by Cliff Rold
31-year old Romanian IBF Super Middleweight titlist Lucian Bute (30-0, 24 KO) of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, answered questions about what he could do against proven, top shelf opposition with a master class performance on Saturday night at the Pepsi Coliseum in Quebec City against former Light Heavyweight titlist Glen Johnson (51-16-2, 35 KO).
Bute earned a unanimous decision verdict with a clinic of smart boxing and stunning power punching, placing an exclamation point on a two year period where he sold the most tickets but watched the best fights take place in a “Super Six” Super Middleweight tournament he was not a part of.
The finals of the tournament come on December 17th. Whether the victor is WBA titlist Andrew Ward or WBC titlist Carl Froch, Bute made clear no man should call himself the best at Super Middleweight without facing him.
Both fighters came in below the division limit of 168 lbs., Bute at 167 ½ and Johnson at 166 ½. The referee was Mark Nelson.
Johnson showed his veteran poise, barely taking more than a step out from the corner at the opening bell, letting the anxious Bute come to him. Both men worked their jabs, the southpaw titlist Bute shooting the right at the body and Johnson firing his left when Bute’s lead right was settled at his waist. Bute landed a stiff left around the guard of Johnson just before the bell to end round one.
Rounds two and three were tactical affairs, Bute holding the advantage as Johnson struggled to figure out how to get any sort of offense going. Bute wasn’t doing a ton better, but his right jab and occasional lefts were more than enough to tally frames in his favor. The fourth round was more of the same until the halfway mark. Johnson landed a pair of rights to the body to get Bute’s attention. Bute would respond with a hard left before the bell.
Johnson improved more in the fifth, landing single hard rights throughout. The blows left opening for Bute to reply with the left and, while still a chess match, there was a feeling of drama for the first time since round one.
Bute was caught with some hard left jabs in the sixth and the occasional right. He didn’t shrink, answering with greater energy, volume, and noticeably more snap in his shots. In round seven, Bute showed off a range of skills, slipping, cracking with the lead right hook, and controlling Johnson with masterful footwork. Clearly in a zone, Bute extended his lead with style in the eighth and ninth, hurting Johnson in the latter with a left uppercut the crowd roared approval for.
Johnson had a minor rally in the tenth, though not enough to win the round, and was able to catch Bute with some stiff shots in the final minute of the twelfth. Otherwise, the fights final quarter went as the first three had. It was almost all Bute, almost all the time. To his credit, with the fight in the bag, Bute was still looking for a bomb to end matters early even in the closing seconds.
Johnson ultimately won only won round, on one scorecard. The final judge’s tallies favored Bute at 119-109 and a shutout 120-108 twice. The always-classy Bute spoke of his former sparring mate after the bout. “I have big respect for Glen Johnson. He’s a tough fighter, very good fighter, more experience; I’m very happy with my performance tonight.”
Johnson can take some solace in forcing Bute the distance for the first time in Bute’s last eight fights, dating back to October 2008. Only two of Bute’s ten title fights, now with nine successful defenses, have gone to the judges. Asked if he was disappointed to have gone the distance, Bute said no. “I’m very happy; the experience for me in this fight.” Through a translator, Bute added, “If I want to become a better fighter, I need fights like this.”
The thought of an even better Bute will surely bring sweat to the brows of future opponents. Bute stated he expects Ward to win the Super Six in December, that he will be in Atlantic City to watch the fight, and that he wants to face the winner. “That is my dream.”
Johnson, who has been frustrated over the years in losing close ones on the road, wasn’t ready to accept defeat after the bout, arguing he felt he’d landed more on the night. Johnson also pointed to an injured right hand limiting his effectiveness. The loss was Johnson’s second in a row, following a decision loss to Froch in June of this year, and worst defeat since a lopsided rematch decision loss versus Chad Dawson in 2009. The veteran stated he aims to continue on at Super Middleweight.
In contrast to the twelve rounds topping the bill, the televised opener was short and sensational. Thrilling 27-year old hometown Jr. Welterweight prospect Pier Olivier Cote (18-0, 12 KO), 140, blazed through rugged 26-year old Jorge Luis Teron (25-3, 17 KO), 139 ¼, of the Bronx, New York. After a largely dominating first round that whipped the crowd into a frenzy, Cote scored a pair of knockdowns in the second round to end matters at 33 seconds of round number two.
The card was televised in the U.S. on premium cable outlet Showtime, promoted by InterBox.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]