If Brian Magee battles Lucian Bute on Saturday in Montreal the way he battled to get this opportunity, Bute might have his work cut out.
Magee had a six-fight stretch in which he lost three important fights, to former super middleweight titleholder Robin Reid in 2004, a split decision against Vitali Tsypko for the European title in 2005 and an 11th-round KO to Carl Froch for the British title in 2006.
And he was approaching middle age, having lost to Froch at almost 31. Indeed, those familiar with his career had to wonder whether he had hit a wall.
Well, if Magee (34-3-1, 24 knockouts) had such an obstacle in his way, he managed to bust right through it. He hasn’t lost since the Froch fight, going 9-0-1, winning both British and European titles and now fighting for a world title for the first time.
Magee, 35, would ascribe to the adage: better late than never.
“I had a good team behind me,” Magee said on a conference call Tuesday. “I had the self belief that some day this would happen.”
Magee described two of his losses as “borderline,” a decision against Reid in which he went down four times but still wasn’t blown out on the cards and a close decision in Tsypko’s adopted home country.
The product of Belfast even gave Froch a hard time until the Super Six semifinalist knocked him out with a vicious uppercut with less than two rounds to go.
“I had two borderline losses. I still always believed … I deserved to go on,” he said.
And then proved he deserved it. He won three in a row after the setback against Froch to earn a shot at Tony Oakey’s British light heavyweight title in 2007 but had to settle for a majority draw.
Again, he persevered, winning three more fights to secure the right to face then-unbeaten Stevie McGuire for the vacant British super middleweight title. This time, he stopped his younger rival in the eighth round to finally win a regional belt.
And he wasn’t finished. In his next fight, he knocked out then-51-2 Mads Larsen – who many believed would win — to capture the European 168-pound title.
Magee hasn’t beaten a list of A-level opponents but he has dominated good fighters to claim prized regional titles and earn the right to realize the dream of every boxer – to fight an elite opponent for a major world title.
“I feel like I have the pedigree,” said Magee, who fought for Ireland in the 1996 Olympics. “Once I was beaten it was hard to climb up the ladder again, though. I would lose and drop back down the card. I would lose again and it was even harder. I had to persevere.
“I’ve done it, though. I’m here. And I deserve it. I’m fighting for a world title.”
Few observers give Magee much of a chance against Bute (27-0, 22 knockouts), a complete fighter who seems to get better with every outing.
Magee is seen as the prototypical determined, well-conditioned Irishman who will give his all but probably come up short against a better all-around fighter. At least that seems to be a common scenario.
And Magee expected nothing less.
“It’s not new to me to be an underdog,” he said. “Every fight I seem to be the underdog. I always seem to come through, though.”
Of late he has, which could be a good sign for him. He also might have someone special in his corner when he fights Bute: This is Saint Patrick’s week, the holiday falling on Thursday.
Magee and Saint Paddy. That could be a formidable combination.