Brian Magee is a former amateur star who developed into a tough, skilled and experienced professional.
The 35-year-old European champ rode a 10-bout unbeaten streak going into his fight with super middleweight titleholder Lucian Bute on Saturday. By all accounts, the native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, was a worthy title challenger.
However, against Bute, who stopped Magee in the 10th round of a bout from Montreal on Showtime, the game Irishman was merely a stay-busy opponent.
Bute (28-0, 23 knockouts), defending his IBF belt for the seventh time, is biding his time while he waits for Showtime’s Super Six World Boxing Classic to play out. The winner of the U.S. cable network’s 168-pound tournament might be the only fighter capable of challenging the 31-year-old titleholder.
Magee (34-4-1, 24 KOs), a 12-to-1 underdog, wasn’t able to test Bute, a superbly talented southpaw who some consider to be the best super middleweight in the world.
However, most fans and boxing writers believe that distinction belongs to Andre Ward, an undefeated American titleholder who is the favorite to win the Super Six.
Bute and Ward have twice traded places as THE RING’s Nos. 1- and 2-rated super middleweights since the American, a 2004 Olympic gold medalist, won his title from Mikkel Kessler in November of 2009.
Fans obviously want to see the two undefeated beltholders face off in a clash that would determine the true champion of the division. During the Bute-Magee broadcast, Showtime revealed the results of a poll in which 60 percent of the voters stated that Ward was the fighter they wanted to see Bute face the most.
The fans will have to wait. Ward has two Super Six bouts — against Arthur Abraham in May and against the winner of Carl Froch-Glen Johnson later in the year — that he must win in order to fulfill his considerable promise.
If the 27-year-old American wins the Super Six, as he’s favored to do, he could very well find himself in the Top 5 of most pound-for-pound lists.
That’s where Bute, a Quebec-based Romanian who is wildly popular in his adopted home region, wants to be. The ring-savvy veteran knows a victory over Ward is the quickest way to earn universal respect.
For now, however, Bute’s just killing time. Against Magee, the first opponent of his three-fight deal with Showtime, he did it by killing the body.
Bute controlled the distance and tempo of the bout’s early rounds with an educated jab and careful footwork before stepping up the pressure in the fifth round and quickly taking over the fight. After some even exchanges at the start of the sixth, Bute dropped Magee with a left to the body in the final minute of the round. The game veteran got up and acquitted himself well for most of the seventh before another series of lefts to the body sent him down twice before the bell.
Bute was only credited for the second of the two seventh-round knockdowns, but the writing was on the wall. Magee couldn’t take it to the body and Bute, who should probably change his fighting nickname to “The Body Snatcher,” knew it.
“Brian Magee is a good fighter,” Bute said after the fight. “He has a hard head. He’s very tough. My trainer told me to go to the body after the fourth round.”
Bute, who has stopped two other iron-chinned challengers — Librado Andrade and Fulgencio Zuniga — with body shots, out-jabbed Magee in Rounds 8 and 9 until he measured the Irishman with a left uppercut that abruptly ended the fight at 2:04 of the 10th.
Magee is the third consecutive challenger Bute has knocked out with his left uppercut. Edison Miranda and Jesse Brinkley were also stopped with that deadly accurate punch.
Clearly, it’s time for Bute to face higher-caliber opponents, and the next time fans see him in the ring, he may very well be in with one of the division’s elite. Kessler, THE RING’s No. 4-rated contender, was ringside for Bute-Magee and even took part in Showtime’s commentary of the fight.
Kessler, who won a rousing 12-round decision over Froch in his most-recent bout last April, was part of the Super Six tournament but was forced to withdraw late last year when he claimed that an eye injury was obscuring his vision.
The Danish star said during Saturday’s broadcast that his vision has improved enough to begin training. Kessler, who said he hopes to start light sparring in a few weeks, openly lobbied for a showdown with Bute. And if his eyes are medically cleared, why not?
Kessler, who has only lost to Ward and former champ Joe Calzaghe, is a battle-tested veteran with considerably more talent and tools than Magee. Bute vs. Kessler would be a good fight between two legitimate Top 5 super middleweights.
But let’s be clear about one thing: It’s still just a time killer. Kessler’s a four-time titleholder and a hell of a fighter, but he was absolutely dominated by Ward.
Ward vs. Bute is the fight that will determine the top dog at super middleweight. It’s a showdown worth waiting for.
Photos of Lucian Bute and Mikkel Kessler by Tom Casino-Showtime. Photo of Andre Ward by Criag Bennett-Fightwireimages.com.