Lemieux, N'Dam tangle for vacant middleweight title

The middleweight division is red-hot.

Popular attraction and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cotto is the champion and getting set for a fall defense in a megafight with Mexican star Canelo Alvarez. There is also Gennady Golovkin, boxing's good boy. He is a growing attraction and an absolute wrecking machine who is knocking out everyone in his path while continuing to defend his belt.

Now it is Montreal's David Lemieux, an exciting puncher who also makes fan-friendly fights, who can set himself up for possible big business with those stars down the road if he can turn back former titleholder Hassan N'Dam and win a vacant world title on Saturday night (Fox Sports 2, 10 ET) at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

"It's something I've known, I've understood and I'm ready for it," Lemieux said of the possible big fights. "My name has been in people's ears. So [Saturday] will signify earning the right to have my name out there with the top of the world. It's extremely important. Of course, every fight is extremely important, but especially this one.

"I've been waiting for a long time to be able to become a world champion. It is my time, and I've been working since I was a young kid at this to be where I am today."

In 2011, Lemieux, then a rising prospect with loads of potential, suffered consecutive losses -- a seventh-round knockout to Marco Antonio Rubio in a fight he had otherwise dominated and a split decision to former junior middleweight titlist and Montreal rival Joachim Alcine. Many left Lemieux for dead after those losses, believing he would never fulfill his potential.

But Lemieux has won eight fights in a row since and now will face N'Dam for the 160-pound world title stripped from legally troubled Jermain Taylor in February.

The 26-year-old Lemieux (33-2, 31 KOs), one of boxing's biggest pure punchers, is coming off perhaps his most impressive performance in December, when he made his American debut at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, as an HBO headliner and knocked out battle-tested former two-time title challenger Gabriel Rosado in the 10th round of a dominant showing.

In January, Lemieux signed with Golden Boy and now he's getting a shot at a belt.

"Everything is kind of coming into perfection for this fight," Lemieux said. "I'm extremely confident in this fight and I know what to expect with Hassan N'Dam, for I understand his boxing abilities. I understand everything about him. I've watched him. We studied him very well.

"I know his strengths, and I know his weaknesses. And I know my strength, and I know my weaknesses. There's nothing I am concerned about in this fight with what I am doing today and every day. It's going to be great. Two hungry guys -- one much hungrier than the other. I'm willing to do all the damage, and on [Saturday] I'm going to open a lot of eyes. It's going to be very exciting."

Said Oscar De La Hoya, Lemieux's co-promoter: "He has an explosive style. He's hungry. He's determined. He's ready to go."

N'Dam (31-1, 18 KOs), 31, a native of Cameroon living in France, lost his title by unanimous decision to Peter Quillin at the Barclays Center in October 2012. Although N'Dam went the distance, Quillin dropped him six times. N'Dam has won four bouts in a row since, including a one-sided decision against former title challenger Curtis Stevens, whom he knocked down, in October.

But considering Lemieux is a much bigger puncher than Quillin and Quillin floored N'Dam time and again, it's no wonder Lemieux is a heavy favorite, especially since he's also fighting at home. Lemieux said even though N'Dam hit the deck often against Quillin, he is taking nothing for granted.

"I'm not underestimating him, and I would never compare myself to any other fighters, especially not to Peter Quillin," Lemieux said. "He's a good fighter but my abilities are very different, and I'm sure that any athlete can get knocked down.

"I'm going to hurt them regardless if it is an undefeated [titleholder] who has never been knocked down or some guy who has been knocked down. To me, it makes no difference because I have one goal in my mind. It's to destroy and to be able to do it the best way I can throughout the whole fight. If it doesn't happen in the first round, or the fifth, or the sixth, I'll still try to the 12th. There's always going to be patience from my side."

N'Dam said that the performance against Quillin should be discounted.

"I've explained this many times to people and this is, I hope, the last time I'll have to explain it, because my career is moving forward and not looking backwards," N'Dam said. "I fought Peter Quillin without being prepared. I had only a three-week notice and I didn't even do any sparring. The only reason I took this fight with a three-week notice is because [the WBO] threatened to strip me from my belt, and since I am a man, if I was to lose my title, I thought I might as well lose it in the ring.

"I had no strategy to beat Peter Quillin. I just had to improvise and fight with my heart, which I think I did very well. Today, this situation is very different. My team changed. My training camp is much better. I am steady in my head to do a brilliant fight."

As happy as Lemieux is with the way things are going leading into the fight, it has seemingly been the opposite for N'Dam.

First, he is not happy about facing Lemieux. He claims Lemieux does not deserve the opportunity to fight him for the belt. N'Dam was supposed to challenge Taylor but after he was stripped, the IBF went down its rankings to find the next leading available contender. Former titleholder Felix Sturm turned down the fight and moved up in weight. Billy Joe Saunders, with a chance to fight for another belt, also turned it down. Lemieux then accepted.

"I just have a message for David Lemieux -- man, you better get ready because the spot you're in, the challenger spot you're in, you didn't earn it," N'Dam said. "You got it by chance, by luck."

Said Lemieux: "Well, that's only going to make him look foolish when I beat him. There's no luck in boxing. It's a hard man's work. It's life or death in the ring. It's not a game. I've earned my right to be where I am. So, whatever his comment is, I disregard it and I don't concern myself with his opinion."

Then there is the money. Golden Boy won the purse bid for the bout in April for just $102,000, with each boxer entitled to 50 percent. However, Lemieux, based on his deal with Golden Boy, will earn much more, which has angered N'Dam, even though he turned an offer of more than $300,000 -- a shocking decision -- from promoter King Sports to roll the dice at a purse bid. Golden Boy was the only bidder. King Sports, which already made him a big offer, didn't bid.

"I know everyone is talking about the fact that I am unhappy with the purse that I am getting for the fight. Of course, I am not very happy because I've heard several comments coming from my opponent's camp saying that he's going to have the largest purse in his career," N'Dam said. "I would like the rules for the purse to be respected, and that is the purse must be split at 50-50, and there's no additional money. I don't want to talk about that anymore."

And there are also the officials. N'Dam and manager Gary Hyde are steamed that the referee (Marlon B. Wright) and one judge (Benoit Roussel) are from Quebec, which they believe gives Lemieux an unfair advantage. Despite the issues, N'Dam said he is ready to fight.

"I'm happy that this fight is taking place because I was sick of waiting for this," he said. "Before David Lemieux, two other boxers refused to fight me. The fact that David Lemieux accepted to fight me was a relief. I'm just waiting with impatience for [Saturday]."

Lemieux said he doesn't plan to let N'Dam hang around in the ring.

"If you blink, you might miss it," he said. "It's going to be a great night and very explosive. I'm actually very excited and very happy to be fighting Hassan N'Dam."