The rap on Billy Joe Saunders - the brash WBO middleweight champion from the Traveller community outside of Hertfordshire is that he doesn't care about boxing despite his talent.
That he is unmotivated.
And when he does box he doesn't mind stinking the joint out to win.
Last night at the packed Place Bell in Laval, Quebec Canada one could not have been more wrong!
Bill Joe beat the brakes off the hard punching David Lemieux for nearly every second of all 12 rounds. Don’t be fooled by the charity of judges Gerardo Martinez or Phil Edwards who gifted Lemieux two and three rounds respectively. At no point was Lemieux in this fight. The lone Canadian judge called it right 120 -108 for Saunders - a complete whitewash.
Sugar Ray Saunders
No one could have expected the fight to be over from the first moments of round one, but it was. Most of us believed that the rising Lemieux had everything going for him. He’s had a phenomenal 2017 up to this point. Coming off of the freightening KO of Curtis Stevens in March then a quick turnaround and a dominant win over Marco Reyes in May on the GGG vs. Canelo undercard. Add to that Lemieux was fighting in his own backyard just miles from where Lemieux hangs his chapeau in Montreal.
So hostile to the visiting Brit was the home crowd they booed lil’ Stevie Saunders when his chubby cheeks flashed up on the screens in the arena.
For his part Saunders has been inconsistent to say the least since winning the WBO belt virtually two years ago to the day off Andy Lee - to this point his best performance still.
Billy’s career seemed to stangate, several fights failed to materialize for one reason or another and Billy’s own struggles with discipline and motivation hampered his return as well.
Therefore it seemed a necessity for Saunders to make a quick and impressive turnaround after a disappointing but convincing win over Willie Monroe Jr. just three months ago.
Working behind a laser guided jab that would have made Larry Holmes proud Billy punched the completely outclassed Lemieux all over the ring making Lemieux miss like an angry bull being toyed with by the matador. Billy landed 37% of his jabs in the fight and out landed Lemieux in jabs by more than 100 over all - a staggering figure to contemplate.
Billy used his accurate foot work to move and jab or jab then move - always to his right out of the way of Lemieux’s powerful right hand punch. Billy masterfully controlled the range for the entirety of the bout and the sheer exasperation was written all over Lemieux’s face in frustration and blood as Lemieux’s nose was likely broken by round six which seemed to slow the plodding French Canadian even more.
Round seven was particularly brutal where Saunders’ new trainer - the man most responsible for the Gypsy’s renaissance Dominic Ingle was calling for Saunders to beat him up so lopsided was the round one could make an argument for a 10-8 score despite Lemieux never hitting the canvas and prompting Max Kellerman to make an argument for stopping the fight.
The rest of the fight continued with the same timbre and cadence, the powerful but inept Lemieux chasing Saunders around failing to cut the ring as he frequently does hoping to land one big punch instead missing and missing and missing...and just as frequently being hit and left staring at nothing but Billy’s right shoulder and his leering smile as Billy was on his bike again ala Ray Leonard.
Lemieux has always suffered from poor ring IQ, he’s gotten by on tremendous one punch power but his inability to adapt to his opponent and less head movement then Michelangelo's statue of David make him an easy target and in the case of Gennady Golovkin the victim of a severe beating and TKO loss when they met in October of 2015 and Lemieux was handed his last defeat.
Lemieux still has gas in the tank and if I’m the team behind Jermall Charlo or Boo Boo Andrade Lemieux makes a serviceable opponent.
The Food Chain
With his best career performance so far WBO Middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders proves he’s the clear #4 Middleweight in the world behind GGG and Canelo who are currently in negotiations to get their rematch sorted out and Danny Jacobs who recently rebounded with a command performance himself last month in NYC and gave GGG his toughest fight before the Kazakh's battle with Canelo.
In fact, a fight between Danny Jacobs and Billy Joe makes tons of sense.
Danny is a king without a crown - having found a world title elusive thus far and with Canelo & GGG occupied that means that the winner of that rematch eyeballed for Cinco de Mayo 2018 would likely be unavailable until 4th quarter 2018 or 1st quarter 2019 and left to his own devices Billy Joe can go off the rails, so more time out of the ring waiting for Canelo or GGG is not what Billy needs even if that’s what he wants.
Though Saunders is managed by Frank Warren and Jacobs by Eddie Hearn there is still a chance that fight could get done and the winner emerges as the clear challenger for either Canelo or GGG.
In the post-fight Billy was quite vocal about calling out GGG and after his somewhat lackluster performance against Canelo he could not afford to get off to a slow start against the Billy Joe who slapped Lemieux all over the ring last night. GGG also struggled to pin down Canelo who has never been known as the most fleet of foot.
So Billy is caught betwixt and between to a degree. The big money fight with either GGG to unify or WBO #1 contender Canelo is unlikely to happen due to the obligations of both fighters mentioned above. That leaves a murderers row of Demetrius Andrade at #3 Danny Jacobs at #4 and Jermall Charlo at #5 - all dangerous fights without the payoff of having either Canelo or GGG on the other side of the bill.
All that said, Billy showed real mettle going into Lemieux’s backyard, playing the heel and turning his perceived disadvantages into blessing lifting him to a sublime performance.
So maybe a Traveller got to travel - perhaps Billy needs to fight Charlo in Houston or Jacobs in Brooklyn, perhaps that’s the motivation he needs to tick over.
Maybe Billy thrives when he feels like he’s up against it - me against the world some fighters are like that. They need some kind of narrative to drive them.
So far the narrative is one of unfulfilled potential with Billy Joe Saunders, he’s got loads of boxing skill that backs up the entertaining banter. Yet, overcoming his own bad habits has been his toughest test so far, David Lemieux was no challenge at least, that was obvious last night.