By Jake Donovan
The final piece of the super middleweight puzzle has arrived.
Actually, it has returned.
From the moment the field was announced for Showtime’s Super Six World Boxing Classic, the lone piece of negative feedback surrounding the tournament centered around the exclusion of Lucian Bute.
The omission was puzzling, both because conflicting reasons were offered and the fact that Bute was already being showcased on the network. His two most recent fights had aired live on Showtime – his points win over Librado Andrade in which its controversial ending overshadowed an otherwise dominant performance; and a fourth-round knockout of Fulgencio Zuniga five months later.
Both fights were entertaining enough to where fight fans wanted more, namely against the crème de la crème of the super middleweight division. What better setting than as one of the six contestants in the groundbreaking tournament presented by a network most figured was already his home.
Apparently, it wasn’t meant to be, as he was – depending on which version of the truth you believe – either left out or declined to participate.
Fortunately for the Romanian-born, Canada-based southpaw, the tournament has extended well beyond its targeted finish to where not much time has been lost in his own career.
Given his fan-friendly style and huge following in both his nation of birth and his residence, Bute (27-0, 22KO) has managed to remain more than relevant in the 18 or so months that have passed since the tournament was first launched.
He’s relevant enough to where only Andre Ward and Carl Froch – two of the four Super Six semifinalists – boast a legitimate argument for a higher ranking in the super middleweight mix.
Chances are that the outcome of this weekend’s scrap with Brian Magee won’t rate any better than keeping him steady in regards to any set of rankings – divisional or pound-for-pound.
But this weekend isn’t so much about staking his claim as the best of anything, so much as it’s an investment into the future – that of Bute, the super middleweight division and Showtime itself.
This weekend’s bout, which airs live from the Bell Centre in Montreal (Saturday, SHOWTIME, 10PM ET/PT), is the first of a three-fight pact that Bute signed with the network, with a collective payout reportedly in the neighborhood of $6 million.
The signing - while costly - was a necessary move by Showtime, as it restores interest in a tournament plagued by injuries, fallouts and even lack of commitment.
The semifinals aren’t for another two months, but preparation for the tournament’s aftermath has already begun. A win on Saturday night puts Bute in position to possibly next face former Super Six participant Mikkel Kessler, who plans to be at ringside for the event.
A Bute-Kessler showdown was initially targeted for this weekend, but was put on the backburner after it was learned Kessler still hadn’t fully healed from the eye injuries that forced him to withdraw from the tournament last year.
Suffice to say, Bute isn’t too concerned with the prospect of stepping up his level of competition in the near future. It’s the very reason he decided to return to Showtime after a brief three-fight hiatus.
“When I signed my contract with Showtime, I know that big names were coming up,” Bute stated during an international media conference call on Tuesday. “I hoped to fight Kessler in this fight, but his injuries didn’t heal this time. Once I get past Magee, I would love to fight Kessler next.”
None of this is to suggest that Bute is looking past Magee – the long-reigning titlist has always managed to maintain tremendous focus on what’s in front of him, while fully aware of what lies ahead.
Rather than look ahead, Bute focuses on what can be gained in the future by training like a madman for the present.
To date, it’s worked out very well. Amidst a perfect run in the pros thus far, on only one occasion out of 27 did he come close to defeat. That moment came in his first fight with Andrade, a fight in which he dominated for 11 rounds, but ran out of gas and was caught and dropped late in the fight.
Controversy set in when he was assisted by perhaps the worst piece of officiating in a significant fight, when referee Marlon B. Wright went out of his way to stall his mandatory eight count to ensure that Andrade remained in a neutral corner.
Bute managed to gather himself just enough to beat the long count and hear the final bell, which denied Andrade the chance to erase a significant deficit on the scorecards.
It’s been smooth sailing since then, scoring four straight knockouts while losing very few rounds in the process. Included in the mix was a fourth-round body shot knockout of Andrade in what served as Bute’s debut on rival network HBO. The bout came right on the heels of the conclusion of the Super Six Stage One matchups, hardly a coincidence in terms of scheduling.
Even less of a coincidence was the timing of his next HBO appearance, a title defense against Edison Miranda that was originally slated to go head to head with a Super Six Stage Two bout.
Common sense and a timely injury led to major schedule reconstruction, giving Bute a proper showcase on a night designed to push for a future showdown with Kelly Pavlik, who appeared on the same telecast in a split-site doubleheader.
Bute held up his end of the bargain, drilling Miranda in three. However, Pavlik did not, falling short – and apart – against Sergio Martinez in what was his last fight to date.
Pavlik’s loss wound up hurting Bute in the pocket, as he and HBO were running out of viable options to justify their relationship together. As such, his next fight was limited to a webcast on ESPN3.com, stopping Jesse Brinkley in the ninth round of a bout that did little more than mark time while pondering his future.
Then came the opportunity to inch closer towards the cast of fighters he could do no better than run parallel with for the past year and change.
The timing couldn’t have been any better for all involved. Signing with Showtime gave Bute a clearer forecast for the future, and gave Showtime a fitting prize offering for the winner of the Super Six.
Once presented with the opportunity, Bute didn’t hesitate to sign. That said, he doesn’t regret the chosen path that led to this moment.
“I was not frustrated over the past couple of fights. I knew the time would come to be in this position. I knew my timing with Showtime meant that the opportunities (against Super Six participants) will come sooner rather than later.”
It won’t come at all if he manages to fall apart this weekend. But that’s why Bute never truly looks ahead, but instead uses those potential opportunities as motivation to perform better in the present.
That mentality led him to dissect available footage of Magee, who is unbeaten in his past ten fights (9-0-1 over that stretch) since losing to Super Six semifinalist Carl Froch nearly five years ago. As fight night draws closer, Bute believes he’s as ready as he can possibly be for any fight.
“I think Magee’s style is tailor made for me. I love aggressive fighters who come to fight. I think it’s a plus for me. The fact that he never steps back, I have a lot of respect for guys who do that.
“I’m looking very forward to fighting him.”
So, too, is anyone else with a vested interest in the super middleweight division.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected] .