Neither Jean Pascal nor Lucian Bute entered their light heavyweight matchup with much career momentum.
In Pascal’s last fight of note, he was outboxed and outworked by 46-year-old Bernard Hopkins. In Bute’s last notable bout, Carl Froch ruthlessly mugged him en route to a fifth-round stoppage.
Neither fighter looked good in follow-up fights against mid-level opposition and both suffered injuries before their showdown at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Saturday, but it was Pascal who brought more confidence to the ring and it was the former light heavyweight champion who dominated all but the final round of the fight.
Pascal (29-2-1, 17 knockouts), who won a unanimous decision by scores of 117-111 (twice) and 116-112, was the aggressor and the busier fighter throughout most of the bout.
Bute (31-2, 24 KOs), a former IBF super middleweight titleholder, never seemed comfortable or sure of himself, except for the 12th round when Pascal – who had gassed himself out with a final second flurry in the previous round – backed into a corner and allowed the Romania-born southpaw to tee off on him.
Pascal punched back in spots while trying to run out the clock, but Bute was finally able to punish his antagonist while giving his fans hope of pulling off a most spectacular come-from-behind victory. However, despite Pascal’s clear exhaustion, Bute could not summon the punch output or find the perfect shot to finish him.
But at least his rally injected some much-needed drama into what had been a pedestrian affair through 11 rounds, which isn’t to say that the fight wasn’t well received by the 22,000 who packed the Bell Centre.
Pascal-Bute was a big deal in Canada. Some Canadian sports writers called it the biggest boxing event between two Canada-based fighters in the country’s history. Both fighters are based in Montreal and both were developed in the boxing-mad Quebec province, making their eventual clash a necessity.
Pascal, who was born in Haiti, fought 24 of his 31 professional bouts in Montreal coming into Saturday’s fight. His RING magazine/WBC title-winning victory over Chad Dawson in 2010 and his loss to Hopkins took place at the Bell Centre. Bute had a 19-0 record – including 10 consecutive IBF title bouts – at the Bell Centre coming into the Pascal fight.
So both Montreal products brought significant fans bases to their big dance. However, they probably didn’t win too many fans outside of Quebec.
Bute, who was obviously still suffering from confidence issues from the beatdown Froch gave him, didn’t try to impose himself on Pascal until the fight was practically over.
Pascal came to win but he only let his hands go in spots – often giving the fans a poor-man’s imitation of Roy Jones Jr., who he invited to his camp to help him prepare for Bute’s southpaw style.
However, even with his boxing idol in his corner, Pascal seemed motivated to do just enough to rattle Bute in each round. He never went for the knockout with any sort of gusto.
One gets the feeling that Pascal, who has a habit of fading in the late rounds of his fights, was leery of punching himself out. It made for a frustrating viewing experience for most American fans watching on HBO.
Bute was frustrated with himself.
“I prepared well and I trained well but for some reason things did not go my way,” Bute told HBO’s Max Kellerman after the fight. "I’m just disappointed. The real Lucian Bute was the Bute you saw in the 12th round.”
Pascal was on Cloud Nine.
“It means a lot,” he said of the victory. “I’d been chasing Bute for years and today I just proved that I’m the best in town.”
The best in town? Maybe the best light heavyweight in town without a world title.
The best 175-pound fighter in Montreal, bar none, is THE RING/WBC champion Adonis Stevenson, who was ringside for the fight.
Stevenson, the choice of many boxing writers’ Fighter of the Year for 2013, probably would have stopped the version of Bute that Pascal faced within six or seven rounds.
Sergey Kovalev, the powerful unbeaten WBO titleholder who also had a banner 2013, would have likely taken Bute out before the third or fourth round.
Would Stevenson or Kovalev knockout Pascal? Maybe. Maybe not. Pascal has a reliable chin, unorthodox athletic moves and a lot of heart. However, both fighters would be heavily favored to beat Pascal, as would Hopkins, despite the fact that the IBF titleholder just turned 49.
So despite winning the Canadian Super Bowl of boxing, Pascal is still a distant fourth behind Stevenson, Kovalev and Hopkins on the light heavyweight totem pole.
But that’s OK. Pascal, unlike Bute, has regained his career momentum. He scored his first major victory since the technical decision over Dawson and he’s in position (with the No. 1 ranking in the WBC) to challenge his fellow Haiti-born Montrealer, Stevenson.
It looks like Stevenson will face Andrzej Fonfara in May, but Pascal could stay busy with a Dawson rematch, or a fight with a top-rated fighter like Isaac Chilemba, or even a bout with his undefeated promotional stablemate Elieder Alvarez.
All of those fights would be anticipated and supported – as long as they take place in Montreal.