The first major fight of 2014 takes place at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Saturday when Jean Pascal (28-2-1, 17 KOs) and Lucian Bute (31-1, 24 KOs), the two biggest ticket sellers in Canada, meet in the squared-circle. Pascal-Bute has drawn enormous interest in Montreal (the adopted home town for both fighters) with over 20,000 expected in the arena. For this bout, Bute will be moving up from super middleweight to Pascal's natural weight class of light heavyweight. The winner gets serious bragging rights in Montreal and an opportunity for another big fight in the explosive 175-lb. division. Read below for the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article.
1. Who are Pascal and Bute as fighters in 2014?
This long-gestating fight has been discussed for years. In 2010, Jean Pascal was a light heavyweight champion and Lucian Bute was in the middle of his super middleweight title reign just a division below. Having competing promoters and different agendas, the fighters opted not to face each other during the respective apexes of their careers. They finally agreed to fight in 2013 with the bout originally schedule to take place last May, but it was pushed back because of a Bute hand injury and the subsequent lack of available dates at the Bell Centre.
Since their halcyon days, both fighters have been knocked down a peg or two. Pascal received a generous draw in a fight against Bernard Hopkins in late 2010 and dropped a close decision in the rematch. Injuries, fight cancellations and time away from the ring have filled in most of the period since Pascal lost his title in 2011. He has only had two lower-level fights (Aleksy Kuziemski and George Blades) in the past 32 months.
Bute was destroyed in five rounds by Carl Froch in May of 2012. In his only outing since that fight, he prevailed in a shaky performance against Denis Grachev. Saturday will be his first fight since November of 2012. Bute has also had a series of injuries over the last 18 months.
With both fighters having so little time in the ring over the last two years, it's difficult to know what exactly to expect on Saturday. Are both boxers mentally prepared for a tough fight? Pascal has spent much of his time out of the gym, shuttling between Montreal and Miami, living the good life and attending fights all over North America. He also had two very psychologically grueling bouts with Hopkins. Many fighters have never returned to their old form after facing the elder legend. Will Pascal buck that trend? Bute suffered a vicious psychological defeat at the hands of Froch and he didn't seem confident during most of his outing against Grachev.
Ultimately, both boxers have recently had serious physical and psychological roadblocks in their careers. The fighter who is fresher, the one who is more mentally put together most likely will be the one who prevails. It's anyone's guess as to whom that may be at this point.
2. Pascal needs to jump on Bute immediately.
There's no sugar-coating it: Bute's chin and confidence were cracked by Froch. Even the unheralded Grachev had several fine rounds applying pressure on Bute. With his ambush-style offense (patterned after Roy Jones), where he rushes in for intense 10- or 15-second flurries, Pascal possesses the skillset and athleticism to test Bute's confidence from the opening bell.
If Pascal starts the fight at mid-range and/or at a leisurely pace, he will have made a serious strategic error. Bute is a fairly stationary target and is vulnerable to foot speed and untraditional offensive rushes. He had no answer for Froch's forays and slinging shots. Pascal needs to make the fight uncomfortable early and immediately test Bute's confidence and resolve. It may be his best chance for success.
3. Bute's timing on his counters.
To keep Pascal at bay, Bute must connect with his power counter shots, which for him are his right hook and straight left hand. (Bute's best punch is his left uppercut, but he rarely throws it as a counter.) Pascal is completely vulnerable coming in, where he rushes forward behind wide or looping punches. Hopkins, with his pinpoint accuracy, was able to tag Pascal repeatedly with his counters, making Pascal reticent to engage offensively for large portions of their two fights.
Bute has enough power in his left hand that he doesn't need to throw knockout bombs; it's far more important for him to connect. Pascal comes in from odd angles and with an array of untraditional punches. Bute must keep his cool and hit what's available. If he's sharp, he will make Pascal recalibrate and retreat; if not, he will be a sitting duck.
4. Pascal should never be at mid-range.
Bute is most dangerous when there is a nice, comfy pocket. He'll pick an opponent apart with his jab, left cross and enormous left uppercut. Bute often works in combinations and the more opportunities he has to land his third and fourth punch of a sequence, the more devastating he is.
In theory, Pascal's ring approach should negate much of Bute's effectiveness. Pascal often circles on the outside and waits for moments to rush in with flurries. He's the classic "either in-or-out" fighter. Once on the inside he will cause a lot of damage with his short right hands and left hooks. I don't expect this fight to be a jabbing contest from mid-range. If it is, Pascal is engaged in the wrong battle.
5. Bute needs to fill in the gaps by coming forward whenever possible.
Because Pascal fights only in sporadic flurries, Bute can score points by consistently working. Pascal takes large 30-second blocks of rounds off. This leaves ample opportunities for a busy fighter to outpoint him. When Bute is right, he is certainly capable of throwing 60+ punches a round. If he keeps a relatively high work rate, it will be much easier for him to overcome the flashier style of Pascal on the judges' scorecards.
It's important to emphasize that Bute doesn't need to necessarily be sharp or 100% accurate while Pascal is in one of his lulls; he just has to keep working. Pascal is not really a 12-round fighter. If the match goes the distance, Bute might win a number of rounds on effort alone. During Pascal's breaks, Bute must come forward and apply pressure. Pascal is not a natural counter puncher and the more active Bute is offensively, the less Pascal will want to engage.
Let's assume that both fighters are right mentally and physically. I understand that this is an awfully big assumption to make, but without actually witnessing their respective training camps, I don't have much else of a choice. With that stipulation, I believe that Pascal is completely the wrong style for Bute. Pascal is essentially Froch with more foot speed, athleticism and heavier hands. Now Pascal may not have Froch's heart or work rate in the ring, but stylistically, they can be very similar.
I see Pascal jumping on Bute early in the fight and connecting with his hard, wide-angled shots. Almost immediately, Bute loses the flow, tempo and momentum of the fight. With four or five serious flurries a round, Pascal starts to do major damage and I'm not sure how much punishment Bute can absorb, or really wants to absorb. During his career, Bute has not responded well after getting hurt – the first Librado Andrade fight and the Froch match come to mind. If and when Pascal causes serious damage, it will be the beginning of the end for Bute.
Bute's best shot is to land something hard as Pascal comes in, but I don't think that his accuracy is good enough for such an elusive target. Ultimately, I don't see Bute really being in the fight. Pascal will dominate him until it is stopped by Bute, his corner or referee Michael Griffin.
Jean Pascal TKO 6 Lucian Bute
Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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