By Keith Idec
Billy Joe Saunders took David Lemieux to boxing school Saturday night.
Just as he promised, the brash British southpaw toyed with the dangerous Canadian, demoralized him and easily won a 12-round unanimous decision to retain his WBO middleweight title in Laval, Quebec. The undefeated Saunders used a jarring jab to bloody Lemieux’s nose and mark up the challenger’s face, and fought an extremely disciplined defensive fight to neutralize his powerful opponent.
Saunders’ superb performance humiliated Lemieux and made him look like the one-dimensional fighter Saunders called him before their fight, much to the disappointment of the hometown crowd of Montreal’s Lemieux.
The scores of all three judges – Wales’ Phil Edwards (118-110), Puerto Rico Gerardo Martinez (117-111) and Canada’s Benoit Roussel (120-108) – each reflected Saunders’ dominance in the main event of an HBO “World Championship Boxing” tripleheader from Place Bell.
“I knew what sort of fighter David Lemieux is and I know what sort of coach he’s got,” Saunders told HBO’s Max Kellerman after the fight. “I knew what he was coming for. I look easy to hit, I look easy to hurt, I look easy to put down, I look like I’m running out of gas. But you can’t hit me. If David landed four shots on me the whole fight, and he’s a world champion, been in with the best … I like to come in someone’s backyard because I perform better.
“At this time last year, I was an absolute disgrace [against Artur Akavov] in Scotland. And I would never, ever jump in the ring again with a performance like that. And that’s down to one man and one man only, [trainer] Dominic Ingle from Sheffield. If it wasn’t for him, my boxing career would be finished and over.”
Saunders’ jab was the difference offensively in this one-sided fight. According to unofficial CompuBox statistics, Saunders hit Lemieux with 103 of 279 jabs, 101 more than Lemieux landed (12 of 120).
Overall, CompuBox counted 165 of 430 punches for Saunders (38.4 percent) and 67 of 356 for Lemieux (18.8 percent).
Lemieux alluded to an injury to his left hand during his post-fight interview with Kellerman.
“I wasn’t at my best,” Lemieux said. “Hats off to Billy Joe, but as of the second round, my left hand, I couldn’t use it the way I wanted to. And he was on the run, so I had a little bit of difficulties throwing my shots. So I gotta say it wasn’t my best night.”
Lemieux also chastised Saunders for “running away” from him throughout their bout.
Saunders (26-0, 12 KOs) continued to out-box Lemieux (38-4, 33 KOs) during the 11th round, but toward the end of it Lemieux landed a left hook as Saunders moved toward the ropes. Lemieux completely missed with a right hand soon thereafter, though, and a frustrated Lemieux flicked his glove at the trash-talking Saunders’ head after the bell sounded to end the 11th round.
Lemieux landed a rare clean punch, a left hand, against the elusive Saunders early in the 10th round. Saunders wasn’t affected by it and came firing back with his jab.
Later in the 10th, Saunders drilled Lemieux with a left hand that backed him up.
Saunders’ stiff jab began to bloody Lemieux’s nose in the seventh round.
Saunders became more offensive to start the seventh and moved Lemieux into the ropes with a right hook. Ingle implored him during that round to “bust up” Lemieux.
The sixth round mostly mirrored the first five, as Saunders popped his jab, moved backward and deftly kept out of harm’s way.
Saunders mocked his opponent when Lemieux missed badly with an overhand right late in the fifth round. In the fourth round, Saunders’ head movement and overall elusiveness was effective, yet drew boos from the pro-Lemieux crowd.
Saunders continued to keep Lemieux away from him in the third round by using his jab and moving. Lemieux swung wildly and missed several times in that round.
After chasing Saunders around the ring for much of the first four-plus minutes of the bout, Lemieux landed a right hand that made Saunders smile just after the 1:40 mark of the second round. Saunders landed a straight left hand and followed it up by showboating later in the second.
Saunders added another straight left that backed Lemieux into a corner before the second round ended.
Saunders started the bout by moving and remaining out of Lemieux’s punching range during the first round. Saunders got inside and connected with a quick right uppercut late in the first round as well.
By the time 11 more rounds were completed, Saunders, 28, had made the third defense of the WBO 160-pound championship he won when he defeated Andy Lee by majority decision in December 2015 in Manchester, England.
Saunders also fought outside of England for the first time since he turned pro in February 2009.
Lemieux, also 28, failed in his bid to become a two-time middleweight champion. The former IBF title-holder also had his four-fight winning streak snapped and lost for the first time since IBF/IBO/WBA/WBC champion Gennady Golovkin stopped him in the eighth round of their October 2015 fight at Madison Square Garden.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.