By Tyson Bruce
For the better part of the last decade Lucian Bute and Jean Pascal have been franchise fighters in the city of Montreal. Both fighters now appear to be entering the twilight of their careers, as Pascal has been ridden with injuries that have caused him to become something of a part-time fighter and Bute is entering his mid- thirties and struggling to recover from a vicious beating at the hands of Carl Froch. With light-heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson taking over as the cities premier boxer, the two former champions have one last chance to etch their names into the history of Montreal boxing.
The all-Montreal matchup has captured the imagination of the boxing rich city, as it harkens back to the great intercity rivalry between Davey Hilton and Stephan Ouellet. It will also help to solidify who will go down as the best Canadian fighter of the decade.
When it comes to boxing in Canada, Montréal is the be all and end all of the sport. While boxing only enjoys modest support and success in the other ten provinces, Quebec, most specifically Montreal, has a thriving domestic boxing scene that dominates on both the amateur and professional level. Montreal is a city that loves sports, as the Montreal Canadian’s hockey team enjoys a level of support that rivals the Yankee’s in New York. It’s a city that supports its sporting heroes with an almost fanatical level of passion. That passion has also lent itself to boxing. The fight culture in the city is similar to that of Mexico, in that the fans love a good scrap and will come out in droves for a good bloodletting—especially when city bragging rights are on the line.
The passion for boxing in Quebec has evolved as the result of a number of high profile fights and fighters that have come out of the province in the last several decades. In the 1990’s the city bore witness to the controversial fighting Hilton family that produced two-world champions in Davey and Mathew Hilton. Davey Hilton Jr. was involved in an epic trilogy of fights with fellow Quebec fighter Stephan Ouellet. Both men’s ring performances were often overshadowed by their antics outside the ring. Both fighters struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. Davey was later arrested for the molestation of his two daughters. Antics aside, they managed to produce three of the most exciting fights in Canadian history.
In front of a packed house of 15,000 fans in Montreal, Ouellet gave Hilton a boxing lesson, only to be knocked out in the waning seconds of the twelfth round. In the rematch, Hilton, the much harder puncher of the two, came more prepared and steamrolled Ouellet in a third round knockout. In 2000 they had their third and final bout and this time Ouellet got his long awaited revenge as he dominated Hilton with his boxing skills, earning an easy unanimous decision. Along with fellow Quebec products like Arturo Gatti and Eric Lucas, they helped pave the way for the boxing crazy city that Montreal is today.
Montreal is a lot like Europe in that many people speak four and five languages and it possesses a highly diverse ethnic population. With an estimated 30,000 residents of Romanian decent, it became a natural destination for Lucian Bute to begin a professional boxing career. Bute, now a full Canadian citizen, has become an adopted son in Montreal, where he frequently draws well over ten thousand fans for his fights.
Bute had a long and prestigious amateur career and developed quickly as a professional, winning his first fifteen fights by stoppage victory. He won the IBF title when he knocked out the hard punching Alejandro Berrio in the eleventh round. Despite making nine successful title defences against mostly solid opposition, doubts remained about Bute’s toughness and physical strength at the top level. Bute has tremendous boxing skills and his southpaw left uppercut to the body has been consistently one of the most devastating punches in boxing. However, Bute’s long, gangly frame allows him to be outmuscled by stronger opponents, including the time he had to be bailed out by a friendly Montreal referee in order to survive the last round against Librado Andrade.
It wasn’t until his super fight against Carl Froch that one truly realized just how vulnerable Bute was against a fighter with a physical style. In what was supposed to be a pick-em’ fight, Froch bullied and absolutely obliterated Bute inside of five rounds. It was the kind of conclusive and vicious loss that some fighters never fully recover from and Bute looked extremely shaky in his only fight since against the limited Dennis Grachev. At 33 years of age and with his weaknesses so clearly exposed, it begs the question of just how much time Bute has left at the top level. In his upcoming fight against Pascal, Bute will be testing the waters at 175 pounds for just the second time. Whether the extra poundage and time off will help with his notoriously fragile durability remains to be seen.
Jean Pascal, a native of Haiti, learned to box within the Canadian amateur boxing system. He became one of Canada’s most prolific amateur fighters, winning the national championship over seven times. He won gold at the Francophone and Commonwealth games, and culminated his amateur career by representing Canada at the 2004 Olympic games. Pascal has enjoyed one of the most successful professional careers of any Canadian boxer by winning the lineal light heavyweight championship in a huge upset victory over Chad Dawson in 2010. He has also fought Adrian Diaconu (W-12, W-12), Carl Froch (L-12), and Bernard Hopkins (D-12, L-12). Pascal is known for his explosive hand speed and an unpredictable athletic style that he mirrored after the great Roy Jones Jr. However, Pascal has been held back because of his lack of technical skill and stamina problems, which was dramatically exposed in his two fights against the nearly fifty-year-old Hopkins.
In the last three years Pascal’s nagging injury problems have relegated him to a part-time fighter and caused him to withdraw from several notable fights, including a unification match with Tavoris Cloud. As a result he has become a very polarizing figure to boxing experts, as depending on how you look at his career, he could either be considered one of great underachievers or overachievers in recent boxing memory. His fight against the respected and adored Bute could go a long way towards confirming the validly of each of those claims.
The matchup between Bute and Pascal is one of the more difficult fights to handicap in recent years. A boxing purist would have to lean towards Bute, who clearly possesses the edge in technical skill and is regarded as the more disciplined fighter. Conversely, many critics favor Pascal, who has the physique of a bodybuilder, giving him the edge in physical strength and toughness. The wild card in this fight is simply who has more left in the tank. Was Bute’s confidence and physical prime destroyed in his savage loss to Froch? Have the almost constant injury problems and time away from the ring ruined Pascal’s ability to fight at the top level of the sport?
These are the questions that will be answered come Saturday night, and with a vocal fan presence for both fighters, it will give them all the incentive in the world to empty out whatever is left.