By Jake Donovan
Lucian Bute enjoyed a triumphant ring return following a 19-month hiatus, scoring a 4th round knockout of Italy's Andrea Di Luisa in front of a rabid hometown crowd Saturday evening at Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada.
The action was one-way, though the early going due to Di Luisa offering next to nothing while Bute was still finding his way around the ring. It was enough for Bute to pile up rounds on the scorecards, but
His confidence grew with each round, loading up in round three and eventually putting away the visiting challenger in round four.
A crushing overhand left sent Di Luisa to the canvas midway through round four, clearly signaling the beginning of the end. He managed to beat the count, but had nothing left to keep Bute at bay. The follow-up attack was enough to convince Di Luisa's corner to throw in the towel.
The official time was 1:53 of round four.
Bute runs his record to 32-2 (25KOs), scoring his first win since Nov. '12. Di Luisa falls to 17-3 (13KOs), snapping a four-fight win streak in falling well short in his first fight outside of Italy.
Saturday's headliner marked the first time Bute fought since a 12-round loss to Jean Pascal last January.
"I'm back", Bute bluntly stated immediately after Di Luisa's corner had signaled surrender.
The 19-month break was spent rehabbing injuries and figuring out the best course for his career. That thought process led to his signing with high-powered adviser Al Haymon. The bout from Montreal marked his debut under the PBC banner, delivering arguably his best performance since his time spent as a long-reigning super middleweight champion.
He's not quite yet at that level; for now, it's enough to serve as the adoring figure of the local community. Chants of "Bu-Te!" filled the arena before, throughout and after the fight, as the Romanian-Canadian has long been a crowd favorite in the Quebec City region.
There was plenty of cause for celebration, even if the 35-year old southpaw still has a long way to go before – if ever – capturing past form. Among the supporting cast was reigning World light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson, who was perched at ringside and also took the time to give his fellow transplant – Stevenson is from Haiti but now based out of Canada – a pre-fight pep talk.
“He came before the fight in my dressing room and wished me luck,” Bute acknowledged before returning the favor. “Adonis, I want to wish you luck as well on September 11 in Toronto.”
The night to which Bute references is Stevenson’s upcoming title defense versus Tommy Karpency. Though boxing friends have been known to face one another in the ring over the years, it’s doubtful that Bute ever lands such a fight. Saturday’s bout came at 170 lbs., with a more likely plan of his attempting to make another run in the super middleweight division.
For now, it’s all about getting wins and ring experience as he continues to rebuild his brand. Bute was long one of the top players at super middleweight, although one of the few notable entries in the division to not participate in the coveted Super Six World Boxing Classic round robin-style tournament.
Instead, Bute was forced to find ways to keep himself entertained while divisional peers Andre Ward, Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham, Andre Dirrell and Jermain Taylor were considered off-limits due to their tournament commitments.
The closest Bute would get to the action table scraps prior to the Super Six finals. Six weeks before Ward outpointed Froch for the lineal super middleweight championship, Bute dominated Super Six sub Glen Johnson over 12 rounds in their Nov. ’11 title fight. The win was his third of the year, his busiest campaign during his nearly five years spent as a major titlist.
The first post-Super Six piece of ring action for Bute came in the form of a long-awaited showdown with Froch, who was on the mend after having fallen short to Ward five months prior. Plans called for a two-fight set between Froch and Bute, but a sequel became a tough sell considering the manner in which Bute was dealt his first career loss.
A vocal, sold-out crowd in Nottingham, England made for an electrifying backdrop, the perfect stage for Froch to deliver the finest performance of his career. Bute was overwhelmed, dropped and eventually stopped after the five most one-sided rounds he had ever endured as a pro to that point.
Both fighters carried it as if a rematch was very much on the table, the treatment surrounding Bute’s first fight back, A 12-round win over unbeaten but unheralded Denis Grachev hardly set the boxing world on fire, but was enough to get him back into the win column.
Unfortunately, injuries would disallow him from getting back in the ring at any point in 2013. A 14-month hiatus was followed by a showdown with Jean Pascal – regarded as the two most popular fighters in Canada, even if their Jan. ’14 clash last January was well past its best sell-date. Bute landed on the wrong end of a lopsided decision, one that led to yet another lengthy ring absence.
Rather than just rest and injury rehabilitation, Bute also had to make sure the engine was fine-tuned before finally making his long-awaited return.
“After 9 months from my last fight, I worked very hard with my team to get back in the ring,” Bute said of the comeback process that functionally began last fall. “My team helped me put my punches together and sharpen up my game.”
It took nearly a year from that point to get to this fight, but it was as if he barely missed a beat as far as the crowd was concerned. Truth be told, any given outcome could have taken place, and Bute would have still left as a nation’s hero.
“I'm back in business,” Bute proudly insisted after the fight.
If he gets his way, immediate future business will include another shot at a major title. Among the mentioned list of potential candidates down the road was Badou Jack, who has his own dangerous title defense up ahead as he faces England’s George Groves next month in Las Vegas.
No matter whom he next fights, what can be expected is a more active run than what has taken place over the past three years – even if he believe this latest break actually helped rather than lead to ring rust.
“The layoff did me good,” Bute claimed afterward. “I’m happy with my performance and I am back.”
The bout served as the main event on the latest edition of Premier Boxing Champions(PBC) on NBC Sports Network.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox