Matador Saunders Tames Lemieux

By Kieran Mulvaney

LAVAL, Quebec - All week, Billy Joe Saunders had displayed the confident swagger of a man who knew he not only belonged at the top table but owned it. He would show everyone, he promised, that David Lemieux simply was not in his class. In fact, he proclaimed at the final pre-fight press conference, dispensing with Lemieux was not even in doubt; the only question was whether he could prove ? to himself, it seemed, as much as to others ? that he could go head-to-head with the likes of Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin. As HBO?s Max Kellerman observed in the aftermath of Saunders? dominant, star-making unanimous decision win: As far as that latter goal was concerned, it was very much mission accomplished.

It became evident early on that Lemieux (38-4, 33 KOs) might be in for a tough night, as Saunders moved effortlessly around the ring in the first round while Lemieux gave chase. The Saunders southpaw jab was soon firing effectively, and in the second he used it to set up a beautiful combination, punctuated by a left hand that landed with Lemieux pinned in the corner.

In the third round, Lemieux came out behind a rapidly-firing jab, and for a brief moment looked as if he might be able to close the distance to his adversary. A left/right/left combination landed with only glancing power, but it was enough to send the partisan crowd, already scrabbling for reasons to cheer, into a frenzy. But in the fifth, Saunders was the one who moved up in gear, adding extra weight to his jab and steering Lemieux into strong power punches. At one stage, after knocking an off-balance Lemieux sideways with a counter, Saunders turned and saluted the crowd, which did not respond in kind.

Saunders (26-0, 12 KOs) was spearing Lemieux almost at will now, keeping him at range with the jab and following it up with straight lefts. Lemieux?s response was to rush forward more aggressively, which served only to play into Saunders? plan and power punches. By the tenth, it appeared as if Saunders might even be looking to finish off his opponent, responding to a Lemieux hook with a stiff straight left, and then another, and an uppercut that knocked back Lemieux?s head and sent him walking backward into a corner.

But in the event, Saunders eased up over the final two frames, content to torment Lemieux with his effortless movement, metaphorically waving his red cape with a casual arrogance as the hometown crowd booed relentlessly.

After the scores of 117-111, 118-110 and 120-108 were read out in Saunders? favor, Lemieux vacillated between cursory congratulations and barely disguised contempt. ?My hat?s off to Billy Joe,? he said before noting that his left hand had been hurt early in the contest. ?If that?s the way you want to win ? hey, congratulations.?

?I know the sort of fighter David Lemieux is, I know the sort of trainer he has,? said Saunders. ?I knew what he was going to do.? Having earlier in the week stated that he was once again in love with boxing after having felt somewhat lost of late, he praised his new trainer Dominic Ingle for turning him around. ?If it wasn?t for Dominic Ingle, my boxing career would be over,? he said. In fact, far from being over, it is now poised to leap up to a whole new level.

***

Ireland?s Gary ?Spike? O?Sullivan relentlessly stalked, battered and ultimately stopped Antoine Douglas in the seventh of a scheduled ten middleweight rounds. There is nothing especially fancy about O?Sullivan ? who says family rumor has it that he is distantly related to Victorian heavyweight champ John L. Sullivan, and whose bald head and petit handlebar mustache gives the impression he has just stepped out of a December 1897 edition of the Illustrated London News. But he is efficient with his offense, and he walked Douglas down as he fired a stiff jab and a sharp, straight right hand behind a high guard. Early on, Douglas was scoring with greater effectiveness, deploying his superior hand speed to fend off O?Sullivan with tw-and-three punch combinations. But there was no evident plan to what he was doing, no effort to set up his offense or to steer O?Sullivan into places he might not wish to be. Douglas was purely reactive, whereas O?Sullivan knew exactly what he wanted to do and steadily set about doing it.

Even as Douglas (22-2-1, 16 KOs) likely won the first three rounds, O?Sullivan progressively closed the gap, and landed with ever greater authority. By the fourth, Douglas, who had been using lateral movement to evade O?Sullivan, was now retreating in straight lines that took him into the corners and against the ropes, which was just where O?Sullivan wanted him. Each time he had his opponent hemmed in, O?Sullivan (27-2, 19 KOs) uncorked short, sharp, straight combinations, and with each one that landed, Douglas? resistance seemed to ebb a little more. By the sixth, O?Sullivan?s punches were snapping back Douglas? head, and it felt as if the dam might break at any moment.

It did so in the seventh. O?Sullivan backed Douglas to the ropes and uncorked a left hook that clearly hurt him, followed by a right hand that crashed into the side of his head. O?Sullivan followed with right hand after right hand, and then a left/right combination that had Douglas wilting, sagging against the ropes, and then crashing to the canvas along the ropes. He was able to beat the count, but was clearly in no state to continue, and referee Steve St. Germain waved it off with 1:03 elapsed in the round.

***

In the opener, junior welterweight Yves Ulysse, Jr. had too much ring generalship, too much hand speed, too much footwork, too much everything for overmatched Cletus ?The Hebrew Hammer? Seldin. Going in, this was a bout that at least held out the prospect of being an interesting clash of styles: Could Seldin, who likes to work in close and swarm his opponents, do so against Ulysse, who works best when able to win space to operate? The answer was a definitive no, and once that answer became apparent a short way into the first round, the contest became a painful procession. Ulysse (15-1, 9 KOs) walked around the ring, keeping a frustrated Seldin ? who frequently swung wildly at air in pursuit ? at bay, and erupted in brief flurries whenever the American was perfectly within range.

One such flurry dropped Seldin (21-1, 17 KOs) in the first round, a straight right hand did the same in the second, and another flurry completed the troika in the third. There would be no more knockdowns, not much of anything really, as a comfortably and vastly superior Ulysse toyed with his foe. The Quebec boxer did step up his pace in the tenth and final round, strafing Seldin with lead right hands in apparent search of a stoppage; but when it didn?t come, he eased off for the final 30 seconds, content to await the scorecards, which all saw the bout as a suitably lopsided 99-88 in his favor.