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Saunders vs Lemieux: Fight matchup and preview

Billy Joe Saunders takes on David Lemieux in the final HBO main event of 2017.

Billy Joe Saunders

Boxing at Paisley Lagoon Centre Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Record: 25-0 (12 KO) ... Streak: W25 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Southpaw ... Height/Reach: 5'11" / 71” ... Age: 28

Thoughts: At least up until now, Saunders’ kid hasn’t punched David Lemieux in the dick in the build-up to this fight. We’ll see if we get through the week without another goofy stunt like that. Given that the child is being photographed in the ring during media workouts, my radar is up.

Anyway, let’s talk about Billy Joe Saunders, the professional fighter and WBO middleweight champion. Saunders is good. He’s a talented technician who, at his best, could be a competitive matchup for just about anyone at 160.

But there are chinks in the armor, which we’ve seen in fights from the not too distant past. Back in December 2015, he got up big early on Andy Lee, a one-dimensional fighter defending the WBO belt, before Lee stormed back into the fight in the second half. At the end, Saunders got and deserved the victory, but it felt like he more had to hold off Lee than he made any truly significant statement.

In his first defense, coming a year later, he struggled mightily with Artur Akavov, a guy who had never fought anyone good and wasn’t really a qualified world title challenger. That doesn’t mean Akavov can’t fight, but Saunders was disappointing and that one, and to his credit admitted himself that he had a poor showing.

In July, he fought fringe contender Willie Monroe Jr, whose big claim to contendership was winning the 2014 ESPN2 “Boxcino” tournament by beating Donatas Bondorovas, Vitali Kopylenko, and Brandon Adams. It was a fun tournament, but not exactly Murderer’s Row there. He also beat Bryan Vera in January 2015, before getting wiped out by Gennady Golovkin four months later.

After losing to GGG, which fair enough, is GGG, Monroe beat John Thompson and Gabriel Rosado by decision. That was enough to get him a trip to London to face Saunders. It was a miserable fight, two styles that were never going to mesh for entertainment, with Saunders winning cleanly and clearly. But it still wasn’t the type of showing Saunders still lacks, a signature performance.

There have been chances for Saunders to face Golovkin. It was turned down, and I don’t mean that to take a shot at Saunders, there was no great reason (other than a payday) for his team to serve him up to GGG when nobody would have given him a shot to win. Perhaps, they felt, there was wisdom in waiting, in keeping Billy Joe active but moving him up steps instead of hurling him at the top of the ladder. I can’t really argue with that. Golovkin is only getting older. Well, all of us are, but Saunders is still two years shy of 30, and there’s always money to be made in the middleweight division.

So maybe it was wise to let GGG’s career play out without him, at least for the time being. I mean, if Golovkin were to beat Canelo in 2018, then a big target for him would be Saunders, who holds the only alphabet title that Golovkin does not already possess. And Golovkin will be 36 in April, and he looked far from invincible in his 2017 fights with Canelo and Daniel Jacobs.

Now, I’m not saying I think Saunders will have a great shot at beating a GGG that comes off of a win over Canelo, were that to be the situation in 2018. But Saunders would be facing a fighter a little older, coming off of presumably three straight hard fights, and the money would still be there for Billy Joe Saunders. It might not be a good shot, but I’d certainly give Saunders, should he win on Saturday, a better shot in 2018 than I would have in 2016.

All that is just future speculation and nonsense, though. Saunders has the toughest test of his pro career ahead of him on Saturday night, when he faces big puncher David Lemieux, going on the road to Laval, Quebec, to face a man many will expect to beat him, if only because Lemieux has a lot more U.S. exposure than Saunders.

Saunders can win this fight, but he’s going to have to be very smart to do so. The good news is, again, Saunders is a very good technical fighter, and if he’s at his best, has the ability to outbox Lemieux, who has gotten better and smarter himself over his career, but is still pretty reliant on his power making a difference.

Lemieux could well knock out Saunders in the first round. Frankly, Lemieux could well knock out anyone in the first round. He has that sort of power, and if he lands the right shot, it’s game over for anybody. But Saunders and his team are obviously going to be well aware of that. He’s not a dummy, he’s not going to charge into the fire with David Lemieux and try to bang with him. He might talk like that’s a possibility, like he has that confidence, but fighters say lots of things before fights.

Expect a tactical approach from Saunders. Expect him to try and control range with his southpaw jab, to try and pepper Lemieux, frustrate him, make him load up for easy-to-see big shots, and avoid getting into real exchanges. Saunders might take a chance here or there, but I figure he’d try to do so by surprise, and not make it a prolonged attack. He’ll try to do enough to make judges take note of his work, since being on the road anywhere is tough, but he’s going to do everything he can to avoid the danger Lemieux presents.

If he can execute the right game plan, I think he’s the better boxer and can, even should win the fight. If he gets caught, well, that’s another story.

David Lemieux

David Lemieux v Marcos Reyes Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Record: 38-3 (33 KO) ... Streak: W4 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'9½" / 70" ... Age: 28

Thoughts: It seems as if Lemieux has been around forever, but he’s still just 28 years old. But we have in fact been hearing about him since he was quite young, the destructive middleweight puncher from Montreal who was creating quite a stir.

Think back to 2010, when Lemieux wrecked Walid Smichet (KO-2), Elvin Ayala (KO-1), and Hector Camacho Jr (KO-1) from April to October. He was being set up as a potential star in a glory division, a can’t-miss puncher who could end things early against anyone he faced.

Then in April 2011, he was matched with Marco Antonio Rubio. Lemieux started well, but Rubio, a veteran, had maybe the best night of his career, laying traps for Lemieux that payed off when the eager younger man ran out of gas and Rubio stopped him in the seventh round on ESPN Friday Night Fights. Lemieux lost his next fight, too, dropping a disputed decision to Joachim Alcine.

The wheels had come off for Lemieux, then just 23 years old, and it was valid to wonder if he’d ever recover, or if we’d seen a young hype job hit the wall, hard.

Well, he recovered. Lemieux went back to the drawing board, stepped back down in competition for a bit, and rattled off six straight wins before knocking out Fernando Guerrero in May 2014, not a huge win, but not far off from the level of Rubio or Alcine, either. A win over Gabriel Rosado in December of that year was the best of his career to that point, and he topped it six months later by beating Hassan N’dam to claim the vacant IBF middleweight title.

So he got to the mountain top, more or less. And then he decided to take the big leap and face Gennady Golovkin. Didn’t go well, but Lemieux didn’t lose to Golovkin for the reasons he lost to Rubio and Alcine. He lost to Golovkin because Golovkin is better than him.

Since the loss to GGG, Lemieux has won four straight, beating Glen Tapia, Cristian Rios, Curtis Stevens, and Marcos Reyes, the latter two coming this year. He wiped out Stevens with a stunning KO of the Year contender in March, then turned around quickly to beat Reyes by decision on the May 6 Canelo-Chavez PPV we’d all like to forget.

You can forget about the losses he’s had before when thinking about this matchup. Lemieux was immature as a fighter when he lost to Rubio and Alcine, and Saunders is no Golovkin. He’s got obvious advantages against Saunders, namely his stunning power, which even GGG was cautious of, and the fact that he’ll have home support in Quebec.

Matchup Grade: B. I like this one, a matchup to cement the winner one of the top four fighters at 160. That might not sound like the biggest deal, but when the 1-2 are Golovkin and Canelo and the No. 3 is Daniel Jacobs, and the division is fairly hot, it’s significant. The winner of this one has another big HBO main event in his immediate future, as the network has Golovkin, Canelo, Jacobs, and Demetrius Andrade among its featured fighters. I have a feeling this will have some tightrope elements, with Lemieux always dangerous and Saunders always a bit vulnerable, even if Saunders builds up a big lead. It could be a really good fight.


  • Antoine Douglas vs Gary O’Sullivan: If you’ve seen the 25-year-old Douglas (22-1-1, 16 KO) before, it might have been one of his wins on ShoBox, or it might have been his Showtime fight in 2016 against Avtandil Khurtsidze, when the then-unbeaten middleweight prospect was overwhelmed against the short, constantly-punching veteran action fighter. If you’ve only seen him from the Khurtsidze fight, don’t close the book. Khurtsidze was a dangerous step up and really, if you’re a manager or the like, sort of ill-conceived in general. O’Sullivan (26-2, 18 KO) is a better choice of opponent for a kinda-known name to step up against. The 33-year-old Irishman has won four straight since his 2015 loss to Chris Eubank Jr, but he’s been utterly dominated by Eubank and Billy Joe Saunders in his two losses. O’Sullivan will give the effort. Douglas is here to outclass him. Whether that happens remains to be seen. It’s not a bad matchup, but it feels a little light for HBO, though that might just be nostalgia talking at this point. It’s not horribly out of line with a lot of HBO televised fights, in all reality. Grade: C
  • Cletus Seldin vs Yves Ulysse Jr: Seldin (21-0, 17 KO) made his HBO debut on November 11, when he was tapped to face Roberto Ortiz in a fight that HBO put on because they essentially owed Ortiz a spot on a show, after Antonio Orozco missed weight and canceled on him in September. Seldin’s aggressive attack and big personality won him a lot of fans as he beat Ortiz down inside of three rounds. Now the 31-year-old is back quickly, ready to impress again. Ulysse (14-1, 9 KO) is coming off of a split decision loss to Steve Claggett on October 27, so this is a quick turnaround for him, too. Styles make fights, so we’ll see if Seldin’s style works against Ulysse the way it did against Ortiz. Could be interesting, could be fun. Grade: C

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