Tonight at the Bell Centre, a Montreal showdown takes place between Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute. And for Bute, much more than the NABF light heavyweight title or city bragging rights are on the line. Simply put, for the 33-year-old native of Romania, this is a referendum on his whole career.
It wasn't all that long ago when Bute was one of the premier attractions in all of boxing and the franchise fighter of Montreal. The only entity putting more asses in the seats at the Bell Centre was the Canadiens during these salad days that for some reason seem so long ago. It's 2014 now but as of late 2011, Bute - who then held the IBF super middleweight title - was considered an elite 168-pounder and one of the better all-around fighters in the sport.
But all that came crashing to a halt on May 26th, 2012 in Nottingham, England when he was beaten into submission by the hammer shots of the unyielding Carl Froch in five rounds. It was the type of loss that doesn't just blemish the record; it seemingly scars the fighter for life and it makes us all think differently of him. Bute didn't just lose for the first time; it was worse than that. Outside the safe confines of the Quebec province, he was battered, beaten and perhaps, worst of all, exposed.
“Exposed” is a harsh word thrown around too often by boxing fans when a popular fighter tastes defeat. Sometimes a loss is just that, a loss. A bad night at the office or an occasion in which one world-class prizefighter simply runs into someone just a little bit better than him. But this defeat was so conclusive, so crushing, you might have come away with at least a small thought in the back of your mind that maybe - just maybe - he was exposed for what he was.
A guy good enough to beat the likes of Librado Andrade twice (the first time with some help from Interbox's house referee, Marlon B. Wright and a slow count), Brian Magee, Jesse Brinkley, Edison Miranda, William Joppy and Glen Johnson. Has-beens and never-weres carefully selected for Bute because quite frankly, they weren't good enough to topple him. At this stage, it didn't really matter who Bute faced at the Bell Centre or the Pepsi Coliseum in Quebec City, he was a two-fisted ATM machine for everyone involved and was guaranteed to pack in 15-20,000 patrons every time he fought. There was no need for him to get involved in the “Super Six” scrum; those were for the prizefighting peasants. Bute already had his own kingdom.
But as he was practically beheaded by Froch, it reminded you of Milli Vanilli's attempt to actually sing after it was discovered they were lip-synching the whole time(hey, blame it on the rain). This fight was so lopsided and disastrous that a rematch clause was never close to being enforced. It's hard to sell a massacre more than once.
There is always a natural cynicism or suspicion of fighters who are draws because the reality is it's not always about the actual ability or merit of that individual. It’s oftentimes more about their marketability. Yeah, boxers who can sell tickets are protected and sheltered for as long as possible. It's a tradition that's been around as long as the mandatory eight-count. Bute resonated in this region and he quickly became a booming industry. This weekend’s bout is still viable locally because Bute is still a brand (albeit perhaps a fading one) and Pascal has also become a significant draw in this region. Perhaps in no other jurisdiction would this fight be so wildly popular and commercially successful
Yeah, these might be two flawed fighters but they are Quebec’s flawed fighters and they will come out in droves to support them. Pascal is listed as the slight betting favorite (about -150 for those who care) although it's hard to find fans who are actually picking Bute to win this fight.
For Pascal, full-blown supremacy in Montreal is at stake and another crack at a light heavyweight title. For Bute, well, just his whole career and how we will look back at it.
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