Saunders' defense vs. Lemieux set for Dec. 16

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Middleweight David Lemieux won his first world title at home in Montreal in 2015. Now he will have a chance to win his second one, also at home.

England’s Billy Joe Saunders will travel to Quebec to make his mandatory defense against Lemieux on Dec. 16 at a venue to be determined, with HBO televising the fight live, Golden Boy Promotions CEO Oscar De La Hoya told ESPN on Wednesday, shortly after the agreement had been signed.

“It’s a done deal, live from Montreal on HBO,” De La Hoya said, adding that he is speaking with two venues about hosting the fight — the Bell Centre in downtown Montreal or the new Place Bell, a 10,000-seat arena that opened earlier this year in Laval, which is just outside Montreal.

Lemieux thought he might close out the year facing junior middleweight world titleholder Miguel Cotto in his farewell fight on Dec. 2, but Cotto did not want to go all the way up to the middleweight limit of 160 pounds. Lemieux, who already struggles to make weight, could not go lower than 160.

So Cotto opted to face Sadam Ali instead. Lemieux was then ordered last week to face Saunders as his mandatory challenger.

Golden Boy president Eric Gomez and Saunders promoter Frank Warren began discussions and a deal was made in short order. They avoided a purse bid, which could have pushed the date of the fight into early next year. Had the promotional rights to the fight been auctioned off at a purse bid, Saunders would have been entitled to 70 percent of the winning bid and Lemieux the remaining 30 percent.

“Like gentlemen, we worked out the agreement and we’re on the same page with Warren,” De La Hoya said. “We want to see this year finish strong for boxing. It’s been a great year for the sport and for Golden Boy. We’re extremely proud we can deliver not only Miguel Cotto’s final fight but also Saunders-Lemieux, both live on HBO.

“We’re willing to work with everybody. We believe that David Lemieux has a great shot to win this fight. Frank Warren believes that his guy, Saunders, has a great shot as well. It was a matter of a little give and take and we made the deal. But all business aside, it’s great for both parties what we negotiated. Both sides are happy. We wanted to make sure we delivered an exciting fight to end the year.”

De La Hoya said the title fight against Saunders is a better opportunity for Lemieux than had he faced Cotto.

“I strongly believe David Lemieux is the missing piece of the puzzle in the middleweight division,” De La Hoya said. “David Lemieux looking great against Billy Joe Saunders will create excitement in the division.”

The winner of the fight would be an obvious choice to face the winner of the expected May 5 rematch between unified world champion Gennady Golovkin (37-0-1, 33 KOs) and Canelo Alvarez (49-1-2, 34 KOs), who fought to a disputed draw in one of the year’s biggest fights on Sept. 16, for the undisputed title.

“David Lemieux against a fighter who is tough, who is durable and who is a trash-talker will make the fight week quite interesting. We’re looking forward to it,” De La Hoya said. “When David heard we had a deal for him to fight Saunders, he was ecstatic. He cannot wait to bring the title back to Canada.”

Saunders (25-0, 12 KOs), a 28-year-old southpaw, won a 160-pound world title by majority decision from Andy Lee in December 2015 and has made two defenses, winning lackluster decisions against Artur Akavov in December and Willie Monroe Jr. on Sept. 16. The fight with Lemieux will be Saunders’ first outside of the United Kingdom.

Lemieux (38-3, 33 KOs), 28, is one of boxing’s biggest punchers. He won a vacant title by unanimous decision against Hassan N’Dam, whom he knocked down four times at the Bell Centre in June 2015.

Lemieux lost the belt in his first defense to Golovkin by eighth-round knockout in their title unification fight in October 2015 in New York. Since then, Lemieux has won four fights in a row.

In March, Lemieux scored a massive third-round knockout of Curtis Stevens for a knockout of the year contender, and then he followed with a lopsided 10-round decision win against Marcos Reyes on May 6 on the Alvarez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. undercard.

“Saunders is a middleweight who is dangerous, who can box, who can move, who can make things difficult for you,” De La Hoya said. “Obviously, David Lemieux cannot take this guy lightly whatsoever. David Lemieux has to make a statement on Dec 16 by knocking out Saunders.”

De La Hoya said there would be a televised undercard bout on the HBO telecast, but that it is not yet set as he is talking to the network about what fight to put on.

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