If his chin can get through the first few rounds, Lucian Bute has a chance to re-establish his reputation as world class boxer.
If he doesn’t blow himself out early trying to test that chin, Jean Pascal stands to claim one of the biggest wins of his career.
That’s how the scene is set for what promoters are calling the biggest match ever between two Canadian fighters.
Bute (31-1) will face Pascal (28-2-1) in the main event Saturday night before more than 20,000 Bell Centre spectators, with a much larger audience watching on the U.S. specialty channel HBO.
If the few hundred who turned up for Friday’s weigh-in are an indication, those who chant Bute’s name will drown out fans of the flashy, outspoken Pascal, but all that really counts is what happens in the ring.
The 12-round fight is officially for the minor NABF light heavyweight title and a meaningless trinket called the WBC Diamond belt, but much more is at stake for the two former world champions from Montreal whose careers have been mostly idling the last two years.
“I feel very good, very confident,” Bute, a natural super-middleweight, said after easily making weight at 173.6 points. “My future is in play.
“It’s the most important fight of my career so far.”
Pascal was a little over on his first attempt, then took off his tuque and came in right on the 175-pound limit. He put tape over his mouth to avoid saying anything to Bute or the media.
The 33-year-old Bute has much to prove.
The Romanian-born fighter who moved to Montreal to turn pro in 2003 was often criticized for always fighting in his adopted home and avoiding tough opponents while he held the IBF super-middleweight (168-pound) title from 2007 to 2012.
And when he finally left Montreal to defend for the 10th time against power-punching Carl Froch in England, he was destroyed in five rounds, wobbling around with his face a bloody mess as the referee stopped the bout.
He was hardly convincing in a close 12-round decision win over Denis Grachev in his only bout since then in November, 2012, although he came away with the NABF title.
The question now is whether he’ll hold up if Pascal connects with an early power punch.
“You’ll see Saturday night if I have a chin or not, but I’m very confident,” he said. “In England with Carl Froch, I got a hit a lot and I never went down. I never took a knee and I don’t plan to this time either.”
The Bute-Pascal showdown was originally scheduled for May 25, but was postponed when Bute injured a hand. After surgery to remove bone chips, he feels his hands are in their best shape in years.
The 31-year-old Pascal lost a close decision to Froch in England in 2008. Shortly after, he moved up one weight class and beat another Romania native based in Montreal, Adrian Diaconu, for the WBC light heavyweight title.
He defended it four times, but hit a wall in a pair of bouts with the wily Bernard Hopkins, who was in his mid-forties. Hopkins slipped and dodged punches and let Pascal wear himself trying to land haymakers and then took over in the late rounds.
Their first meeting in 2010 was a draw, and Hopkins got the win and the title by unanimous decision a year later.
Pascal has only fought twice since then, both against B-level opponents.
He has since sought outside help in the form of boyhood idol Roy Jones Jr. to take his game to another level. They held camp at altitude at the Big Bear resort in California. Bute usually holds training camps in Florida, but stayed in Montreal for this one.
While Bute and Pascal waited for their showdown, another Montreal fighter, Adonis Stevenson, jumped to the front of the queue by taking the WBC belt.
Stevenson’s Detroit-based trainer Sugar Hill will be an interested spectator .The winner will become mandatory challenger for the title, although that fight likely won’t happen until early 2015.
He called the fight a toss-up, and said it should become clear in the first round who will win.
“The only question I have is about Bute in a big fight after the Carl Froch fight,” said Hill, the nephew of legendary trainer Emanuel Steward. “How he handles that will decide the outcome of the fight and that will be decided in the first round.
“I have it in Bute’s favour if the fight goes longer.”
The southpaw Bute is the more technically sound of the two and his left uppercut can be deadly. Pascal answers with a brawling style, with plenty of speed and athleticism.
Bute’s trainer Stephan Larouche likes how his fighter has not shown any signs of nervousness or doubt leading into the bout. Of course, he feels Bute will win.
“He’s got better abilities and he can adjust the distance way better than Jean Pascal,” said Larouche.
If the fight goes the distance there will almost certainly be calls for a rematch, although Bute’s promoter Jean Bedard said he may prefer a rematch with Froch first if he wins.
A loss would be crushing for Pascal’s pride, but he would likely remain in demand because his bouts are always entertaining.
Peter Nelson of HBO said airing it on their first boxing show of the year was an easy decision.
“These are two elite fighters with a lot at stake, with careers on the line in a certain respect,” he said. “It’s a great fight in terms of the environment here and the division they’re in.
“We’ve seen Adonis Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev emerge in the same division, so it’s a hot division with a lot of depth. We think the winner of this fight can emerge in a serious way to be a real player in our long term plans for the network.”
The co-feature has a 10-round heavyweight clash between Cuban Mike Perez (20-0) and Carlos Takam (28-1) of France. Perez weighed 231.2 while Takam was 256.2.
Notes: Promoter Yvon Michel said Stevenson plans to fight three times in 2014. He gave few details other than that the first one will not be against fellow knockout artist Kovalev.. . . Larouche said Bute’s move to light heavy is not necessarily permanent and he can still make weight at super-middleweight.