By John J. Raspanti
"David Lemieux is an eight-round boxer"
Billy Joe Saunders
WBO middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders is a mouthy brat. His trash talking is rarely amusing. He recently made a comment about a woman’s body part that was unconscionable. He’s the father of a seven-year-old who kicked his most recent opponent, Willie Monroe, in the family jewels during the pre-fight weigh-in.
British-born Saunders is no ambassador of good will but he can fight. Pugilism is in his blood. His great-great grandfather was local bare-knuckle champion, Absolum Beeney. Saunders won 49 amateur fights before turning professional in 2009.
He quickly moved up the ranks, winning the European, British, and Commonwealth middleweight titles and, in 2015, defeated Andy Lee to capture the WBO middleweight championship. The year before, Saunders bested domestic rival Chris Eubank Jr. in a contentious 12 round affair. Eubanks demanded a rematch. It never happened.
Saunders also likes to eat. He blows up between fights, chowing down on junk food.
“The problem with me is I’ve always trained hard but I’ve always been ‘a little bit of pizza,’ bang I’ll eat that,” Saunders told Coral Barry ofwww.metro.co.uk. “It’s always been that way with me.”
Saunders will need to be in tip-top shape when he faces power-puncher David Lemieux December 16 at the Place Bell in Quebec, Canada.
Questions concerning Lemieux’s conditioning have swirled around the Canadian native for most of his 10-year professional career. Lemieux began his career with a bang-winning his first 20 fights by knockout.
Some reckoning came in fight 25, when the heavily favored Lemieux ran out of gas and was stopped by Marco Antonio Rubio. Lemieux was back in the ring eight months later, but looked tentative in dropping a 12-round majority decision to Joachim Alcine. He admitted later that he was pacing himself.
Lemieux took off eight months to regroup and recharge. He hired a new trainer. The break did him some good. He came back with a better understanding of his skills set. Sure, he had the power to knock a building down, but he’d have to be smart and learn to box more.
"I believe everything happens for a reason so I’m not taking away anything that’s happened in the past,” Lemieux told Dan Rafael of www.espn.com three years ago. “I take it in a good way. Either it breaks you or makes you better. So it’s making me better now."
Lemieux did appear to be a better fighter, or perhaps, a wiser one, in his next bout. He captured the NABF middleweight belt by starching Fernando Guerrero in less than 10 minutes. He followed that up by beating up Hassen N’Dam N’Jikam to capture a world middleweight title in 2014.
He called out the best fighter in the division, Gennady Golvkin, and got his wish in 2015. Golvkin respected Lemeiux’s power but little else. He floored Lemeiux in the fifth round and dominated before the referee called a halt to the contest in round eight.
Lemieux (38-3, 33 Kos) has won four in a row since being stopped by Golovkin. Some still question his conditioning. Even though he brutally knocked out Curtis Stevens last year, he looked a little a winded, and worse, slightly chubby.
Saunders noted this apparent lack of dedication on Lemieux’s part.
“David Lemieux is eight-round boxer, “Saunders to the Montreal Journal. “He’s not good enough to be part of the elite of our division. He climbed to the top, but he failed.”
Lemieux disputes this, of course. As he said in his twitter account, “Having the best training camp of my career. Fight night soon, can’t wait.” Lemieux will be in shape, but will it good enough? The hometown advantage is his, but Saunders has the faster hands and feet. Lemeiux does have one other edge over Saunders--raw power. His plan is simple.
“If the fight demands me chasing you, (Saunders) I will chase you" said Lemieux. “If the fight demands me to go toe-to-toe, I will. On December 16, I promise that I won’t leave the Place bell without the belt. Let’s get it on.”
Saunders is hardly impressed.
“I’m looking at this as a breakthrough fight,” Saunders told www.FighttHype.com. “Let’s face it, if I can’t beat David Lemieux what chance do I have to beat Canelo and Golovkin? Zero.”
In a sense this is a classic match-up of the boxer versus the slugger. Lemieux will likely try to get Saunders out of there early. Saunders will look to out-box and frustrate Lemieux, testing his stamina. Can he avoid Lemieux’s power for 12 full rounds?
We’ll find out this Saturday.