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Billy Joe Saunders taunts, toys with and takes David Lemieux to school in stylish title defence

Saunders produced a punch-perfect performance to defend his WBO World middleweight title.

Image: Ryan Remiorz

BILLY JOE SAUNDERS produced what was by a considerable margin the finest performance of his career as he defended his WBO World middleweight title with an inch-perfect points win over David Lemieux in Montreal.

The undefeated Hatfield man was awarded the fight on judges’ scores of 120-108, 117-111, 118-110, but the latter two were generous to the home fighter.

In what HBO’s Max Kellerman correctly labelled a ‘masterclass in boxing’, Saunders immediately negated the Canadian’s significant power with supreme footwork, befuddling the former champion with swift counter-left hands over the top and sharp right hooks around the guard.

Fighting for the first time in North America, the 28-year-old was matador-like and scarcely touched in a 12-round schooling: so wide was one of Lemieux’s hail Mary right near the fight’s halfway mark, Saunders raised his own right glove to his forehead, sarcastically staring out of the ring and into the distance.

The first six rounds were all taken comfortably by the former British Olympian, who for 18 minutes danced around a large ring while peppering his plodding opponent with twos and threes, taunting the Montreal native for his frequently crude lunges and static head movement.

Indeed, if there appeared to be a power-puncher in the Place Belle squared circle at all, it was the champion, who in round seven rocked Lemieux with a thudding straight left hand.

CompuBox stats suggested Saunders had out-landed Lemieux 115-42 after eight, proving the system fallible once more: Lemieux appeared to have landed less than half of such a figure at that juncture, and looked non-threatening despite having dropped every round.

As his jab and straight right hand continued to trouble the challenger, Saunders found his target with a sizeable left uppercut in the 10th which, to Lemieux’s credit, was shrugged off. The Canadian banger, however, was bleeding from the nose and mouth and looked utterly debilitated.

He did manage to finally land some significant leather in 11 – a verse which, were you to desperate to award Lemieux even one, was the only candidate at a stretch – but Saunders got in his bike in the final round, skipping his way to a career-best victory as boos rained down from the hometown faithful.

THE CANADIAN PRESS 2017-12-17 Source: Ryan Remiorz

“I know you’re booing me because I whipped your fighter’s ass, but that’s boxing,” Saunders told a quelled audience post-fight.

Saunders, whose troubles out of the ring now seem long since left in his rear-view, told HBO’s Kellerman that “this time last year I was a disgrace in Scotland [versus Artur Akavov]“, crediting his upturn in fortunes to new trainer Dominic Ingle – who recently added Golden Boy’s Donegal middleweight Jason Quigley to his Sheffield stable.

The WBO champion also called out Gennady Golovkin, who’s in talks to rematch Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez on 6 May.

“Golovkin, you kept wanting to fight me when I was 14 stone and overweight and out of love with boxing,” shouted Saunders. “Fight me now and you’ll be punching fresh air.”

Lemieux, meanwhile, claimed to have injured his left hand in the second round, but lacked humility – and indeed a grasp on reality – when he refused to credit Saunders for his victory.

Tonight’s stunning display proved the slick Saunders a worthy adversary for whoever does emerge victorious in May or otherwise – a fight versus either man in which many will fancy the Brit’s chances.

Saunders moves to 26-0 (12KOs), whole Lemieux drops to 38-4 (33KOs).

In the co-main event at Belle Place, Montreal, Cork’s ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan laid waste to fancied American Antoine Douglas in what was also a career-best win for the former Irish champion.

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

Cork’s Spike O’Sullivan lays waste to Antoine Douglas in sensational Montreal upset

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