By Cliff Rold
It might have been bigger a couple of years ago. It’s not certain it would have been more fun.
A couple years ago, when Jean Pascal reigned as the Light Heavyweight Champion and Lucian Bute a titlist at Super Middleweight, the chance was there for an intriguing clash with high stakes. This Saturday, with both men having losses in their recent past, their titles behind them…
…well, it’s still plenty intriguing. It’s also likely more a high wire act than an earlier showdown would have been. Neither man can afford to lose.
Bute, off a shelling at the hands of Carl Froch and a narrow escape against rugged Denis Grachev, can be perceived as damaged goods. A loss on Saturday could confirm his best days are behind him.
Pascal, despite being the rare man to visibly rock the great Bernard Hopkins in both their fights, including two knockdowns in the first, couldn’t figure the old man out. A loss to Bute would push him far back in line.
Both these Canadian imports are putting it on the line in front of what should be a fiery crowd on their mutual adopted home turf at the Bell Centre in Montreal (HBO, 10:15 EST/PST). With the current king at 175 lbs., Adonis Stevenson, also regularly putting butts in Montreal seats, the chance for more domestic warfare is on the horizon.
But only for one of them.
Let’s go the report cards.
Previous Titles: WBC Light Heavyweight (2009-11, 4 Defenses); Lineal/Ring Light Heavyweight (2010-11, 1 Defense)
Height: 5’10 ½
Weight: 175 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 176.4 lbs.
Hails from: Laval, Quebec, Canada (Born in Haiti)
Record: 28-2-1, 17 KO
Rankings: #3 (TBRB, BoxingScene), #4 (ESPN), #5 (BoxRec), #10 (Ring)
Record in Major Title Fights: 4-2-1, 1 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 5 (Carl Froch L12; Adrian Diaconu UD12, UD12; Silvio Branco TKO10; Chad Dawson Tech. Dec. 11; Bernard Hopkins D12, L12)
Previous Titles: IBF Super Middleweight (2007-12, 9 Defenses)
Height: 6’1 ½
Weight: 173.6 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 167.95 lbs.
Hails from: Laval, Quebec, Canada (Born in Romania)
Record: 31-1, 24 KO, 1 KOBY
Rankings: At 168 – #3 (Ring), #6 (ESPN)
Record in Major Title Fights: 10-1, 8 KO, 1 KOBY
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 7 (Dingaan Thobela TKO4; Sakio Bika UD12; Alejandro Berrio TKO11; William Joppy TKO10; Brian Magee TKO10; Glen Johnson UD12; Carl Froch TKO by 5)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Pascal A-; Bute B+
Pre-Fight: Power – Pascal B; Bute B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Pascal C; Bute C
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Pascal B; Bute B-
This one looked like it might not happen when Bute was forced to pull out last year with an injury but good things come to those who wait and all that. Bute was saucy in the final build this week, no-showing the press. It didn’t go over well but may speak to his mentality for the fight.
That could be very good for fans.
Of the two men, Bute is the better boxer. The heavy-handed southpaw can be rangy, with solid hand speed and power to the body. He has had issues with durability but his x’s and o’s are pretty good offensively. He gets in trouble on defense. Bute has never been hard to find. Librado Andrade broke him down over the course of their first fight, losing rounds but coming close to winning anyways. Froch blitzed him. Grachev had him reeling.
Pascal has superior explosiveness and speed compared to any of those men. Pascal opponents often react like they didn’t realize he’d be as fast as he is. Dawson and Hopkins (first time) both struggled to adjust to him. However, Pascal can be adjusted too and that’s largely his fault. The Haitian-born battler is inconsistent in his output and that can create scoring deficits. Froch, in a fan friendly war, outworked him in a brawl.
While Pascal possesses good power, there are few knockouts of high quality competition. He needs his bursts of offense to freeze Bute and keep him wary. His flurries have to steal rounds. If Bute gets comfortable, Pascal could find himself chasing the taller, longer man.
Pascal seems to be a prohibitive favorite this weekend and sometimes groupthink can be too easily brought about by last impressions. Had this fight happened before Froch-Bute, wouldn’t Bute have been favored? It just feels like Bute is being written off too easy. Losing to Froch is no shame…but then there was the Grachev outing. Bute just didn’t look like the same man anymore and all the focused preparation in the world isn’t likely to take wear off the tires. Yes, Pascal can be a technical mess sometimes and his output is erratic. Yes, Bute is the more skilled boxer. It doesn't matter. Pascal is quicker, Bute's chin is suspect, and Pascal has proved multiple times to be the tougher and more durable man. Pascal will find that chin before twelve rounds pass and do enough for a stoppage at some point in the second half of the fight.
Report Card Picks 2014: 0-0
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org