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Former champion Lemieux looks to get back in world title picture against Stevens

Lemieux, Stevens face off at last in ring

MONTREAL — Former middleweight champion David Lemieux is set to face American Curtis Stevens in March in a bout that was supposed to have happened three years ago.

The two brawlers were to have been the co-feature to a light heavyweight title unification bout between Adonis Stevenson of Montreal and Russian star Sergey Kovalev, but when the main event fell though in a promoter's dispute, so did Lemieux-Stevens.

Now the two will settle their differences March 11 at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, N.Y.

"Back in January, 2014 there was a little dispute between (Stevenson's promoter) Yvon Michel and me," Stevens' promoter Kathy Duva said Thursday. "The co-feature was done, negotiated any everything. We had literally negotiated with HBO how much they were going to pay for that fight, but it never happened.

"We have been chasing it ever since. It's a fight we've always wanted, so when (Lemieux's promoter) Golden Boy finally called and HBO had a time and place for it, we said 'sure.' "

A key difference for Lemieux is that the original bout would have been in his home town of Montreal, while now he will travel to Brooklyn native Stevens' home state, although the site in central New York is about equal travel distance for the two.

And Lemieux (36-3) should still be the favourite against Stevens (29-5) based on his edge in past success against top opponents.

"I don't mind fighting in the U.S., I've been there many times," said Lemieux. "We'll do what we have to do and then come home."

Lemieux won the vacant International Boxing Federation title with a unanimous decision win over Hassan N'Dam at the Bell Centre in June, 2015. But instead of milking title for an easy payday or two, as many fighters would, he immediately booked a title unification bout in New York City against perhaps the best world's best middleweight Gennady Golovkin.

The Kazakh champion took Lemieux out in eight one-sided rounds. But the 28-year-old Lemieux bounced back with wins over Glen Tapia in Las Vegas and, in his last outing, a victory by decision over Cristian Rios in Montreal.

Lemieux has no regrets about his decision.

"No, because I'm real," he said. "I'm a middleweight and I'm ready to fight any middleweight because I believe I'm the best and I can beat the best.

"I took Golovkin knowing I could beat him and I'll take him again once the numbers are right and when I'm ready to have a different outcome."

Stevens also has a loss to Golovkin in 2013 on his record and he was beaten by N'Dam in 2014. He then didn't fight for more than a year and a half. But he has since put up a pair of wins, although he injured a hand in his last outing in November against James De la Rosa. 

The 31-year-old believes that Lemieux has been avoiding him.

"Now I believe he took this fight because he thinks my hand is (injured) and he thinks he has an advantage," said Stevens. "My hand is perfectly fine.

"He's going to think it's (injured) until he gets busted upside the head with it."

A win would be big for either fighter's career. Lemieux is a favourite of the HBO specialty channel that will air the bout in the U.S. (it's on pay per view in Canada) but needs a win to get back in the world title picture.

Defeating a former world champion like Lemieux would do the same for Stevens.

The winner could get a shot at perhaps the hottest fighter in the sport, Saul (Canelo) Alvarez of Mexico, who is also promoted by Golden Boy. Another shot at Golovkin could also be in the offing.

"I'm in the world title picture already, but this will just give me more credibility," said Lemieux. "It's a fan-friendly fight.

"I want to show the fans what I can do. It has potential to be fight of the year or knockout of the year. We'll see how Stevens takes the punishment."

Lemieux's manager Camille Estephan said it should be the type of bout that could be held in a phone booth because both like to go straight at their opponents.

"It will not have any dancing, any running or any ducking," said Estephan. "I'll bet it will be the knockout of the year."

He said HBO chose the venue and he has no problem with having Lemieux fight on the road.

"A lot of Montreal fans will go down. We have busloads planning to go down there. It's good," he said.

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press