By Jake Donovan
If there was any question of this weekend’s showdown between Jean Pascal and Lucian being as big as advertised, you needn’t look any further than the box office totals.
“We’ve sold more than 20,000 tickets and are expecting a completely full house on Saturday night,” said Yvon Michel, Pascal’s promoter who presents this weekend’s even in association with Interbox (Bute’s promoter) at the Bell Centre in Montreal. The venue holds more than 21,000 for boxing, and it is expected to be standing room only for a card that represents HBO’s first boxing telecast of 2014.
The telecast will open with a scheduled 10-round heavyweight bout between unbeaten Mike Perez – a Cuban banger who calls Ireland home these days - and Spain’s Carlos Takam.
Perhaps it was the anticipation of waiting some eight months for this fight to finally creep towards the opening bell. The pair of former champions – both of whom are adopted Canadians and among the biggest stars in the nation – were scheduled to meet last May, only for an untimely injury suffered by Bute to postpone the contest.
A lack of available televised dates meant that Bute had more time to heal his injured left hand. The drawback for the former super middleweight titlist is that it meant sitting back all of 2013. His last in-ring performance came in Nov. ’12, outpointing Denis Grachev over 12 rounds to rebound from the lone loss of his career, a 5th round stoppage at the hands of Carl Froch on the road in England.
Prior to the loss to Froch, many viewed Bute (31-1, 24KO) as the lone remaining threat to World lineal super middleweight king Andre Ward. The unbeaten American – by virtue of his participation in and winning of the Super Six World Boxing Classic round robin tournament – had functionally cleaned out the super middleweight division, with the exception of Bute.
That theory went out the window when the Romanian-Canadian ran into the bulldozing fists of Froch in May ’12. The loss was so severe that an option for a rematch has yet to – and most likely never will – be exercised by the former champ.
It has been suggested in some circles that Bute has yet to mentally recover all the way from the severity of that loss. Never one to mix words with his opponent, his body language is instead interpreted by the media to gauge where his head is at heading into a fight.
Coming in after a 14-month layoff, the 33-year old – who turns 34 next month – isn’t concerned about ring rust, or even particularly concerned about his opponent.
“At the end of the fight there will only be one winner, and that winner will be Lucian Bute,” the fighter said earlier this week during the final pre-fight press conference.
Bute’s calming nature comes in stark contrast to that of Pascal. The Haitian-Canadian managed to be an ubiquitous presence over the past couple of years, all without a major fight to speak to or even very much ring activity during that time.
Pascal (28-2-1, 17KO) came up short in his own first bid at a major title, dropping a decision to Froch in their Dec. ’08 brawl, one of the year’s best fights. An adjustment as subtle as moving up in weight proved all the difference in the world in his career, going on to capture the lineal light heavyweight championship.
Four successful defenses followed, including lopsided wins over Adrian Diaconu, the first of which ignited his light heavyweight reign in 2009.
With each fight, Pascal’s popularity began to soar. However, it took a slight hit first in Dec. ’10, when he faced then 45-year old Bernard Hopkins. The two fought to a draw, with the middle-aged former middleweight king arose from two knockdowns to deliver his best performance in years.
Revenge for the American came five months later, when Pascal dropped a competitive but clear decision. The loss made the record books, but for all of the wrong reasons for Pascal who – in addition to losing his championship – was named in Hopkins’ claim of being the oldest fighter in boxing history to claim a world title while still in prison.
Despite being held to a draw and a loss, Pascal believes both fights complement the balance of his resume at that time, which leaves him fully confident that things will go his way on Saturday.
“Lucian Bute says he has the edge experience and speed,” Pascal points out in the same breath as he prepares to refute either claim. “For my part, I fought Bernard Hopkins twice, Chad Dawson and Adrian Diaconu.
“Between Lucian and me, I think it’s me who has the experience.”
Pascal has fought just twice since the first fight, scoring a 10-round decision win over Aleksy Kuziemski and then a 5th round stoppage over George Blades last September in a wise last-minute stay-busy opportunity.
In Bute, who is rising up in weight for this particular contest, Pascal spots a familiar sighting, one he hasn’t noticed since looking hard in the mirror some three years ago.
“Lucian is like me in my first fight against Bernard Hopkins,” Pascal says, suggesting Bute doesn’t quite know what he’s getting himself into, for a fight that serves as his second foray beyond the super middleweight division.
Because of his outgoing, and at times brash, demeanor, Pascal is viewed as the de facto bad guy in this matchup, while Bute is perceived as the white collar underdog heading into this weekend.
Regardless of whether fans love or loathe either particular fighter, a sign of respect will be felt by both fighters on fight night.
“This fight here is like in the old days with the (National Hockey League) rivalry between the (Montreal) Canadians and (Quebec) Nordiques,” Pascal says, comparing Canada’s current superfight to its biggest sports rivalry. “Even if you liked the Nordiques, people still have a little love for the Canadians.”
With or without a belt at stake this weekend and with or without much momentum enjoyed by either fighter, fans will undoubtedly show at least a little bit of love for both fighters on fight night. That’s what happens when you take one of the biggest nationally-based fights that can be made, and actually go ahead and make it.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox