By Michael Rosenthal
Billy Joe Saunders: Saunders did exactly what he needed to do on Saturday night. Now comes the hard part.
The WBO middleweight titleholder, fighting outside the U.K. for the first time, embarrassed an overmatched David Lemieux en route to an uncompetitive unanimous decision in Lemieux’s hometown in Canada.
Saunders appeared to be one of the best boxers in the world, poking his jab into Lemieux’s face all night, landing more power punches than the power puncher and dancing away from any and all trouble. It was a showcase, not a fight.
The scores were 120-108, 118-110 and 117-111, which raises the question: What were judges Gerardo Martinez (three rounds for Lemieux?) and Phil Edwards (two rounds for Lemieux?) watching?
If there was a flaw in Saunders’ performance, it was that he was unable to take out a helpless opponent. That didn’t matter much, though. Saunders achieved his objective – winning the fight in a way that made him look like a legitimate threat to the top middleweights.
Well, Saunders IS a terrific boxer. That’s clear. However, it’s one thing to beat a fighter as limited as Lemieux and another to do the same against Gennady Golovkin (who Saunders called out), Canelo Alvarez or Danny Jacobs.
Lemieux didn’t have the speed, athleticism or (most important) the ability to cut off the ring and do damage. Golovkin, Alvarez and Jacobs do. They would take Saunders to dangerous places he has never been. And how he would respond is a matter of speculation.
Saunders (26-0, 12 knockouts) deserved credit for what he did to Lemieux. He wanted to make a statement in his U.S. debut and he certainly did. The drawback is that dominating a second-tier opponent proves only so much, meaning we still don’t really know how good Saunders is.
Only Golovkin, Alvarez or Jacobs can determine that.
David Lemieux: Lemieux is a special attraction. He’s just not a special boxer, which came back to bite him again.
Lemieux is one of the biggest punchers in the sport, which has made him a fan favorite for a number of the years. A puncher must land punches to be effective, though. And Lemieux hasn’t been able to do that against his best opponents, GGG and Saunders.
He chased Saunders around for 12 solid rounds and could never figure out how to catch him, aside from a handful of meaningless moments here and there.
Lemieux (38-4, 33 KOs) blamed a problem with his left hand and the fact Saunders ran the entire fight. In fact, he was up against a much better all-around fighter. Anyone with basic knowledge of boxing could see that.
The 28-year-old Canadian has nothing to be ashamed of. He has had some nice victories, including a particularly violent third-round knockout of fellow slugger Curtis Stevens and a wild decision over Hassan N’Dam. Lemieux almost always entertains. And he gave all he had in his setbacks.
The reality is that he is flush against his ceiling. He can continue to knock out some contenders and those are the fringes, as his power isn’t going anywhere. And he’ll continue to struggle against the best 160-pounders.
More depressing for Lemieux, he might not get another a shot at the top guys after his disappointing performances against Golovking and Saunders. How could you justify it?
Bottom line: Lemieux is a good fighter who is normally fun to watch. Nothing more than that.
BIGGEST WINNER II
Tyson Fury: The imminent return of Fury is boon for boxing.
The brash heavyweight is expected to regain his license after what amounted to a two-year ban from boxing over drug and other issues, which followed his sensational upset of Wladimir Klitschko in November 2015.
He brings his own brand of bad-boy charisma and arguably the most talent in a division with few stars, a skillset that allowed him to dominate Klitschko and become champion.
From a marketing standpoint, Fury could be bigger than ever. A matchup with current titleholder and fellow Briton Anthony Joshua sometime next year could fill any stadium and be the most-lucrative fight in U.K. history.
From a boxing standpoint? No one knows.
The Fury who made Klitschko look foolish two years ago is better than Joshua, Deontay Wilder and the other top big men. His skill level and athleticism for a man his size – 6 feet, 9 inches -- had been impressive.
That Fury might be gone forever, though. A two-year layoff under any circumstances is difficult to overcome. And he has made it particularly hard for himself by blowing up in weight during the hiatus. Joshua’s nickname for him – “fat f---” – was apt.
Fury (25-0, 18 KOs) reportedly is losing weight but there are no guarantees he’ll regain his past form after abusing his body, although age – he’s only 29 – could work in his favor.
If Fury is even 90 percent of what he was the night he outboxed Klitschko, then Joshua and Co. could be in trouble.
They have an abundance of punching power but not the ability of the big Irish Traveller.
If Fury is much less than that, though, he could be in trouble. He’ll make a fortune but could pay an ugly price.
Fury will probably face a marginal opponent early in the new year. That should give us an idea of where he stands.
Here’s hoping he looks reasonably sharp. A capable Fury makes the heavyweight division a lot more interesting than it is now.
Final Fury note: Shame on the British authorities for taking two years to resolve this situation. That’s not justice.
Antoine Douglas (22-2-1, 16 KOs) will have a tough time bouncing back after his knockout loss to Gary O’Sullivan (27-2, 19 KOs) on the Saunders-Lemieux undercard. Douglas was better than O’Sullivan on paper but much worse in the ring, as the middleweight contender was broken down and finally stopped by his Irish opponent in the seventh round. Douglas was only four fights removed from his KO loss to Avtandil Khurtsidze in March of last year. Something is missing. Credit to “Spike” O’Sullivan, who took full advantage of a good opportunity to improve his stock. … Cletus “Hebrew Hammer” Seldin’s limitations were bound to be exposed at some point. Enter Canadian Yves Ulysse, who revealed that Seldin (21-1, 17 KOs) is little more than a club fighter with a good story in a near-shutout victory. Ulysse (15-1, 9 KOs) has won two straight since he lost a split decision to Steve Claggett in October. … John Molina (30-7, 24 KOs) is another limited fighter who is easy to love. The Los Angeles-area slugger survived some hellish moments – including a knockdown – to put Ivan Redkach (20-4-1, 16 KOs) down twice and finally stop him in the fourth round of a wildly entertaining brawl Friday in Lancaster, California. Molina, a late starter, is a so-so boxer but he has world-class power and he never, ever gives up. Gotta love that. Welterweight contender Jessie Vargas (28-2, 10 KOs) shut out Aaron Herrera (33-8-1, 22 KOs) in a 10-round fight Friday in Lancaster, Vargas’ first fight since he was outpointed by Manny Pacquiao in November of last year. … I was pleased that the final Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Conor McGregor U.S. pay-per-view numbers – 4.3 million – fell short of Mayweather-Pacquiao, an actual boxing match (not a circus sideshow) that generated 4.6 million buys. … McGregor announced that he has no intention of facing Pacquiao in a boxing match. From a business standpoint, that’s a dumb move. That fight would generate a fortune for all involved even though it would fall well short of the record. From a boxing standpoint, the move was smart. Pacquiao would’ve eaten McGregor alive. … Mayweather wasn’t inclined to give Vasyl Lomachenko much credit for his dominating victory over Guillermo Rigondeaux on December 9, attributing the wipeout primarily to the Ukrainian’s size advantage. Could Mayweather be jealous? The notion that Lomachenko could turn out to be better than “Money” is becoming more and more realistic.