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Lollipops and BJs

(Originally Published: December, 2017 @ Boxing.com)


Billy Joe Saunders has arrived…or so say the marks who constitute the vocal minority of the online Universo Pugilistico.


The truth is that the Billy Joe Saunders we saw Saturday night is pretty much the same Billy Joe Saunders we’ve always seen, just with a bit more focus and a tad more discipline. He was also facing HBO’s favorite predictable, flat-footed, big-swinging fall guy, David Lemieux—something that would help any mobile boxing stylist look like a prime Pernell Whitaker, provided they can keep themselves from daydreaming mid-fight.


On paper, Saunders-Lemieux was supposed to be an even-money affair, mostly based on the fact that the heavy-handed Lemieux could, in theory, capitalize on a Saunders whose career had thus far, despite his status as WBO middleweight titlist, been defined more by malaise and distraction than consistent ring execution. Lemieux is about as nuanced and tactical as a refrigerator falling off the back of a moving truck, but he has real one-punch power and it was easy to see a scenario where he could catch a lazy Saunders with something big.


But Lemieux never did. And Saunders was able to breathe easy and maintain ring clarity in the face of Lemieux’s awkward, sloppy bum rushes and general confusion.


After the fight, the French-Canadian puncher looked about as frazzled as an aspiring Hollywood starlet emerging from a closed-doors meeting with Harvey Weinstein. He made a half-assed excuse about an injured hand during the post-fight interview, but his eyes told the story of someone who had just been victimized. He slammed Saunders for running, avoided eye contact with both the camera and interviewer Max Kellerman, and generally looked like someone who couldn’t get backstage soon enough.


And, post-fight, Saunders was Saunders. Always good on the mic, the gypsy Brit finally put up a main stage performance as entertaining as one of his press conferences. And, best of all, that ring performance was also almost flawless in execution.


But, then again, he was facing someone who made it easy for him to look good. Matched against one of the true elites of the division—notably, Gennady Golovkin or Saul Alvarez—Saunders will need to do more than have a solid camp and maintain focus during the fight if he wants to actually win. Daniel Jacobs would also be a tough match-up for Saunders, given his athleticism and overall skill level. Then, of course, there are division newcomers Jermall Charlo and Demetrius Andrade, who might already be the all-around best middleweights in the world while still waiting for their shots at the big dogs.


Realistically, everyone from Golovkin right down to Charlo and Andrade could be too skilled and too talented for Saunders and it’s hard to make an argument otherwise based on Saunders’ body of work. Even after his one-sided dominance over Lemieux, questions remain.


It’s easy to look quick and sharp against someone who is slow and dull. Stylistically, Lemieux was a giant wiffle ball served up on a tee for a fighter like Saunders—Saunders had to simply not fuck it up. The 28-year-old definitely has the raw potential to be a ring great, but he’s never been able to show more than a few minutes at a time of high-level professionalism. It remains to be seen whether he can build from this victory or if this high-mark performance will lead to implosion and an ugly fall from grace, like his pal and fellow gypsy traveler Tyson Fury, who went from career-defining performance to retirement over the course of 18 scandal-heavy months.


Having around a fully actualized Billy Joe Saunders could add some real intrigue and depth to the middleweight division, regardless of whether or not he can be any better than the fifth or sixth best 160-pounder in the world.


But don’t be surprised if he shocks an “elite” or two. A fighter who fights like him can always shock the world on any given night. Of course, all of this is up to Saunders, who now has to make the decision about whether he wants to rest on the laurels of beating Lemieux or move towards bigger, better, but infinitely more complicated accomplishments.

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