By Jake Donovan
American cable giant HBO has opted to revise formats for its 2014 season premiere, as their January 18 edition of "World Championship Boxing" will now run as a doubleheader in light of recent unforeseen developments affecting the show.
The card, which airs live from the Bell Centre in Montreal, is topped by the long-awaited light heavyweight showdown between adopted Canadian stars Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute. Original plans called for a tripleheader but took a hit when unbeaten light heavyweight prospect Eleider Alvarez was left without a dance partner; Thomas Oosthuizen suffered multiple scrapes and bruises in a recent motorcycle accident, and was deemed unfit to proceed with the fight.
Alvarez remains on the card in some capacity, though an opponent is still being sought.
The telecast will kick off at 10:15PM ET, beginning with a heavyweight showdown between unbeaten Mike Perez, a Cuba-born rising contender fighting out of Ireland, and France's Carlos Takam.
Perez made a splash in his HBO debut, though his win over Magomed Abdulsalamov coming at a heavy price. The lingering effects from the bruising 10-round affair left Abdulsalamov with a blood clot in his brain, forcing doctors to place him in a medically-induced coma to perform immediate brain surgery.
Abdulsalamov's health continues to improve, but is still undergoing extensive—and costly—rehabilitation. Perez is dedicating the January 18 fight in honor of the fallen Russian boxer.
Pascal and Bute were slated to fight last May, but the bout was postponed after Bute suffered a hand injury during training. Pascal (28-2-1, 17KO) wisely took a stay busy fight in September, stopping George Blades in five rounds for his second straight win since losing his lineal light heavyweight crown to Bernard Hopkins in their May '11 rematch.
Bute (31-1, 24KO) hasn't been as blessed. The former super middleweight titlist hasn't fought since Nov. '12, a hard-fought 12-round decision over Denis Grachev following his gutting 5th round knockout loss to Carl Froch that prior May.
The collapse versus Froch serves as the lone loss of his career, but also ended his super middleweight title reign after four years. The injury suffered last May required extensive rest and rehabilitation, putting him on the shelf for all of 2013 in terms of ring activity.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America.