By Tom Gray
You can’t take anything for granted in the fight game. Just ask Billy Joe Saunders.
The unbeaten WBO middleweight titleholder looked drab and listless in his first title defense against Artur Akavov last December. This was not the defensive whiz who defused Chris Eubank Jr. and handed him his first defeat. This was not the crafty southpaw who floored and outpointed Andy Lee to win the title he so desperately craved.
In a small leisure center in Paisley, Scotland, Saunders came close to defeat against a vastly inferior fighter. He received a close unanimous decision win and one almighty shock.
Changes were required and they have now been implemented. Saunders, from Hatfield, England, has now settled with esteemed coach Dominic Ingle and, once again, he’s pushing his body to the limit in training camp. There has also been serious focus placed on nutrition to help combat the rigors of making weight.
Last month, Saunders, who is rated No. 4 by THE RING at 160 pounds, returned to action and outpointed American Willie Monroe Jr. without getting out of second gear. It wasn’t a vintage performance — far from it — but it was good enough on that particular night and there was improvement from the Akavov fight. It might not be enough next time.
On December 16, Saunders will make the third defense of his title against David Lemieux in Montreal, Canada. Where Monroe was all quickness and craft, Lemieux is all concussive power and violence.
“He’s got a good record, but he built most of that record in Canada,” said Saunders in an interview with RingTV.com. “He’s boxed (Gennady) Golovkin, who’s a come-forward fighter, and he scored a great knockout over Curtis Stevens. But Lemieux hasn’t boxed anyone as slick as me.
“In the middleweight division, there’s me, Canelo (Alvarez), Golovkin, (Daniel) Jacobs and Lemieux. It’s good to see two of the top five fighting each other. Right now, I’m middleweight champion of the world and you need to take these big tests and go on the road to prove yourself. Lemieux and his team have paid big money. They’ve paid to play, so let’s go.”
They have indeed. Saunders (25-0, 12 knockouts) has been promised a “seven-figure payday,” and with that kind of money, the 28-year-old stylist can secure his family’s future. However, there are many who believe that the Englishman has bitten off more than he can chew and that he will earn every cent against one of the division’s biggest hitters.
“He can punch, but let’s not forget, when he stepped up, Golovkin dealt with him like a child,” said Saunders with disdain. “He had his chance against Golovkin and now we know how good he is. We know that at his very best, he’s not good enough.
“When Lemieux fought Golovkin, he had someone who was there to be hit. Golovkin is always there to be hit by big punches, and even he got out the way of Lemieux’s shots. Golovkin is one of those fighters: ‘You hit me with two, I’ll hit you with three. You hit me with one, I’ll hit you with two.’”
Golovkin stopped Lemieux in the eighth round of an IBF and WBA unification fight in October 2015. Southpaw Saunders doesn’t come close to having GGG’s hitting power, but he is quick of hand and foot and, as he points out, extremely hard to find.
“I’m a much better defensive fighter than Golovkin,” said Saunders without hesitation. “I know what Lemieux’s weaknesses are and I know what he’s good at. It’s my job to expose him. I will be switching things up in there.
“In terms of power, when I hit a fighter, they know they’ve been hit and they don’t want to get hit again. Nobody likes to get hit. When I dig them in, it may not look much, but it’s the sort of power that will hold you off. And if you don’t back off, you’ll get hit again, and again. Or you might get dropped. I will catch you clean.”
There was a buzz about Saunders that’s been missing for a long time. Lemieux (38-3, 33 KOs) represents the Englishman’s most significant test since he defeated Lee in December 2015 and Saunders spoke with the determination of a fighter who is thirsty for combat. That’s good, because Lemieux will bring plenty of ammunition.
One thing Saunders was skeptical about, however, is a hometown decision. He referenced the Canelo-Golovkin draw and was outspoken regarding his fear of being on the end of a controversial verdict.
“I personally think there was more than just a fight behind that decision,” said Saunders, who holds the only world title belt that was not on the line that night in Las Vegas. “In my eyes, Golovkin won clearly by four rounds. He deserved the win.
“I want to make it very clear to everyone that I want a fair decision (against Lemieux). If it does go to points, hopefully the Canadians are fair to me. If I win fair and square, then I expect (the victory). If I get beat, then I’ll shake Lemieux’s hand. I know what I’m capable of and I’m going for it.”
Tom Gray is a UK Correspondent/ Editor for RingTV.com and a member of THE RING ratings panel. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing
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Source:: The Ring – Boxing