This post was written by Andrew Fruman.
It may be a few years too late, but there is still plenty to get excited about when Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute—although perhaps no longer their best versions of themselves–clash tonight at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Both men desperately need a win to resurrect their fortunes, while a crowd of over 20,000 will make for a roaring atmosphere. This is easily one of the biggest fights in Canadian boxing history. The last time Montreal’s premiere fight venue (back then it was the Forum) was sold out for a clash among locals was way back in 1946, when Johnny Greco won the Canadian welterweight title from Dave Castilloux. In the decades since, there have been other local rivalries, usually starring the Hilton brothers, with Dave and Alex squaring off in several bouts against Stephane Ouellette in the late 90s.
Pascal and Bute were supposed to meet back in May, only for the latter to pull out weeks before the bout with a damaged left hand. That injury is said to be fully healed, though it’s Bute’s chin (and possibly a fragile psyche to go with it) that have people doubting his chances. His troubles against Librado Andrade sparked initial concerns back in 2008, but a brilliant performance in the rematch put those fears to rest for a time.
That was until Bute, 31-1 (24), met Carl Froch in May of 2012. It took just over thirteen minutes in a Nottingham ring for Bute’s reputation to come crashing down. Billed as the opener in a home-and-away series between Commonwealth attractions, the defeat Bute suffered was so devastating that plans for the return match back in Montreal were scuttled.
Seven months later, Bute was back in the ring, fighting on home soil and looking hesitant in an unconvincing decision victory over Denis Grachev. Determined, but slow and limited, Grachev was surprisingly able to dictate the fight, while Bute pecked away from the outside. It was only in the twelfth round, when he opened up, that Bute finally managed to separate himself from an opponent he once would have completely outclassed.
Now 33 years old and still looking for redemption, the southpaw will enter as a slight underdog when he takes on Pascal. The odds would have been far different before the Froch disaster, when Bute, a quick and classy boxer-puncher, was seen as a much more complete fighter than Pascal. But after shattering against Froch many believe that Bute, Laval, Quebec via Romania, might lack the durability to compete at the top level.
Pascal, 28-2-1 (17), has had his own troubles to overcome recently. His signature victory over Chad Dawson was followed by two less-than inspiring performances against hoary Bernard Hopkins. Against Hopkins, iffy stamina, along with a tendency to take complete rounds off, left Pascal a clear second-best to the old master. A rash of injuries followed. Pascal was forced to cancel a bout against Tavoris Cloud due to trouble with his right hand, and when he finally did return to the ring against Aleksy Kuziemski, a full 19 months after the second Hopkins fight, Pascal blew out his left shoulder.
The 31-year-old former light-heavyweight champion’s issues are less dramatic, and easier to forget than those of Bute. It’s hard to equate a less-than- spectacular work rate with the indelible images of Bute reeling against the ropes and out on his feet against Carl Froch. But it would be a mistake to discount Pascal’s shortcomings when looking at his chances of replicating what Froch did against Bute.
Pascal, Laval, Quebec, but originally from Haiti, will need to find the drive to press the action with real intensity. He will have to force “Le Tombeur” into uncomfortable positions if he’s to exploit Bute’s vulnerabilities. This mindset, however, has often been lacking in Pascal, and it will be interesting to see if he can summon the kind of effort required to throw Bute into disarray.
Whatever happens, the fight promises to be compelling viewing. Questions will be answered and flaws further exposed. The loser’s path will be that much farther away from redemption, and the winner, at least for one night, a star once more.