When Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Billy Joe Saunders meet at the AT&T Stadium in Texas on Saturday, boxing fans could be about to witness one of the best performances by a British boxer on foreign soil.
But it will surely have to take something extraordinary from Saunders to do what no one has done before him except the legendary Floyd Mayweather.
From brothers Callum and Liam Smith, to Amir Khan, Matthew Hatton and Rocky Fielding, fighters from the United Kingdom have routinely tried and failed to dethrone the pound-for-pound king.
But Saunders is no stranger to pulling a rabbit out of the hat as the Welywn-born warrior showed when he stepped into the ring against former IBF middleweight champion David Lemieux
Saunders was 28 at the time and had only had a handful of fights at world level. Lemieux was also 28 but by then already a veteran in the sport, having previously shared the ring with the likes of Gennady Golovkin, Gabriel Rosado and Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam.
That night in the ring, Lemieux was lethargic and, at times, looked rather lost for ideas. But none of the vocal Canadian crowd expected the challenger to have much trouble with the relatively unproven Saunders, whose most notable win prior to that was a points win over former WBO middleweight champion Andy Lee.
Lemieux’s confidence started to drop in the early rounds as the lean, 168-pound Saunders built up an unassailable lead. Later in the fight, Lemieux tried to fight back, but Saunders skipped harmlessly out of the way, prompting some hissing and booing from the crowd.
“I know you’re booing me because I whipped your fighter’s ass, but that’s boxing,” Saunders said to the crowd during his interview on HBO after the fight. “I know what sort of fighter David Lemieux is, I know what sort of coach he’s got. I look easy to whip, I look easy to put down, I look like I can run out of gas. But you can’t hit me.”
He continued to pick his opponent apart from range, dodging Lemieux’s wild punches while firing back with some of his own for good measure, demonstrating an uncanny ability to accurately pick the right shots at the right time.
In the end, after twelve rounds, the judges scored the contest 120–108, 117–111, and 118–110 in favour of Saunders. It was simply a breath-taking performance, arguably one of the best displays by a British fighter outside of the United Kingdom.
“I wanted to put it on him. I really did want to put it on him,” Saunders said after the fight. “I went to put it on him, and [Dominic Ingle] was screaming, ‘Take your time! Don’t! Don’t!’ It was the best advice, because then I picked, poked, prodded him.”
After the fight, Lemieux had a few choice words for his opponent, saying of Saunders, “I wasn’t at my best. Hats off to Billy Joe.
“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 difficulties throwing my jab. He was running away from the first round until the end. I guess that’s his strategy to win, to run away from fighters who are fighting. If that’s the way you want to win, congratulations.”
To this day, out of the current crop of champions, some fans still believe that ‘BJS’ has the best chance of giving Canelo the second ‘L’ of his professional career.
The two are set to collide in their upcoming super-middleweight unification superfight at Cinco de Mayo this weekend but Canelo is no Lemieux; the Mexican is considered one of the best boxers in history.
In the eyes of many, Canelo is virtually untouchable in the ring.Saunders deserves credit for his footwork and hand pace, but he’ll have to produce another magical effort to beat the WBA, WBC, and The Ring super-middleweight world champion.