By Corey Erdman
There is more than a bit of irony in the joy fans took when David Lemieux was stopped by Marco Antonio Rubio in 2011.
In boxing, there is nothing fans seem to love more than seeing a fighter “exposed.” It validates their desire to feel smarter than the matchmakers, gives them the sense that they saw something trainers didn't see.
Pugilism is the only sport in which one can hear cries that a competitor should retire if they aren't the very best in the world. Sometimes, it's rooted in concern for fighters' safety, that no one should take unnecessary punishment for a promoter's gain in unwinnable fights. But more often than not, it's an elitist sentiment that he who isn't in the pound for pound discussion is overrated, or yes, “exposed.”
On Saturday night, Lemieux proved that he is indeed exposed. Perhaps more so than any other fighter in the premium cable shuffle.
Larry Merchant once famously wrote of Joe Frazier following his victory over Muhammad Ali, “you can't con Joe Frazier for 15 rounds. Joe Frazier comes at you too honestly, too openly.”
Lemieux can't be compared to an all-time great like Frazier in terms of ability, but he demands the same level of transparency of his opponents, and offers the same level of transparency in himself to the viewers.
The 28-year old from Laval, Quebec, Canada turned in another highlight reel knockout in a career full of them, brutally stopping Curtis Stevens in the main event of HBO's Boxing After Dark from the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, NY. After his short left hook beat Stevens' right hand, his opponent ragdolled through the bottom rope and laid motionless for a substantial amount of time before leaving the ring on a stretcher.
“I wish no harm to no one. I hope Stevens gets better and gets back to his family. I respect everybody that gets in the ring with me or any other fighter,” said a sombre Lemieux, seemingly in awe along with everyone watching with the results of his power.
It was a chilling scene, to be sure, but the exact type that boxing fans claim to want to pay for. The kind that gets a non-title middleweight bout on the nighttime highlights of Sportscenter.
In October of 2015, Lemieux faced Gennady Golovkin, and despite a brave effort, came nowhere close to troubling “GGG.” This offered the most fickle of fans, and the “mainstream” ones who parachute in only for pay-per-views an opportunity to disregard Lemieux once again.
Golovkin is in all likelihood one of the four best fighters on Planet Earth. That he happens to reside in the middleweight division isn't Lemieux's fault, nor is it a reason to hang up the gloves forever. Fighters can move up or down in weight—either Golovkin or Lemieux could move up to super middleweight—and even if they don't, there is a world outside of the titles GGG owns.
First, there is the cash cow of North American boxing presently, Canelo Alvarez, who owns the lineal title in the division. Then, there is WBO champion Billy Joe Saunders, whose series of injuries and bold financial demands have mostly kept him out of meaningful fights since capturing the title. There is also his former challenger, Andy Lee, another concussive puncher with a penchant for miraculous comebacks. A step below in terms of talent, but a step up in terms of raw excitement, there are pure brawlers such as Avtandil Khurtsidze, Immanuwel Aleem and Ievgen Khytrov.
“I have a lot of things to prove, and I believe that I belong on top. I am always up for challenges. I am getting stronger and stronger, reaching new peaks in training. I want to face the best guys out there and I am willing to fight anybody, including GGG and Canelo,” said Lemieux.
It's not a secret that Lemieux has had some difficulty making the 160-pound middleweight limit as of late, so a quick run at super middleweight may not be a bad move either. There, he could tangle with the likes of James DeGale, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. or Chris Eubank Jr., all of which would promise to be barnburners.
When boxing fans yearn out loud for “the good ol' days,” they forget that the truly great eras of televised boxing relied upon the recycling of reliable action fighters, rather than throwing them into the trash heap and rolling out unproven commodities.
The golden era of televised boxing in the 1950s and early 1960s featured names like Gaspar Ortega, Ralph Tiger Jones and Florentino Fernandez. All of them came up short at various times in their careers against the best in the world, but would continue to fight on television against other reputable fighters—sometimes losing, sometimes even by knockout, but always in exciting fashion. Matchmakers knew they were worth fans' money, and worth the precious weekly airtime.
In today's suppressed televised boxing economy, in which HBO is rolling out fewer and fewer non-PPV events, who else would you rather see when a card actually does air? For the time being, many of the sport's major stars have priced themselves out of a regular HBO show budget. Lemieux on the contrary, is willing to fight anybody, and do so for a reasonable sum.
Lemieux provides value, and this past weekend, he provided a violent, memorable moment, as can be expected of him nearly every time he steps through the ropes.
“I wanted to make a statement. I wanted to make an example, and I did. Now we are moving along for much bigger things. I am ready. Are they ready? That's the question,” said Lemieux.
Perhaps the bigger question is whether everyone is ready to appreciate David Lemieux.