Don’t believe the hype after a weekend of upsets

In a busy weekend of boxing packed full of exciting bouts (including a legitimate ‘Fight of the Year’ contender between Marcos Maidana and Eric Morales at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas), two results really caught the eye.

The first took place at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Friday night, where unbeaten middleweight propsect David Lemieux (25-1, 24 KOs) was stopped inside seven rounds by the experienced Mexican Marco Antonio Rubio (50-5-1, 43 KOs).

David Lemieux was beaten by Marco Antoino Rubio

David Lemieux was beaten by Marco Antoino Rubio

With his fearsome punching power and Rubio’s suspect chin, Canada’s Lemieux was widely expected to make light work of his most accomplished opponent to date and put himself in the frame for a world title shot later in the year. However, despite dominating the opening five rounds of the WBC middleweight eliminator and forcing the 30-year-old Rubio on the backfoot, Lemieux seemed to tire and hand the initiative to his opponent in the sixth round. Rubio duly accepted, and started to land some heavy shots of his own through Lemieux’s suspect guard.

The 22-year-old was now in deep water,  having spent a lot of is energy trying to get rid of Rubio in the early rounds, like so many of his past opponents. Lemieux was eventually knocked down after a flurry of unanswered punches from Rubio left him slumping in the corner. Although he managed to make it back to his feet, his corner sensibly threw in the towel shortly after when their shell-shocked fighter was completely overwhelmed by another onslaught from the emboldened Mexican.

Lemieux has since admitted that Rubio’s tactics had been better on the night, while his trainer Russ Anber took a rather philisophical view of his decision to end the fight prematurely, saying: “David is 22-years-old and has a big career ahead of him. We were in combat and the risks were too great for his future.”

Lemieux’s conqueror was not ready to write off the young prospect either, saying: “David is an excellent boxer and I am sure that he will be very successful.”

Rude awakening

That said, this is a damaging defeat for the young middleweight prospect, who showed plenty of flaws in his defence and conditioning, as well as his tactics, and suffered a rude awakening against a seasoned yet highly beatable opponent. However, Lemieux certainly has enough in his armoury to bounce back and learn from the mistakes he made against Rubio. He shouldn’t be written off just yet, particularly after he dominated the opening exchanges. Perhaps he started to buy into his own hype and figured Rubio would go the same way as most of his other adversaries.

Parallels can be drawn between Lemieux’s loss and David Haye‘s defeat at the hands of the veteran Carl Thompson in just his 11th professional bout. Like Lemieux, Haye dominated the early rounds only to punch himself out and hand the initiative to his opponent, who took advantadge of his naivety and forced Haye’s trainer Adam Booth to throw in the towel. Haye bounced back in impressive style to unify the crusierweight division, and while that may be beyond Lemieux in a deep division, he will almost certainly get a world title shot in the not too distant future.

Rubio is now in line to face the winner of the forthcoming Julio Cesar Chavez Jr and Sebastian Zbik fight, while Lemieux must go back to the drawing board and work on the flaws that brought him back down to earth with bang on Friday night.

The second major shock of the weekend was on the undercard of Golden Boy’s ‘Action Heroes’ pay-per-view card at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, where top American light-middleweight propsect James Kirkland was blown out by the unheralded Nobuhiro Ishida in the first round in a stunning upset. The heavy-handed Kirkland (27-1, 24 KOs) was expected to crush his hand-picked Japanese opponent in his third fight since he was released from prison.

But Ishida (23-6-2, 8 KOs) had other ideas, and the 35-year-old preceded to drop Kirkland three times in the opening round, exposing the Texan’s non-existent defence and susceptibility to fast hands in the process. The magnitude of the upset was underlined by the fact that HBO had not even bothered to have a Japanese translator on standby in readiness for a post-fight interview with the Japanese champion.

Sacrificial lamb

Ishida was seen by all the US boxing pundits as a mere sacrificial lamb in Kirkland’s march towards a world title shot. After this wretched performance, which Kirkland rather gracelessly claimed was stopped prematurely, that march has ground to an indefinite halt. Although Ishida had  a decent amateur pedigree and held a minor world title between 2009-10, he also has a knockout record that compares (un)favourably with Paulie Malignaggi. So for Kirkland to get knocked down three times in one round by a light-hitting opponent, imagine what would happen should he ever find himself in the ring with middleweight king Sergio Martinez or even Kelly Pavlik.

Expect Kirkland to go back to doing what he does best – taking out overmatched opponents in brutal fashion on the undercard of major fights. The Austin native will no doubt be matched more carefully as he attempts to rebuild his shattered hopes of a title shot, but from now on there will always be serious question marks over his ability to take a shot. The path back to redemption may be longer and more arduous for ‘the Mandingo Warrior’ than it is for Lemieux.

For Ishida, it was victory made all the more poignant by the suffering of his fellow countrymen, and Japan’s latest sporting hero was quick to dedicate his victory to the victims of last month’s earthquake and tsunami. The exposure from this breakout victory will no doubt secure him a career high pay day in the United States against a name opponent.

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