MONTREAL - Canada's David Lemieux has some big-name backing going into his first shot at a world boxing title.
Former welterweght star Oscar de la Hoya and ex-middleweight king Bernard Hopkins were both on hand Thursday to support Lemieux ahead of his showdown with French veteran Hassan N'Dam for the vacant International Boxing Federation middleweight title.
Lemieux (33-2) and N'Dam (31-1) will meet Saturday night at the Bell Centre in a bout that promises high exposure in the U.S. on the Fox network, although it is on pay per view in Canada.
De la Hoya, whose Golden Boy promotion company signed Lemieux in December, feels the flashy Montreal fighter has all it takes to be a boxing star and sees big bouts against top names if he can get past N'Dam, which is not a given even if Lemieux will fight in front of a home crowd with local referee Marlon B. Wright as third man in the ring.
"He's an exciting fighter and a very marketable fighter, the whole package," said de la Hoya. "I believe David can go a long way because he's willing to fight the very best.
"He's talking about unifying the titles, about fighting Triple G (WBA champion Gennady Golovkin), going against (Mexican star) Canelo Alvarez. This is the attitude I love. This is the type of fighter that we at Golden Boy love promoting.
"But first things first. Saturday night, he has to win."
If he wins, it will have taken Lemieux nine years, as the old saying goes, to become an overnight sensation.
In his first incarnation as a reckless youngster fro 2007 to 2011, Lemieux ran up a string of quick knockout wins until he was stopped in seven rounds by Marco Antonio Rubio. In his next bout, he lost a decision to over-the-hill fellow Montrealer Joachim Alcine.
Then he split with long time trainer Russ Anber, whose attempts to introduce defence into Lemieux's game fell on deaf ears. Under new trainer Marc Ramsay, he is somewhat more complete, but the 26-year-old still takes chances and gets hit more often than recommended.
But his last outing, a 10-round TKO of Gabriel Rosato in New York, impressed many observers.
"My defence is my offence," Lemieux said. "I like to put on a good show.
"Sometimes I take risks, but it's always for the fans and they love it. I'm a crowd pleasing guy."
Added de la Hoya: "For a young man who has so many fights under his belt, he's just getting started. He's still learning and growing, which is very exciting because we haven't seen the best of David Lemieux."
N'Dam, 31, and trainer Mous Ouicher were appalled at the purse (US$51,000 each) and having a ref from Montreal.
But they are confident N'Dam has the experience and the all-around game to win. The Cameroon native has held the WBA and WBO middleweight belts, losing the latter in his only career defeat in 2012 to Peter Quillin. He has won his last four, all away from home, but hasn't had an A-list of opponents.
"He doesn't underestimate Lemieux," Ouicher said. "He didn't get 33 wins by luck. But the only serious opponents he's faced were Rubio and Alcine, and you know the results."
"The purse is an embarrassment to the sport for a world title fight. But the reason we accepted it was because we're here for the belt."