They like to throw around terms like “crossroads bout” and “make or break fight” a lot in this old school sport fought in new age times. Tonight at the Bell Centre in Montreal, lots of the old-time newspapermen, website warriors and boxing bloggers have said that for both Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute – tonight’s fight is all about the loser.
He goes home.
Both are transplanted Montrealers – Pascal from Haiti and Bute from Romania - but they have made this melting pot of a metropolis on the frozen shores of the St. Lawrence River their home. Tonight is big here. Upwards of 23,000 will pour themselves into the cavernous ice rink the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL call home and if you’re unlucky enough sit high in the rafters of this coliseum – the fighters will look like ants. But it seems no matter the temperature or your vantage point; nothing can dampen the enthusiasm of what some are calling the biggest fight to ever take place in Montreal – a city that has become a hotbed for boxing.
“Nothing can stop me,” said Lucian Bute Friday afternoon, he being the decided underdog in this meeting. “Tomorrow will be destruction. This is the fight of my life, the most important fight of my career.”
And certainly for Bute it is. Inactive for all of 2013 and with only one tepid win since being brutally manhandled by Englishmen Carl Froch in May 2012, the 34-year-old former IBF 168-pound titlist is hoping tonight will see a reincarnation of his previous good fortune. He was a belt-holder for nearly five years and he did make 9 defenses of said title. He has lost only once in 32 career fights, even having crept onto the pound-for-pound rankings before Froch dispatched him, but since then many observers have written him off as a serious player who is not strong enough to compete at the highest level.
Bute, though, has no such doubt in himself. To the contrary, he claims the long layoff has done his mind and body good and despite everything everybody has said about his ability to take a solid punch and keep going when the road gets steep he feels Saturday night will be a coronation of sorts.
“I have strategy” says the handsome Bute. “My head is clean. I’m very confident and I’m very strong. There’s nothing to stop me. Saturday night, there’s just one winner - Lucian Bute.”
In the other corner is Pascal, who has worn the black hat throughout this promotion. Thickly muscled and sometimes sullen, he has attempted to intimidate the affable Bute whenever the opportunity presents itself.
“He has no guts,” proclaimed a defiant Pascal, the former WBC 175-pound belt-holder for a brief two year reign. “It’s easy to speak through the media, on Facebook or Twitter. If he’s a man of his own and not a puppet, man-up, stand-up, come to my face and say you’re going to shut me up. I think he’s a coward.”
At 31, Pascal is a few years younger and is perceived to be the physically stronger of the two men. He has drawn and lost against the great Bernard Hopkins who usurped his title belt. He also was a victim to the aforementioned Carl Froch back in 2008, albeit by decision rather than knockout. His opposition is marginally better than Bute’s and he has campaigned against larger men at 175 pounds whereas Bute’s accomplishments have taken place at 168. Hopkins has shown that Pascal can be out slicked and outfoxed and when he is on – Bute can be a slick boxer.
In contrast to the clean shaven Bute, who wore a suit and tie, a heavily bearded Pascal wore a black hat, a black track suit and black gloves to the final pre-fight press conference and he claimed Saturday night will be the SuperBowl of Canadian boxing. “I hope he is well prepared, ‘cause I’m well prepared,” proclaimed Pascal who shifted from foot to foot as he addressed the media. “You know we’re going to do a great fight and an epic fight and we’re doing this for you guys.”
With each man slated to receive paychecks of over $2 million, a live gate projected in excess of $3 million, the fight will take place in front of a full house of rabid fans, be broadcast in the United States on HBO and be seen in Canada on pay-per-view – the stakes are incredibly high.
Bute seems to realize as much. As the underdog and with the sun seeming having set on his future the humble and soft-spoken gentleman put all of the histrionics of what usually leads up to a big fight into context.
"He wants to play in my head, but it does not interest me," said Bute. "We have unfinished business and we will settle it Saturday night. In every battle, there are emotions and this battle is more important to me than the others. As I have said many times, I am confident and I know how it will happen. Let him come shut me up."