By Jake Donovan
MONTREAL—David Lemieux powered his way to a 12-round win over Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam, scoring four knockdowns en route to a unanimous decision Saturday evening at Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec City, Canada.
Scores were 115-109 (twice) and 114-110 in a bout eerily similar to N'Dam's previous failed title bid versus Peter Quillin nearly three years ago.
Lemieux came out strong in the early going, making his presence felt while N'Dam offered lateral movement in his best efforts to avoid the home fighter's murderous punching power.
The tactic served well for about four minutes of ring time, until Lemieux was able to cut off the ring. From there, his vaunted left hook was able to find a home at which point the fun truly began.
N'Dam was fortunate to not get called for a knockdown when a right hand caused him to pitch forward and drag Lemieux with him to the canvas midway through round two. Karma would come in the form of a left hook just moment's later, flooring the Cameroon-born boxer hard for the bout's first official knockdown.
Lemieux tried in vain to deliver a knockout performance with every punch thrown. He wasn't able to close the show in that round, and grew wild enough for N'Dam to slowly box his way back into the fight. When able to stand on his feet, he was able to offer a highly competitive performance.
However, frequent visits to the canvas are not going to win you prizefights, especially not on the road.
That proved to be the overwhelming difference in the headlining act. N'Dam fought to box and win. Lemieux fought to win in spectacular fashion. At the very least, he frequently drew the fans in attendance out of their seats with every power punch thrown.
The partisan crowd had reason to cheer repeatedly through round five, as Lemieux added two more knockdowns to his tally. It was left hook city for the hometown slugger, as N'Dam simply had no clue how to guard against the money shot, or how to stay on his feet upon impact.
All credit to the visiting challenger, as he repeatedly rose to his feet and tried his hardest to fight back after each and every knockdown. It was enough to turn a potential rout into a surprisingly competitive fight, all things considered.
The threat of a knockout once again surfaced when Lemieux scored his fourth knockdown of the fight, this time late in round eight.
Not only did N'Dam once again beat the count, but he fully recovered and made Lemieux—and his team, including promoter Oscar de la Hoya and the Golden Boy Promotions staff—sweat out the final four rounds of the fight.
It was during this stretch that a seemingly one-sided affair transitioned into one of the best fights of 2015 to date. It was certainly the standout fight of a loaded boxing weekend, thanks to the amazing heart and courage exuded by N'Dam, who never stopped trying to win.
As Lemieux scored with left hooks and crippling body shots, N'Dam was able to land in combination upstairs. The late surge by the rangy boxer helped narrow Lemieux's lead on the scorecards, even hurting the house fighter on at least one occasion in a thrilling 12th and final round featuring plenty of two-way action.
The final three minutes marked a fitting close to a fantastic middleweight battle. The final outcome was never in doubt, but what could have easily been a 15-point win for Lemieux was instead a much closer affair.
With the victory, Lemieux (34-2, 31KOs) picks up his ninth straight win following back-to-back losses in a disastrous 2011 ring campaign. The 26-year old slugger also claims the title left behind by Jermain Taylor, who was forced to vacate after dangerous and bizarre behavior during a Martin Luther King Jr. parade led to his being arrested and jailed.
It was a chore getting the vacancy filled, as N'Dam—who ends a four-fight win streak as he falls to 33-2 (18KOs)—saw three separate challengers pass on the opportunity before Lemieux accepted the fight, with Golden Boy Promotions winning the purse bid to bring the fight to Canada.
The loss was N'Dam's second at the title level—and overall—as he was dropped six times in an otherwise competitive performance versus Quillin in Oct. '12.
N'Dam earned the title fight by outpointing Curtis Stevens over 12 rounds last October.
Lemieux was given the title shot simply by waiting out the rest of the field. Felix Sturm and Billy Joe Saunders both said thanks but no thanks to the opportunity; Sturm opted to move up to the super middleweight division, while Saunders is in line to face Andy Lee—who owns a different portion of the middleweight title—later this year, presumably in Ireland.
The good news for the free-swinging knockout artist from Montreal is that he will likely be permitted to take on a voluntary title defense in his next fight. Normally, vacant title fights are often met with an immediate mandatory title challenge. However, no such mandatory exists for the belt—it was N'Dam heading into the night.
Any top middleweight in search of a fight these days will naturally draw the interest of the boxing public. The interest is mainly as a potential candidate to face unbeaten knockout artist Gennady Golovkin, who has established himself as the best middleweight on the planet.
Golovkin is eyeing a ring return sometime in late summer or early fall, and has insisted his plan is to collect all of the middleweight belts. With World middleweight king Miguel Cotto on a collision course with Mexican superstar Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez later this fall, along with Lee and Daniel Jacobs preparing for separate upcoming title defenses, the field remains thin in terms of the type of opponent that would demand attention.
That dynamic drastically changed on Saturday evening, courtesy of a fight well worth watching regardless of what was at stake for the present and the future.