By Nat Gottlieb
Sometimes, getting knocked out will open your eyes. After David Lemieux was stopped in the eighth round by Gennady Golovkin two years ago, the Canadian left the ring questioning his usual strategy, one based largely on his elite power.
“I learned the lesson in the Golovkin fight, that power is not a game plan,” says Lemieux, who has notched 33 knockouts in his 37 wins. “Power is just a tool. So when I train now, I don’t just go in for a knockout and think they’re going to go out in the first three rounds. I’m ready to go 12 rounds if necessary, and I’ll be strong for the duration of the fight.”
Lemieux is hoping to get a rematch with Golovkin one day, but he’s well aware that he'll have to earn that right. His climb back continues against Marco Reyes (35-4, 26 KOs) on Saturday's Canelo-Chavez undercard (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT, HBO pay-per-view). Merely beating the Mexican will not be good enough. Lemieux will have to win decisively and prove his technique has progressed.
The loss to Golovkin wasn’t the first time the 28-year-old Lemieux (37-3, 33 KOs) had suffered a major setback in his career. In 2011, the Canadian was an unbeaten contender who many thought was the next big thing in the middleweight division. But Lemieux was rushed into deep water too soon and lost two straight fights within eight months to much older and more experienced boxers in Marco Antonio Rubio and Joachim Alcine.
“When David fought Rubio and Alcine, he was only 22,” says his trainer, Marc Ramsay. “And in both fights, we could see that David was able to have the best of the exchanges, but he was not physically resistant enough to maintain that kind of intensity for 12 rounds.”
Four years after those defeats, Lemieux clawed his way back into a title fight with Golovkin by winning and dominating nine straight opponents. Unlike his losses to Rubio and Alcine, this time the Lemieux camp made no excuses.
“In the case of Golovkin,” Ramsay says, “we have to admit that he was the better fighter that night, especially in a technical aspect.”
Lemieux’s handlers set about to correct the mistakes the boxer made against the Kazakh champ.
“David was able to analyze and understand that he needs to be a little more technically sophisticated to win a fight against a boxer of that level,” Ramsay says. “It’s important for him to be an integral boxer. By integral I mean to compete in terms of technique, tactic, speed, power, and smartness. You can’t win at that level if you don’t use all the tools that you have.”
The 29-year-old Reyes (35-4, 26 KOs) doesn’t seem to present much of a challenge in the technical department. He’s the prototypical “tough Mexican” who figures to bring the fight and make Lemieux work for everything he gets. Despite outclassing Reyes, Lemieux says he’s not taking this fight lightly. Another setback could permanently derail his chances to remain at the elite level.
Reyes’ sole claim to fame is that he took Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. the distance in a 2015 loss that was relatively close on the scorecards. However, Lemieux’s trainer says he wasn’t overly impressed by what the Mexican showed against Chavez.
“I saw the fight,” Ramsay says, “and Reyes was in measure absorbing all of Chavez’s power shots. But without wanting to take anything from Chavez or Reyes, I do not believe that Chavez generates the same kind of power as David, and Chavez looked to me as though he was completely out of shape.”
Lemieux is coming into this fight with more than a little buzz after a stunning, devastating third-round knockout of Curtis Stevens in March. The Canadian took one week off after that fight and then, when told he was going to fight on the Canelo-Chavez undercard with a possible chance to face the winner, he jumped right back into training.
Asked if such a quick return to the gym might result in his boxer being overtrained, Ramsay says, “Not at all. My team has the expertise to make an adaptable program for that situation. We assured ourselves that David had peaked at the right time and that his energy level is optimal.”
Also on the undercard is a fight between two unbeaten featherweights, 2012 Olympian JoJo Diaz Jr., and Manuel Avila, both of whom are hoping to use a victory as a springboard to a title fight. Although undefeated, Diaz (23-0, 13 KOs) remains stuck between prospect and contender. His fight with Avila (22-0, 8 KOs) could go a long way in determining his future ring identity.
As a decorated amateur and Olympian, Diaz is a polished fighter with very fast hands. Whether he has enough power to compete with the top featherweights is the question hanging over his head and, to this point, his career.
Based on the southpaw’s recent fights, in which he has knocked out three of his last five opponents, it appears he’s learning to sit down more on his punches. In Diaz's last fight, he won an impressive unanimous decision over Horacio Garcia, whose only other loss had been to former three-division world champion Hozumi Hasegawa.
But even in that fight, Diaz looked deficient in power. In the final seconds of the first round, Diaz staggered Garcia with a left hook, trapped him on the ropes and threw a torrent of punches but couldn’t take him out. After that, although Garcia lost every round, he managed to take Diaz the distance.
Although Avila is also unbeaten, this is clearly a step up in competition for the Californian, who’s also lacking in the power department.
Rounding out the card is the always crowd-pleasing Lucas Matthysse, who's returning to action after a 19-month layoff to face Emmanuel Taylor, a promising boxer looking to add the Argentine fighter as a brand-name notch on his resume.
Matthysse certainly doesn’t lack for power, with 34 of his 37 wins having come by way of knockout. The biggest problem facing Matthysse will be ring rust when he takes on Taylor (20-4-14 KOs).
Matthysse hasn’t fought since Oct. 3, 2015, when he lost to then-unbeaten Viktor Postol in a fight in which the Argentine fighter suffered a fractured orbital bone in his left eye.
“Look, it’s a comeback fight,” Matthysse says, “but Emmanuel Taylor is a tough fighter with a lot of experience.”
Matthysse will also be competing at welterweight for the first time in his career, and he’ll have to demonstrate that his power translates to the 147-pound division. “I felt that I had to make the change,” he says. “I’ve been at the weight (140 pounds) for a long time. I’m 34 years old now, and the truth is, in the last two fights I struggled a bit in making the weight.”
Although Taylor has lost three of his last six fights, those defeats came against top-tier opponents in Adrien Broner, unbeaten Antonio Orozco, and Chris Algieri. In each of those fights, Taylor kept the scorecards reasonably close and went the distance. He believes Matthysse’s absence from the ring might help him win. “I think I got him at the perfect time,” Taylor says. “He’s coming off a KO loss, an eye injury and the long layoff.”