SAUNDERS VS LEMIEUX: CLASSIC BOXING BUSINESS

Promoters and fans will want to make a lot of Billy Joe Saunders fighting David Lemieux. It’s the classic boxing conundrum: can the heavy-hitting slugger find the slick boxer and knock him out?

In David Lemieux’s case, I’m betting not. Unless he does, then we’re in for something special. Let me explain.

25 wins with 12 knockouts does not a ‘fighter’ make. The last time Saunders earned a win inside the distance was versus the then 17-27-2 Yoann Bloyer. Before that he badly wobbled a straight-legged Emanuele Blandamura in the eighth round before the referee stopped it (a good stoppage, by the way; Blandamura looked like he forgot which planet he was standing on).

Combined, Suanders opponents are 371-206. Of the knockouts on Saunders’ record, they’re a combined 153-152. Long story short: Saunders KOs bums.

Look at the quality fighters Saunders has faced and it adds context. Andy Lee and Chris Eubank Jr. were both mixed or split decisions. Willie Monroe Jr lost a unanimous decision, but that was expected after a tumultuous lead-up to the fight and trouble traveling with his entire team to Europe.

By comparison, David Lemieux is a juggernaut. Save for a quality loss to Gennady Golovkin (he made a great showing) and clumsy back-to-back losses against Marco Antonio Rubio and Joachim Alcine during a very bad 2011, Lemieux has 38 wins and 33 knockouts. Of his three losses, two were technical knockouts, but he’s never been separated from his senses.

Lemieux’s last fight was against the 35-4 Marco Reyes on the Canelo-Chavez Jr. undercard. He came into the fight a touch pudgy, but that wasn’t the story. Reyes is, like Saunders, what I call a ‘drag and drop’ fighter. He drags you around the ring, and drops shots when he likes. Not quite a counterpuncher, but also not a come-forward fighter. Between his suspect conditioning and Reyes’ bothersome style, Lemieux was only able to earn a unanimous decision.

That fight tells us a bit about Lemieux. First, he can go the distance. Talk of his getting gassed mid-fight might be accurate, but he can still keep the motor running. Second, Lemieux can earn decision wins against more traditional boxers.

The fight between Lemieux and Saunders takes place in Montreal, Lemiux’s hometown. Place Bell should draw the same partisan, raucous crowd as its larger venue Bell Centre. They’re only 20km apart.

While I may dislike Saunders’ twitchy, cautious style, I also think Lemieux is a bit one-dimensional. Everyone loves a knockout, but there’s not a lot of cleverness to David Lemieux. He ducks low on the way in, then pulls up for looping, booming right hands.

To that, I’ll say this fight is as stylistically textbook as it gets. We should expect Saunders to flick at Lemieux from distance and dance away from any exchange, or tie up until the referee separates the two. Entire rounds will pass with single-digit punches landed by either party.

Lemieux will have to give chase, and be in excellent condition. There will be no free passes through Saunders’ guard, or into range. Keep in mind that while Saunders has 16 fewer professional fights than Lemieux, he has gone eight more total rounds. He enjoys the long con.

Judges won’t have an easy night. We like to say things like ‘styles make fights,’ but we forget the only three people that matter in these instances. Saunders’ style may not suit my eye, but he’s no fool. I can’t see a way he allows Lemieux to catch him at any point in the fight. It’ll look terrible to the three ringside attendees he cares most about.

Lemieux needn’t be too worried about Saunders. A guy who took a solid Golovkin right cross on the chin while on one knee – without giving up, falling over or, you know, dying – can take a punch. Saunders has no power to speak of. So long as Lemieux is in shape, he’ll be able to chase Saunders for 12.

And I do expect this to go 12. Lemieux is a brawling, come-forward puncher with a fairly detectable power punch. Saunders is smart, or at least smart enough to give himself a chance on the cards. Lemieux will tire down the stretch, but there’s nothing coming back at him. Saunders may have traded in spurts versus Eubank Jr, but it’s foolish to sit down on shots versus Lemieux, and he knows that.

Aside from the judges, we should keep in mind the sport of boxing is a business. Billy Joe has been holding his belt hostage for years, and it’s left a bad taste in the mouth of many fans and insiders alike. Trying to be too clever against David Lemieux in Montreal may just earn Saunders his first loss, but it’s also his only path to victory. A Lemieux win sets up a big unification payday versus the winner of Golovkin-Canelo II. Saunders talks a big unification game, but he’s balked at signing contracts. Lemieux is also under the Golden Boy umbrella, and they’re planting a stake in the Middleweight division right now.

It’ll be a fun fight, but Saunders will have to put on a masterpiece to have his hand raised – and I don’t see it happening. Expect plenty of commentator jawing about how Saunders isn’t landing hard, clean shots, which will reflect on the official scorecards from Montreal. Lemieux walks away with a decision victory and a belt that assures him a massive purse in 2018.

By Nate Swanner

@NateSwanner