LAVAL, Que. — There is no shortage of confidence from either British champion Billy Joe Saunders or Canadian challenger David Lemieux going into their bout for the World Boxing Organization middleweight title.
Lemieux (38-3, 33 knockouts) figures home ring advantage and his punching power mixed with improved technique will win the day over the defence and frustrating tactics of Saunders (25-0, 12 KOs) when they meet on Saturday night before an expected sellout crowd of about 9,000 at Place Bell arena.
Saunders is already looking ahead to a big money bout against one of the current middleweight kings — Gennady Golovkin of Kazakhstan or Saul (Canelo) Alvarez of Mexico — but needs to get through former International Boxing Federation champion Lemieux first.
“The more he underestimates me the more it will work against him,” Lemieux said Thursday. “If he thinks I’m just a puncher, he’ll find out different on Saturday.”
There was trash talk on social media between the two 28-year-olds leading up to the fight and more in meetings with the media this week.
Saunders objected to a Tweet from Lemieux that threatened to kill him in the ring, while Lemieux was upset by the Briton’s use a slur against French Canadians. Lemieux is of French-Canadian and Armenian-Lebanese descent.
Saunders was reportedly already in trouble with boxing authorities at home over a sexist Tweet.
“What really bothered me is that this is a world champion — he should have some respect for the title,” said promoter Camille Estaphan. “To be issuing a statement such as (an ethnic slur) or the degrading he’s done with women, this is not what we want to project in boxing.
“Part of David’s motivation is ‘I want to get this guy out of there. He’s embarrassing us.’”
Lemieux won the IBF title from Hassam N’Dam at the Bell Centre in Montreal in 2015, but instead of milking the title against a couple of easy opponents, went straight into a bout with Golovkin three months later and got crushed in eight rounds. He has won four in a row since then, including a decision over Marcos Reyes in May.
Trainer Marc Ramsay, fresh from taking Montreal-based Russian Artur Beterbiev to an IBF light heavyweight title on Nov. 11, sees a chance to add another championship belt to the list.
“We have a fast opponent, a good technician, but not a guy who likes to work very hard,” Ramsay said of Saunders. “If you look at his percentage of work, it’s not very high.
“He’s not a volume boxer. And he has a tendency to show people if he’s hurting or tired. He doesn’t have that poker face. And this is the wrong message to send to David Lemieux. He can smell and feel that.”
The Saunders camp is equally confident about beating Lemieux, who tends to favour all-out attack over defence, which may be one reason the HBO specialty channel in the U.S. likes to show his fights, including this one.
They feel that Lemieux tends to blow himself out going for knockouts and is injury prone, even if the Laval fighter insists he had only a minor knuckle problem after his last bout and is now in full health.
Trainer Dominic Ingle said Saunders was very overweight and needed a crash diet to make weight for his last bout, a tough decision over American Willie Monroe Jr. only three months ago. But now he’s in his best shape ever.
“Billy Joe is a very smart fighter and the fitter he is and the easier he makes weight, the skills can be showcased,” said Ingle. “He can do everything he needs to do in the ring, where before he was restricting himself.
“He might not have had enough gas in the tank. He might have run out of power. But for this fight, because he’s done back-to-back camps, he’s in perfect shape.”
Saunders agreed to fight outside Britain for the first time and in his opponent’s home town — Lemieux lives only a 10-minute drive from the arena — to press his case for a fight with Alvarez, whose promoter Golden Boy also handles Lemieux.
The fighters are also out to impress Golden Boy’s Bernard Hopkins, one of the all-time middleweight greats who is in town for the bout.
The co-feature has Irish veteran Gary O’Sullivan (26-2) against American prospect Antoine Douglas (22-1-1) for the WBO Inter-Continental middleweight belt, while Yves Ulysse Jr. (14-1) of Montreal tries to rebound from his first defeat against Cletus (the Hebrew Hammer) Seldin (21-0). Welterweight Custio Clayton (12-0) of Dartmouth, N.S. faces Cristian Coria of Argentina for the minor WBO International title.