Above all else, David Lemieux is a puncher. The 26-year-old Montreal native has made a career out of slugging away and stopping his opponents, racking up 31 early victories in his 34 wins. And make no mistake: it's his only real chance at upsetting Gennady Golovkin on Saturday night, when the two meet at Madison Square Garden on HBO pay-per-view.
Lemieux is a good fighter. He's a top five-ish middleweight, he holds a world title for whatever that's worth, and his last two fights against Gabriel Rosado and Hassan N'dam showcased a better, more mature fighter than he was in 2011, when he was upset by both Marco Antonio Rubio and Joachim Alcine, a pair of veterans who were able to use Lemieux's worse habits against him.
Rubio endured the early shock-and-awe power of Lemieux and hedged his bets on tiring out the overzealous young brawler. It worked, and Rubio stopped an exhausted Lemieux in round seven. Eight months later, a declining Alcine scored a 12-round majority decision win.
But Lemieux, to his credit, has bounced back. With scaled back competition, Lemieux both regained his swagger and stepped up his game, going on a KO tear over a year from June 2012 through June 2013, stopping five straight opponents inside of two rounds. Veteran gatekeeper Marcus Upshaw went the eight round distance with him after that, but Lemieux got back to stopping opponents again when he took out Jose Miguel Torres, Fernando Guerrero, and Rosado.
The Rosado bout was a turning point for Lemieux's career. It was an HBO headliner last December, and signaled Lemieux's move to Golden Boy Promotions, which was made official the next month. That led to a brief legal matter between Golden Boy and Groupe Yvon Michel, who sued Golden Boy, Eye of the Tiger Management, Lemieux, and HBO earlier this year, claiming Lemieux was still under contract.
But Lemieux's career has continued, uninterrupted. He was back on June 20 against N'Dam, a career-best opponent and the biggest opportunity Lemieux had gotten to date. The vacant IBF middleweight title was on the line, Lemieux had home field advantage at the Bell Centre in Montreal, and his power was again the key. Though he did not stop N'Dam, he dropped the Cameroon-born, France-based fighter four times en route to a decision victory, winning on round scores of 7-5, 7-5, and 6-6. The knockdowns were the big difference, but Lemieux did show how much his game had advanced in that fight, as he had against Rosado six months prior.
In short, Lemieux has grown as a fighter since 2011. What could have been a career-derailing pair of losses instead became a catalyst for change. He parted ways with trainer Russ Anber, a respected veteran of the sport, and hired Marc Ramsay, arguably the top trainer in Canada. But that was before the Alcine fight, which also went awry. When Lemieux could have made a rash decision and cast Ramsay aside, he stuck with a trainer that had gotten results with several name fighters.
This turned out to be the right decision, and a show of intelligence and patience on Lemieux's part. After all, when he lost to Alcine, he was still a couple weeks shy of his 23rd birthday. For a fighter who had so easily dismantled opponents before he hit the wall, Lemieux didn't shrink under the realities of climbing the ladder in pro boxing. He took it in, learned from the experiences, and came out a better fighter for rededicating himself and staying the course.
Saturday is another story, though. Gennady Golovkin (33-0, 30 KO) hits at least as hard as Lemieux, and most likely harder than anyone Lemieux has faced to this point. Golovkin is also generally accepted as a better boxer than Lemieux, and he's got the sort of confidence that is near impossible to break. Golovkin is not arrogant; he simply knows how good he is, and how devastating he can be. He has not lost. He has not come close to losing. And right now, he may be the hottest name in boxing.
The biggest question facing Lemieux and Ramsay is how to attack Golovkin. Do they go for a home run early, and try to catch Golovkin cold, before he can really get in a rhythm? Lemieux has the sort of power to make that work, but this is the elite level, and Golovkin's not just going to stick his chin out there and let come what may, either. Plus, going at GGG aggressively at any point obviously opens you up to what he might throw back, and Golovkin is a more creative, more dynamic boxer and puncher than Lemieux.
Should Lemieux "test the waters" early on and see if he can box with Golovkin? Should he be patient and wait for an opening that may never come? This is what Lemieux is facing on Saturday night, a situation where there is probably no "right" plan of attack, because nothing figures to give him a good chance of success.
So how does David Lemieux get himself into the right situation to actually use his thudding power on Saturday? That's the Upset of the Year-worthy question for Lemieux and his team.