing standby: the one-two. Andrew Harrison, who covers the U.K. scene for Boxing Monthly sums up his troublesome style. “Saunders is a quick and crafty southpaw. He's very difficult to hit cleanly and has extensive amateur experience. His chin has proven dependable to date and he's all fighter—there's no quit in him. On the flip side, he can be a tad over-reliant on his right hand, he doesn't possess world-class power and he's shown a tendency to fade late in fights.”
Saunders also has the unique ability, like the old pulp character The Shadow, to cloud the minds of men. Andy Lee and Monroe, both of whom Saunders defeated by points, seemed mesmerized by Saunders. In 2014, Chris Eubank, Jr. looked positively desultory when he dropped a split decision to Saunders. If Saunders, 28, seems to lack zeal, it may be because zeal would undercut a nightmare style whose appeal is limited, certainly, but whose difficulties between the ropes are undeniable.
This combination of spoiling tactics in the ring—despite an Olympic pedigree—and odd behavior out of it has made Saunders a genuine enigma. Since winning his middleweight title from Andy Lee nearly two years ago, Saunders, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom, has fought only twice and each time failed to impress. A nighthawk lifestyle, inactivity, and a revolving door of trainers have all contributed to Saunders looking less than scintillating in the ring recently.
Like his fellow Traveller Tyson Fury, Saunders has cultivated a zany aura that has intrigued some and baffled others. There is a Monty Pythonesque air about him. His Twitter feed is raucous and profane, his behavior at public events is outlandish, and his reputation as a snooker fiend precedes him. Even more bizarre, video footage of Saunders razing his caravan with a bulldozer popped up on in The Daily Star a few months ago. If Saunders can get by Lemieux, the middleweight division will have no choice but to take him seriously.
After a few years in limbo—when the blue-chip prospect afterglow faded following consecutive losses to Marco Antonio Rubio and Joachim Alcine in 2011, David Lemieux (38-3, 33 KOs) regrouped to become that contemporary rarity: a fighting contender. No sooner did he win a title by outpointing footloose Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam, than Lemieux accepted terms for a partial unification bout against middleweight terror Gennady Golovkin. Instead of cashing in on a few easy defenses—the raison d'être of so many titleholders—Lemieux immediately challenged the top dog in his division. He was mauled for his temerity, of course, but showed bona fide moxie in scrapping with a fighter so many have found convenient reasons to avoid. A more cautious-than-usual “GGG” worked behind his jab en route to stopping Lemieux in the 8th round in 2015.
Although Lemieux, 28, has been stopped twice, Saunders is not Golovkin and seemingly lacks the firepower to render the judges irrelevant on fight night. That means carefully navigating his way across 12 potentially hazardous rounds while employing his special brand of strategic dawdling. It will be up to Lemieux to force a pace that will keep Saunders on his back foot and on the defensive.
Letting a cunning spoiler such as Saunders set up in relative comfort is a mistake that could cost the Montreal-native precious points. The bell-to-bell hellion style he employed against N’Dam seems to be his best option against Saunders. “Lemieux's best hope is to place stock in a concerted body assault,” says Harrison. “Saunders is so slippery and jabs so frequently, the Canadian has more chance of immobilizing him with left hooks to the body than he does to the chin. If Lemieux can resist the urge to erase the Brit's sneer with blockbusters up top and doggedly pound Saunders’ ribs instead—even if he has to give up some rounds in the process—it could pay dividends for him down the home stretch.”
To beat Lemieux, who boasts a KO percentage of 80%, Saunders will have to be at his sharpest, and, although Saunders has shown few signs of verve recently he remains undefeated and has beaten some credible opposition. Saunders is hoping for an uneventful night at the Place Bell; Lemieux is hoping for some sort of bruising jubilee. Look for Lemieux to start fast, struggle during the mid-rounds, and hold on for a split decision win.
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