MONTREAL — British boxing champion Billy Joe Saunders has promised to give Canadian challenger David Lemieux a peck on the cheek.
But only after he beats Lemieux in their World Boxing Organization title fight.
The two have trash-talked liberally on social media in recent weeks and picked it up again during a conference call on Monday ahead of their bout for Saunders’ middleweight belt. The lefthanded Saunders (25-0, 12 knockouts) will meet Lemieux (38-3, 33 KOs), who fires bombs with both hands, on Saturday night at the 10,000-seat Place Bell arena in Laval, Que.
“I don’t know David, all I know is he’s got short legs,” said Saunders. “That seemed to touch the nerve button a bit, but I don’t dislike David. In fact, after I beat him, I’ll give him a kiss on the cheek.”
To which Lemieux replied: “If he gives me a kiss on the cheek he’s getting knocked out with a hook.”
The battle of 28-year-olds sees Lemieux bring his punching power and all-out attack against Saunders’ skill and efficiency in the main event of a 12-fight program that has a handful of notable matches.
Lemieux is trying to win a world title for a second time. He took the vacant International Boxing Federation belt with a win over Hassan N’Dam in 2015 only to lose it in his next outing to Kazakh star Gennady Golovkin. He has won four straight bouts since then and says he’s a better fighter now.
“I’m a whole different guy than I was fighting Golovkin,” he said. “If you put Golovkin back in front of me now, it’s going to be a whole different scenario.
“But now I’ve got Saunders to take care of. We’ve done everything we need to do in camp. I don’t think it’s going to be very difficult in the ring against him. I’m going to be his biggest nightmare. It’s going to be hell for him. I’m ready to take the title.”
Saunders won the title in December, 2015 with a majority decision over Andy Lee and has defended it twice, mostly recently with a unanimous decision over Willie Monroe Jr. in September.
He will be fighting outside Britain for the first time as a pro, but agreed to travel to Lemieux’s hometown because, if he wins, it may help him get a shot at Mexican star Saul (Canelo) Alvarez, who like Lemieux is promoted by Oscar De La Hoya.
What caused the animosity between the two fighters remains a mystery, but Lemieux has been on the Briton from the outset on social media.
“I’m more excited just to lay my hands on Billy Joe Saunders more than anything,” said Lemieux. “He’s got a big mouth.
“He says a whole bunch of things. It’s just his character. It’s who he is. I don’t like him. He’s going to pay.”
Saunders said he took exception to one Lemieux tweet in particular, which read: “Two weeks away fight fans — can’t wait to show u guys how i will destroy this peasant. @bjsaunders_ ur a dead man.”
Saunders said the tweet was in poor taste considering recent deaths in the sport and with Swedish boxer Erik Skoglund in hospital this week in an induced coma with bleeding on the brain.
“All I know is that he mentioned putting people in a coffin, dead on Twitter,” said Saunders. “I’ve only got respect for the boxing world and we’ve recently lost some, passed away in the ring, so I don’t like that talk.
“It’s very upsetting and it’s discrediting boxing.”
Saunders described the opponents on Lemieux’s record, other than Golovkin, as “bums” and “old men” and says he has no doubt he will win.
“I think David’s very weak in the mind and, at the end of the day, I don’t care if it’s in anyone’s back garden, put the ring there. That’s all that matters,” he said.
The bout is to be televised by the HBO specialty channel, who added a middleweight clash for the minor WBO Inter-continental title between Americans Antoine Douglas (22-1-1) and Gary O’Sullivan (26-2) as the co-feature.
There is also Yves Ulysse Jr. (14-1) of Montreal facing Cletus (the Hebrew Hammer) Seldin (21-0) of New York in a light welterweight battle.
Custio Clayton (12-0) of Dartmouth, N.S., in his first bout since singing with Eye Of The Tiger Management, will fight for the WBO international welterweight belt against Cristian Coria (27-5-2) of Argentina.
Top prospects Steven Butler and Simon Kean are also on the card, while former Canadian women’s national team member Kim Clavet makes her pro debut against Yoseline Martinez Jose of Mexico.