By Keith Idec
Billy Joe Saunders has talked trash, traded insults and disrespected opponents as much as any boxer in the sport during the past couple years.
The undefeated middleweight title-holder has called them every name imaginable, both to their faces and through social media, and has been utterly unapologetic about all of it. The blunt, crass Saunders’ taunts have made him one of the most polarizing figures in boxing.
And we’re only three months removed from the infamous moment when Saunders’ 8-year-old son, Stevie, punched Willie Monroe Jr. in the groin and kicked the contender in the leg at the weigh-in the day before they fought September 16 in London. The buildup toward his WBO middleweight title defense Saturday night against David Lemieux included verbal battles similar to those in which Saunders has previously engaged, even enjoyed to some extent.
But even Saunders thinks Lemieux crossed a line of decency boxers shouldn’t approach a couple weeks ago. Saunders admitted earlier this week that the only thing Lemieux has said that bothered him is when Lemieux mentioned on Twitter that Saunders would be a “dead man” after they fight for Saunders’ 160-pound championship at Place Bell in Laval, Quebec, just outside of Lemieux’s hometown of Montreal.
“I don’t dislike David,” Saunders said during a conference call Monday. “I don’t know him to dislike him. I don’t really keep track of him, how he goes on and how he does. All I know is that he mentioned about putting people in a coffin, dead, on Twitter. Now I’ve only got respect for the boxing world. And, you know, we recently lost someone [who] passed away in the ring, and also somebody again the other day. So I just don’t like that talk because that’s just stupid talk. Because if them people’s family hear stuff like that, it’s very upsetting and very discrediting [to] boxing.
“So look, if he knocks me out, he knocks me out. That’s that game we’re in. If I knock him out, I knock him out. But, you know, keep the death situation away from it. That’s the only thing I didn’t like. Which personally, myself, it don’t hurt me. But you know what? I love boxing and it discredits boxing. So that’s the only reason why I’ve got a little bit of a – why I said he has short legs and whatever else, because he said that. Which I’m only stating the truth – he’s got short legs.”
The heavy-handed Lemieux (38-3, 33 KOs) didn’t even acknowledge what Saunders said on the conference call, much less apologize for even insinuating that he would kill the brash British champion in the ring. Whereas Saunders contended he doesn’t dislike Lemieux, the former IBF middleweight champion made it completely clear that he wants to hurt Saunders (25-0, 12 KOs) and make him pay for all of the negative things Saunders has said about him.
“I’m gonna make him pay in the ring,” Lemieux said. “All this animosity’s gonna come out in the ring. If he thinks he can run around for 12 rounds, he’s in a lot of trouble.”
When asked what Saunders specifically has said that bothers him, Lemieux added, “He says a whole bunch of things. It’s just his character. It’s who he is. I don’t like him. He’s gonna pay.”
Lemieux’s disdain for him aside, Saunders swears there’s nothing personal to him about a fight HBO will broadcast as the main event of a “World Championship Boxing” tripleheader (9:40 p.m. ET).
“I don’t know David to hate him,” Saunders said. “All I know is he’s got short legs. That’s all I said is he’s got short legs, and I think that touched the nerve button a bit. But listen, I don’t [dislike] David. As a matter of fact, after I beat him, I’ll give him a kiss on the cheek. No problem.”
Lemieux advised Saunders not to try to kiss him, win, lose or draw.
“If he gives me a kiss on the cheek,” Lemieux said, “he’s getting knocked out with a hook.”
An unfazed Saunders mocked Lemieux’s reply.
“The hook? OK, I’ll watch out for that one, yeah?,” Saunders said. “I’ll watch out for the hook. No problem, David, yeah? I’ll speak to you after the fight about that one. Don’t throw that shoulder out as well, as you’re throwing that hook.”
Lemieux’s left hook is his most dangerous weapon, the punishing punch he used to knock Curtis Stevens unconscious in the third round when they met March 11 in Verona, New York. Like Saunders, Stevens angered Lemieux by calling him names and disrespecting him.
That’s why Lemieux took so much satisfaction from destroying Stevens (29-6, 21 KOs) in a fight that resulted in a “Knockout of the Year” candidate. He hopes to produce a similar win against an unbeaten southpaw who figures to present problems with his boxing ability, intelligence and movement.
“This has been a great camp,” Lemieux said. “I’m extremely excited for this fight. You know, I’m more excited, actually, just to lay my hands on Billy Joe Saunders more than anything else. He’s got a big mouth. It’s rare I’ve seen fighters with such a big mouth. I just hope his fighting is gonna come close [to] his mouth on Saturday night. He’s gonna have a very, very aggressive Lemieux on his back.
“I’m extremely ready and I’m extremely prepared for this fight. It’s not gonna be easy for him. It’s actually gonna be hell for him. I’m here to knock him out. I’m here to destroy him every round. If it goes 12 rounds, it’s unfortunate for him. But I’m ready for 12 great rounds. So I’m extremely excited for this fight, to give the fans their money’s worth and finish the year with a new WBO world title.”
The three-bout broadcast that’ll feature Saunders-Lemieux will start Saturday night with a 10-round, junior welterweight fight in which Long Island’s Cletus Seldin (21-0, 17 KOs, 1 NC) will meet Montreal’s Yves Ulysse Jr. (14-1, 9 KOs). After Seldin and Ulysse square off, HBO will air another scheduled 10-rounder – middleweight contender Antoine Douglas (22-1-1, 16 KOs), of Burke, Virginia, against Ireland’s Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan (26-2, 18 KOs).
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.