by David P. Greisman
The fans still packed the Bell Centre, more than 20,000 of them spending the evening in Montreal watching a card headlined by their province’s two most popular boxers of recent years. Many still cheered for Jean Pascal, and many more still roared for Lucian Bute.
It was a big fight, one that had been spoken of for years. But it was a big fight in name only — and only because of the names involved.
In truth, it was a fight that came far too late.
And because of that, it was a fight that produced far too little excitement, lacking much in the way of action and drama.
Years ago, this would’ve been a bout between two boxers at or near the top of their respective divisions. Now it was a match between two men who had nearly bottomed out.
Years ago, the pairing hadn’t happened because each felt he had something better on the horizon. Now it was a meeting that might as well happen before the sun set on one (or both) of their careers.
It’s amazing how quickly fortunes can change.
Pascal turned pro barely nine years ago, in February 2005. His first world title shot came five years ago, at the end of 2008, when he challenged super middleweight Carl Froch. Pascal lost a unanimous decision. Six months later, he moved up to light heavyweight, topped Adrian Diaconu and picked up his first major belt.
Pascal defended it successfully in two more appearances in 2009, then met Chad Dawson in August 2010 in a significant match, one that would decide who would be considered the true champion of the 175-pound division. Pascal defeated Dawson at the Bell Centre in front of an announced crowd of 8,122. Those fans were loud with their support for Pascal — and deafening when Bute was shown on the big screen.
It was clear who the top star was. Bute drew the bigger crowds, all while he worked his way up the 168-pound division’s rankings. He had turned pro in late 2003, won his world title toward the end of 2007, then picked up two wins apiece in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Bute had been left out of Showtime’s “Super Six” tournament and was waiting for his shot at the tournament’s winner, hoping to prove his superiority among the super middleweights. He’d been fortunate to survive the final round of a 2008 bout with Librado Andrade and had spent the years since rebuilding his reputation and confidence (including a knockout over Andrade in a rematch in 2009).
Pascal, meanwhile, sought to capitalize on his own recent success. He followed the Dawson bout up with a defense against Bernard Hopkins, an aging former champion who was coming to Quebec for the challenge. It was a major event and drew a large crowd, one that witnessed clues as to just how brief Pascal’s reign would be.
Hopkins was knocked down twice early, but battled back and boxed well, holding Pascal to a draw. That was December 2010. They met in a rematch five months later, and this time Hopkins succeeded in dethroning Pascal. Pascal wouldn’t fight again for another year and a half, thanks to a pair of injuries forcing a pair of cancellations.
Bute won three bouts in 2011, all three airing on Showtime, which by then was seeking to set him up for the coming conclusion of the “Super Six.” Andre Ward beat Froch in the tournament finale that December. But before Ward and Bute could come to a contractual agreement, Bute and Froch signed to face each other. (Bute-Froch aired on EPIX, and Ward signed with HBO.)
Froch demolished Bute in less than five rounds. Bute returned toward the end of 2012, taking a somewhat shaky victory over Denis Grachev. Pascal wrapped up that year with a return win over Aleksy Kuziemski.
By the time 2013 began, Bute was no longer considered one of the best super middleweights, and many wondered whether he was done, questioning if his ranking had been an illusion created against lesser opposition, and if the chin that had been cracked by Andrade had ultimately been shattered by Froch.
Pascal, meanwhile, had his limitations exposed against Hopkins. It remained to be seen whether he could return to prominence.
Pascal and Bute had also long been kept apart because they are under different promoters, Pascal with Yvon Michel and Bute with Interbox. For a while, neither company would want to risk its star losing, particularly not when that loss would be someone else’s reward. Now it made much more sense to do business with each other. Pascal-Bute was announced in March 2013 and set for that May.
Bute got hurt in training camp just weeks before the bout, which was postponed to January 2014. Pascal took an interim bout last September, stopping George Blades.
Their paths finally crossed in the ring this past Saturday. Pascal, at 31, was 28-2-1 with 17 knockouts. Bute, 33, was 31-1 with 24 knockouts.
Their match had marinated far too long. Neither man was fresh, and Bute appears to be reaching his expiration date.
If it was a fight for the history books, then it was far from a page-turner. It failed to kick into a higher gear until the final round. There weren’t any significant swings in momentum until then. There wasn’t even much significant swinging.
Bute, who hadn’t fought in 14 months and was stepping up in weight to test his chin, did plenty of feinting and not much fighting. CompuBox credited him with landing just 104 punches and throwing 313 over the course of the first 11 rounds, an average of about 10 landed and 28 thrown per round. In terms of power shots during those 11 rounds, he went 63 of 179, an average of about 6 landed and 15 thrown per round.
“I do not know why I did not let my hands go earlier in the fight,” Bute was quoted as saying afterward. “I’m disappointed.”
Pascal, who has been criticized as being a frontrunner with stamina problems, didn’t come out with a head of steam to try to make Bute crumble early, and he wasn’t much more active than Bute overall. He seemed more interested in emulating and impressing his idol, former light heavyweight great Roy Jones Jr., who had worked with Pascal in training camp and was in his corner on fight night. Pascal tried several of Jones’ tricks, including lunging lead right hands, and even once looking away from Bute for several seconds before throwing a punch.
Pascal did have moments. In the fourth, he landed a good right hand and followed up with several clubbing and illegal left hooks behind Bute’s head. In the eighth, Bute went to the canvas on what was correctly ruled a slip; Pascal had backed Bute up with a right hand, and soon he threw a left, then a right hand that went behind Bute’s head while their legs were crossed up.
Bute actually took Pascal’s punches rather well. Yet Pascal was the one piling up the points.
The only blood drawn was in the 10th round, when a clash of heads opened a cut between Bute’s eyebrows.
Pascal wasn’t embarrassing Bute or showing him up. Then again, Bute hadn’t shown up himself.
Bute’s trainer continued to exhort his fighter into action. Bute’s best moments came quite late. Toward the end of the 11th, he hit Pascal with a good left hand, though Pascal soon returned fire. And in the final round, Pascal came out with his gloves down and quickly put himself in a corner, covering up and allowing himself to get hit. Perhaps he was again playing possum with Bute, or perhaps he was legitimately tired, but Bute was able to throw a barrage of shots without interruption, landing several cleanly.
CompuBox saw Bute throwing 98 punches in that round, nearly a quarter of his output on the night, and landing 44. The action actually got to the point that the referee cautioned Pascal, “Gotta show me something, Jean.”
Pascal eventually did, and the fight soon ended with the result that had long before been clear — Pascal won by unanimous decision, the judges seeing it 118-110, 117-111 and 116-112, giving him 10, 9 and 8 rounds.
Sometimes big fights don’t fulfill expectations. It’s possible that a bout between Pascal and Bute always would have played out the way it ended up going. Yet it seems likely that what happened can be attributed to them being faded fighters.
It was a big fight in name only — and only because of what these fighters’ names had once represented.
In truth, the super middleweight and light heavyweight divisions have long since passed Bute and Pascal by. Ward remains the best at 168, still followed by Froch at No. 2. And at 175, there’s another Quebec-based boxer who’s becoming a big star: Adonis Stevenson, the 36-year-old power puncher who became the division’s true champion last year when he scored a technical knockout of Chad Dawson with a single left hand.
Stevenson has the same promoter as Pascal. And he now has an obligation to defend his sanctioning body title against Pascal at some point in the future.
The fans will pack the Bell Centre for that bout, should it happen. There’s still value in Pascal’s name. Stevenson doesn’t necessarily need it, though, not so long as he continues to plow through opponents, and especially not if he ends up facing and beating Sergey Kovalev, a fellow bruiser titleholder.
Stevenson and Kovalev shouldn’t let their meeting wait for too long or until too late. Though faded boxers can still put on a good fight and can still draw great crowds, they also can disappoint — and then disappear.
It’s better to sell a fight on what you are doing, rather than on what you had once done. Pascal’s and Bute’s past accomplishments didn’t mean much in the ring this past Saturday.
The 10 Count
1. Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute both mentioned the idea of a rematch in their post-fight interviews.
No need. At all.
Not yet, at least.
Bute’s going to need to show much, much more in his subsequent fights for us to even begin entertaining the idea of a sequel to something that wasn’t entertaining.
It is the most talk about a rematch based on what happened in the 12th round of a bout since Sergio Martinez’s win over Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
Except in the case of Martinez-Chavez, it was to Sergio’s credit that he was making Julio look bad for 11 rounds, and it was to Chavez’s credit that he eventually caught, hurt and dropped Martinez in the final round.
In the case of Pascal-Bute, it was Bute who can largely be blamed for looking so bad for 11 rounds, and it Pascal who can be blamed for essentially allowing Bute to tee off on him in the final round.
2. Proof that wisdom comes with age, as brought to you by Roy Jones Jr.:
Jan. 18, 2014: Heavyweights Mike Perez and Carlos Takam clash heads, opening up a sizable gash on Perez’s right eyebrow. Perez drops his gloves and his head. Takam, rather than attacking an opponent who wasn’t defending himself, walks forward and taps Perez on the shoulder, seemingly as an apology. Jones, working as an analyst for HBO, commends Takam, noting that boxing is a brotherhood and that fighters shouldn’t take cheap shots at each other.
March 21, 1997: Jones is defending his light heavyweight title against Montell Griffin. He hurts Griffin, who takes a knee. Jones then hits Griffin with a right hand and a left hook. The referee counts Griffin out, but the result is ultimately (and properly) overturned to a disqualification.
3. HBO is doing a “Road to Chavez-Vera 2” documentary/commercial ahead of the March 1 fight, which is a rematch to last September’s controversial bout.
That controversy should make for good drama. The weight limit for Chavez-Vera 1 kept on getting raised, and Chavez ultimately ended up weighing in as a light heavyweight and coming into the ring as a cruiserweight. Despite this, Vera put forth a fight that some observers felt he deserved to win, but which the judges saw in Chavez’s favor.
It’s not going to happen, but I wish that HBO could put Chavez on a scale each day and chronicle how (and if) the weight loss is going for this rematch. That would be some truly compelling television.
4. Middleweight prospect Antoine Douglas, who fought on last week’s quadruple-header of “ShoBox: The New Generation,” is one of those fighters who makes a noise with seemingly every punch he throws.
Antoine Douglas is the new Antwone Smith.
Douglas scored a unanimous decision over Marquis Davis, and the fight included a notable sequence in which Davis had a tooth knocked out, which he then kicked out of the ring.
Steve Farhood, working on commentary, had this great line: “We’ve just been told that the tooth has been returned to Davis’ manager. A chain of custody has been established.”
5. Marquis Davis’ pain was his own. The pain caused by Antoine Douglas’ noise-making was a collective experience.
In other words, Douglas’ bark was worse than Davis’ bite…
6. Zab Judah is one of those fighters who keeps getting chances despite the increasing number of times he’s come up short. He’d seemingly resuscitated his career in defeat in the first half of 2013, losing a competitive battle to 140-pound champion Danny Garcia.
That might be his last hurrah, given his poor performance at the end of last year against Paulie Malignaggi, a bout that Malignaggi won by clear decision. Judah didn’t appear to have much to offer, something that Malignaggi attributed to the way he backed Judah up throughout the bout.
Judah’s team is now seeking to spin, hoping that a different explanation will be reason enough for Judah to get yet another chance.
“He had some sort of flu. He was very sick that week,” said Yoel Judah, Zab’s father, in an interview with BoxingScene’s Chris Robinson. “The Friday before the fight, he got really sick and cramped up. He couldn’t pull the trigger. He should have knocked Paulie out in four rounds.”
It might be true. It might not be. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. Judah still has enough name recognition that he’ll probably be back in the ring in 2014, as the B-side against another contender or prospect.
7. In my dream world — trust me, it’s a nice place — we wouldn’t merely see fledgling boxing promoter Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson rap prior to one of his fighters’ bouts. We’d also see another rapper walk out with the opponent, battle rapping with “50” prior to the boxing match beginning.
But that dream is a long way away. And for the moment, so, too, is Jackson’s chance of getting a significant foothold in the boxing business. His hopes were dashed when the partnership he envisioned with Floyd Mayweather — and their friendship — fell apart.
The best move Jackson made last year was signing James Kirkland, who had parted with Golden Boy Promotions. Kirkland returned this past December after a 20-month layoff, fighting Glen Tapia on HBO and scoring a sixth-round technical knockout.
As for the other SMS Promotions fighters?
Lightweight Yuriorkis Gamboa fought just once in 2013, failing to entertain in a June win on HBO over Darleys Perez. Jackson’s been busy on Twitter calling out 130-pound titleholder Mikey Garcia. Gamboa doesn’t seem likely to headline his own major broadcast and needs another name fighter to give him a shot.
Super middleweight Andre Dirrell fought once in February, winning in his first bout back from a 13-month layoff. He didn’t fight again in 2013, pulling out of a planned April main event on ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights.”
Former featherweight titleholder Billy Dib lost his belt to Evgeny Gradovich in March via split decision on “Friday Night Fights,” returned in July with a tougher than expected win over Mike Oliver on “Friday Night Fights,” and then got beaten up and stopped by Gradovich in their rematch, which was on the pay-per-view undercard of Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios.
Those are the big names. It doesn’t appear that former 122- and 126-pound titleholder Celestino Caballero is part of Jackson’s stable anymore; he’s not listed either on the company’s website or in its press releases.
And then there are the prospects: lightweight Mark Davis won twice last year and is now 18-0 (5 KOs); lightweight Ryan Martin turned pro last year and won both of his bouts; junior welterweight Luis Olivares turned pro last year and won all six of his bouts; and junior welterweight Donte Strayhorn turned pro last year, won his first bout, lost his second and then won his next three to move to 4-1 (1 KO).
8. The BoxRec database shows Jackson’s company as having been the promoter for six shows last year, many of them alongside promoter Lou DiBella.
It’s not the big splash Jackson was initially looking for. Achieving that will be much more difficult given today’s landscape, with the two major networks working largely with the two biggest promoters. And it’d be easier for Jackson to get his own broadcast slots if he had more big names, and if the big names he does have fought more often.
Boxing, and the boxers themselves, will be better off if more promoters are doing well, putting on successful shows and turning profits. It’ll be interesting to see how SMS Promotions does in 2014. There are lots of other smaller promoters in this sport, but Jackson’s company piques curiosity because of the storyline behind its founding, and the celebrity at its helm.
9. Voice of America ran a story last week on a blind 41-year-old man in Uganda who lost his eyesight 17 years ago but nevertheless competes as a boxer.
“Several years ago he found another blind boxer in Tanzania, and the two fought a match,” the article said. “But most of his sparring partners are simply blindfolded.”
It’s quite the story. Yet given the controversial nature of our sport, the most amazing thing would be not only that the boxer is blind, but that the judges are not…
10. Apparently Jim Watt — the former lightweight titleholder now working as a color commentator in the United Kingdom on Sky Sports boxing broadcasts — somehow had Bute defeating Pascal by a close 115-114.
I guess his scoring shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, though. After all, in terms of electricity, one Watt is very dim…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org