By Sean Crose
Let’s go back in time, way back, to the summer of 1987. For it was then that rising star Mark Breland fought live on ABC Sports one Saturday afternoon. Breland, a former Olympian, was supposedly on his way to big things. Already a featured attraction, the young man was out to prove he was as good as promised.
His opponent that day was one Marlon Starling, a veteran brawler from Connecticut with an extensive career and a unique, peek-a-boo defensive style. Starling had fought and lost to Donald Curry twice and was now being viewed as the kind of opponent who could help Breland up his game. In short, Starling was a tune up, a spoke on a ladder that reached up into the heavens.
Who’d have thought it would be Starling who would walk out of the ring with Breland’s WBA Welterweight title that afternoon? Who’d have thought the salty warrior would not only defeat, but outright knock out, one of boxing’s golden children?
Yet that’s exactly what happened on that August day. Starling fought and fought through ten grueling rounds, gamely battling an upstart who was clearly getting the better of him. Then the eleventh round came along. And that’s when Starling caught Breland. In the blink of an eye, things changed for one of boxing’s chosen ones forever.
I bring up this story not to luxuriate in the past (like Starling, I’m from Connecticut), but to illustrate the point that no boxer is truly finished until that boxer retires from the ring. With that thought in mind, then, let’s focus our thoughts on the upcoming battle between Lucian Bute and Jean Pascal.
Both men have seen better days. Both men have been defeated by Carl Froch. And both men are now over-shadowed by harder hitting, or more marketable, peers. The light heavyweight division, after all, is now home to bruisers Adonis Stevensen and Sergey Kovalev as well as to world class anomaly Bernard Hopkins.
Why, then, should a battle between two has-beens, or never-weres (depending on how you look at it), show up on any serious boxing fan’s radar? The answer’s actually quite simple – because one never knows when a talented fighter is done until that fighter decides to step away from the sport. And it’s not like either of these guys is without talent.
Pascal, after all, fought an absolute war with Froch back in 2008. Sure he lost, but who didn’t become a fan of the man while watching that showdown? Heck, even Froch himself became an admirer. As for Bute – at his finest he’s shown the slick fluidity of the best in the business. During his bout with Librado Andrade, for instance, he truly looked to be the stuff elite stars are made of.
While no one should forget that neither Pascal nor Bute carries with him the promise of a Stevensen or a Kovalev (or even a Beibut Shumenov, for that matter), fans would do well to remember that boxing is a sport where participants have been known to peak late. The zenith of George Foreman’s career occurred over twenty years after “The Rumble in the Jungle,” after all.
So yeah, Jean Pascal and Lucien Bute do have a chance, however small, to show up some of the division’s current (and even future) stars sometime down the road. First, however, they have to get past each other on a Saturday night just around the corner in chilly Montreal. Hopefully, neither man is taking his opponent lightly. This could well be a “now or never” scenario for both of these guys.
I myself am looking forward to watching the fight live. Not only does it look to be entertaining, it may provide some insight into the future, as well.