There was plenty to fight for but very little fighting last night, as Jean Pascal scored a 12-round unanimous decision over Lucian Bute at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec.
While billed by some as a Superfight (!), many of the characteristics of such an event were missing from Pascal-Bute. Neither man, for example, had any momentum heading into the bout. Pascal’s last big fight was in May, 2011, when he was mind-melded and tamed in a rematch against Bernard “Ancient Alien” Hopkins; and Bute, pounded out in five rounds by Carl Froch in May, 2012, spent the last 14 months on the shelf with a hand injury. These were not two locomotives colliding so much as a couple of rusty Saturns jockeying for a parking space. Nor was there anything like a mandate for the fight outside of Quebec: Pascal-Bute took place in a division whose intrigue lay in other fights and other fighters (and that remains the case after Saturday night).
But a Superfight (!) is also supposed to resonate with the paying public. Pascal-Bute, as shown by the almost 21,000 fans who churned the turnstiles in the Bell Centre, certainly did that. A Superfight (!) should be a high stakes affair, and with both men fighting not only for the distinction of being the best fighter in Laval, Quebec—a title that matters in the province’s rich fighting culture—but for relevance in a division passing them by, the stakes could hardly be higher. Finally, a Superfight (!) should deliver a violent and dramatic spectacle. Unfortunately, as far as entertainment goes, Pascal-Bute was anything but “super.”
A member of the generation that grew up idolizing Roy Jones, Jr., Pascal, left hand dangling at his waist, right hand cocked just above his sternum, began the fight leaping in with lead rights to the body and spastic flurries upstairs. Bute did little more than paw timidly in response, and even in those moments when he scored, any retaliation—effective or otherwise—forced him to bail and reset. Yes, it made sense that Bute—schooled at catching opponents coming in—would look to maintain distance; but from the beginning he was timid. Counterpunching demands a degree of danger, a willingness to bait and linger, and Bute showed very little interest in doing either.
Did Pascal’s awkwardness unnerve Bute? Was there still water in Bute’s lungs from being waterboarded by Froch? These are questions only Bute, Laval, Quebec, via Romania, can answer. That he looked decidedly less confident than the fighter who subdued the awkward and dirty Sakio Biko, however, is impossible to deny. Anxious and inactive, Bute allowed Pascal’s sparse but earnest blows to carry the action.
Notorious for gassing in fights, Pascal, Laval, Quebec via Haiti, showcased improved conditioning over the late rounds, which reflects both the level of comfort he found against Bute and the calming presence of Jones in his corner. Pascal’s activity picked up with his confidence, and while he was hardly going for broke, he was controlling the fight and firing back whenever Bute found the mark. Already leery of engaging, this threat of recompense seemed to diminish the already shrinking Bute further. That Pascal, 175, could strike his opponent with lead right uppercuts, that he could throw both fists at Bute simultaneously like the Drunken Master, and execute these brazen moves without ceding the least penalty, showed just how lost Bute was.
Implored by his corner to pursue the knockout he so obviously needed, Bute, 173 1/2, charged out for the twelfth, pinned Pascal in the corner, and lashed away. Despite looking wobbly, Pascal managed to spin out and return the favor. Asked whether he was hurt in the only heated exchanges of the night, Pascal demurred, saying that he chose to look vulnerable to help sell a rematch (perhaps determining that twelve more rounds with Bute are preferable to a scheduled twelve with Adonis Stevenson or Sergey Kovalev). Offering far too little, far too late, Bute, now 31-2 (24), dropped a unanimous decision to Pascal by scores of 116-112, 117-110, 117-111.
Now the boxing king of Laval, Quebec, Pascal, 29-2-1 (17), having staved off the ever-creeping promise of irrelevance, was pressed about his future plans, and specifically a fight with fellow transplanted Haitian, Adonis Stevenson. Rather than entertain participating in yet another Superfight (!), one that would rival Pascal-Bute for glory in Quebec and outdo it in action (though not duration), Pascal merely praised Stevenson for his recent success. Sergey Kovalev, another HBO-friendly fighter whose stock rises with every fallen opponent, was not even mentioned. Make of that what you will.