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