By Corey Erdman
The fact that David Lemieux was being positioned as the next challenger for Canelo Alvarez is somewhere between a thinly veiled secret and public knowledge.
Nobody explicitly said that the winner of the ill-fated David Lemieux-Tureano Johnson clash was contracted to face the winner of Canelo Alvarez-Rocky Fielding, because in boxing it’s tough to make such promises, and “looking beyond” an opponent is taboo in pre-fight dialogue amongst fighters, even though it’s what a promoter is supposed to be doing for them behind the scenes.
You didn’t have to squint too hard to read the writing between the lines—in this case, it was on the fight poster itself. On a lengthy card stacked full of world title fights and recognizable names, Lemieux-Johnson was positioned as the “co-main event” of the night, and was given head table positioning at the final press conference inside Madison Square Garden.
Then, the very next day, in the very same place inside Madison Square Garden, Lemieux was nowhere to be found. In the effort to make 160 pounds, Lemieux had dehydrated himself so severely that he was rushed to hospital and his bout against Johnson was cancelled. Making 160 had been a struggle for Lemieux in the past, and though he and his team never said so outright, the allure of big fights at middleweight, which in name and purse value are substantially higher than the immediate options at 168, likely kept him melting down against his body’s wishes.
The dangling carrot of a bout against Canelo, one of the most lucrative opportunities in the sport, was no doubt a factor.
“I thought I was gonna fight Canelo after the last fight, because it was already scheduled that the winner of the semi-final, which was me and (Spike) O'Sullivan, would face the winner of Canelo and (Gennady) Golovkin. But that didn't happen. I guess they didn't like the way it ended with O'Sullivan and they changed plans,” said Lemieux. “I'm always ready for Canelo. I believe in my abilities and I believe I have what it takes to beat him.”
Circumstances changed rather quickly after Canelo’s victory over Golovkin. His agreement with HBO ended, the network exited the boxing realm altogether, and Canelo signed the richest deal in North American sports history with DAZN—a whopping five-year, 11-fight, $365 million contract. Canelo’s promoter, Golden Boy, jumped ship to DAZN for its events as well, bringing along Lemieux, with whom they have an agreement along with Eye Of The Tiger Management.
If there is a difficulty in promoting the biggest boxing star in North America, it’s that the feasible challengers for him that exist underneath the same network umbrella are limited for the time being. Billy Joe Saunders, Demetrius Andrade and Danny Jacobs fall under the DAZN banner, as does Lemieux. But that’s only four fights of the contracted 11 in the deal, so the network understandably wants to build the potential Canelo foils up on their own merits.
Prior to the Canelo-Fielding card, DAZN held media days in both Montreal and Toronto in order to get the word out about Lemieux. In the boxing-crazed city of Montreal, Lemieux buzz has been constant for almost a decade. He first headlined at the Bell Centre in 2010 against Hector Camacho Jr., and has been capable of headlining an arena ever since. In fact, he had a small hand in filling an arena he wasn’t even supposed to be fighting in on December 15. Though his bout was ultimately scrapped, there were plans to air his fight live on the jumbotron in the Coca-Cola Coliseum immediately after the Samuel Vargas-Gabriel Pereiro card in Toronto.
Though in the eyes of many, missing weight in New York City was a fatal sin for Lemieux in terms of his hopes to face Canelo, that doesn’t seem to be the tenor when it comes to his promotional backers.
At post-fight press conference, Bernard Hopkins stood off to the side of the dais, leaned against the wall, looking every bit the wise sage he’s developed into. When the topic of Canelo-Lemieux came up, he replied quickly: “Wouldn’t you still want to see it? Canelo’s got a belt at 168, doesn’t he?”
Therein may exist the fortuitous loophole for Lemieux. Canelo scored the WBA’s regular 168 pound title in his thrashing of Fielding. He could choose to simply chuck it away and chalk it up to nothing more than a trinket to get him a third world title in a third weight class on paper. Or, it could be used to keep the original plan in place—to face Lemieux—just at a weight somewhere above 160. He also has some serious brass supporting that idea—DAZN, which along with Eddie Hearn has already expressed major interest in permeating the Canadian boxing market, and Hopkins, the potential bout’s biggest advocate.
“Both guys can punch. Lemieux just fought a guy who was respected as the third guy in the division, O'Sullivan, to get to Canelo, and knocked him cold. You have to look at that matchup as two guys who have boxing abilities, but aren't really comfortable doing that. They are in your face, will against will, mono e mono type of mentality,” said Bernard Hopkins, Golden Boy Promotions shareholder, during a recent visit to Toronto. “We've seen Lemieux fight that way all the time, even when it wasn't to his benefit. David Lemieux has one punch power. That fight will always be dangerous for Canelo because of that power. That's the kind of danger fans want to see, that walking the tight rope without a safety net.”
That Lemieux would be given the push by a new outlet like DAZN comes as no surprise. There are few fighters in the sport who would compile a highlight reel that would match the excitement level of Lemieux’s. His knockouts over Curtis Stevens, Jaudiel Zepeda and Alvaro Gaona are among the most frightening in recent memory, showing a level of power relative to his weight class that would have to rank near the top of the sport.
“In my eyes, objectively, David is the heaviest puncher, pound for pound, in boxing,” said promoter Camille Estephan.
Even in the times Lemieux has been foiled—most recently by Golovkin and Saunders—viewers never got the sense that the Canadian slugger was doing anything less than hunting for a knockout. If there is a current example of a fighter being able to retain fan support and network interest without a flawless record, so long as they’re an exciting performer, Lemieux is it.
“Do we want to sacrifice two of our top guys? We don't have a choice, when the fans want the fight and we continue to beat our chests that we're going to put the best fights on,” said Hopkins. “If they want the fight--David Lemieux and Canelo--Cinco de Mayo. I'm just putting it out there. I'd like to see Canelo vs. David Lemieux in New York City or Montreal, Canada. That fight, you'd need a stadium. Not an arena, a stadium. That's the fight I want to see, coming out hard on DAZN.”