Saturday, November 28, 2009

Is Lucian Bute the Super Seventh?

QUEBEC CITY – The arena here is sold out. Over 16,000 loyal Lucian Bute supporters will soon flood the aisles of the Colisee Pepsi in an attempt to usher their man to another victory over rugged challenger Librado Andrade.

Bute, the world super middleweight champion according to the proclamations of the International Boxing Federation, is a franchise unto himself in this French-speaking Canadian province. Born in Romania, but fighting out of Montreal, which is a few hours drive away, the undefeated 29-year-old southpaw has become a proven commodity that continues to yield significant dividends.

InterBox, the entity that promotes and markets him, has done a masterful job in developing the soft-spoken Bute into a powerhouse at the ticket window. With his pristine record of 24-0, 19 knockouts intact, Bute has become such a sensation here that it appears there is some reluctance to let him go elsewhere to display his wares.

Bute's first fight against Andrade last October drew over 16,000 fans to Montreal's Bell Centre. During his career, Bute has fought in that arena, the home of the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey League, a total of 15 times and his bouts always guarantee a healthy box office. His popularity is such that an open workout for the media and fans at a shopping mall Tuesday drew a fawning crowd of nearly one thousand.

“It’s an honor to represent Quebec,” said the somewhat reserved Bute earlier this week during a chat with reporters. “It’s a real honor.”

Stephan Larouche, Bute's tireless trainer and confidant is not shy about his charge or about telling anyone what he thinks about his fighter and what his future may hold.

“He’s an icon,” states Larouche. “He's learned to speak French and the people here have given back the love and support to him. Lucian wants to give them a good performance. Boxing fans here really enjoy him and he’s in very good hands here in Quebec. He's now going to university to learn to speak English. His next step will be to go to the U.S. and become a big star there.”

Andrade and Bute weighed in on Friday afternoon and both showed they were in great condition.

It would seem that Bute had his chance to become a big star in the American market earlier this year when the Showtime network developed a tournament called the Super Six World Boxing Classic. But it wasn't to be.

Ken Hershman, Vice President of Sports Programming at the network organized a round-robin contest that now includes six of the top 168-pound boxers in the world. Hershman seemed to be grooming Bute to be a major part of the affair. Many of Bute's recent fights (including the first fight against Andrade) were televised by Showtime and Bute was ringside for Carl Froch's destruction of Jermain Taylor in April that was televised on the network.

But during the early negotiations to include Bute, talks apparently broke down with barely a word of explanation as to why. Soon after the framework of the World Boxing Classic was announced, news came that Bute had fled to HBO and that he would meet Andrade in a rematch. The only detail offered by Hershman for Bute's exclusion from the tournament was a terse statement that said Bute “was not invited to participate.”

As the rest of the world's top super middleweights continue on with the high-profile tournament, Bute and his handlers now forge ahead and continue business as usual. Whether their decision to remain outside the tournament will be a smart one remains to be seen. However, it could be that Bute and InterBox made the smartest move of all by remaining outside the confines of the Super Six.

The Colisee Pepsi in Quebec City holds 16,000 for boxing. Every ticket has been sold and Bute's fans will be cheering him on.

During the short time the World Boxing Classic has been going on, it has seen a controversial decision loss by Andre Dirrell to Carl Froch, a possible career-ending loss by Jermain Taylor at the hands of Arthur Abraham and the fall of the tournament favorite Mikkel Kessler to Andre Ward. It has become clear that the losses in the tournament are extremely costly, while the wins are are extremely lucrative.

Make no mistake – the sport of boxing is a business – and business for Lucian Bute in Quebec is very, very good. Instead of taking the Showtime route across the border to the United States market, his appearance on HBO (and future appearances) will likely pave the way for his breakthrough into America.

Should he make it by the come ahead style of Andrade here tonight (which is no given) Bute can continue to make enough money to burn while defending his title on HBO against a deep well of 168-pound contenders.

Meanwhile, the fighters in the Super Six will continue to beat the stuffing out of one another on their way to crowning an eventual overall champion. By not participating in the tournament, it allows Bute the opportunity to bide his time, fight at home, build his bank account, his record and his name. It's a calculated risk, but as long as he can hold onto the IBF title belt and/or keep his unbeaten record intact, he will be the natural choice for the Super Six winner to be matched against.

And here's another fact - as long as Bute remains on track - the winner of the Super Six will not be universally regarded as the best super middleweight in the world. That man, whoever it is, will have to engage Bute in order to silence the doubters. Like the old phrase states, it leaves Bute 'sitting in the catbird seat' which is the most enviable postion of all.

Bute found himself on the floor in the final seconds of the first bout with Andrade. He hopes to avoid a replay of that tonight.

But all of that hinges on getting by Librado Andrade a second time. When asked for his thoughts regarding the Super Six tournament and if he had been watching those matches or whether he would be interested in getting into the tournament, Bute gave his thoughts.

“I watched the fights,” he said. “I thought Froch deserved to win over Dirrell and I saw the Kessler fight. But for me, it's too early to talk about the future because I'm focused on this fight with Andrade. But in terms of the Super Six – I'm number one.”

Bute and Larouche are taking tonight's fight extremely serious. Bute was well on his way to a wide decision victory over Andrade the first time, but with about a minute remaining in the twelfth and final round, a wave of exhaustion overcame him and he was very nearly swamped. Bute was knocked down and a confused referee elongated the count - as well as Bute's recovery time. As a result, he escaped to hear the final bell.

Bute knows he came within seconds of losing his title and his undefeated record so for this fight he and Larouche were meticulous in their preparation. They moved their training camp to Florida to take advantage of the warm weather. One of the fighters they sparred with was former light heavyweight champion Glen Johnson who was in training for his rematch against Chad Dawson.

“We had a really, really good training camp,” said Larouche. “He will do better. He will do every little thing he did the last time but a little better. Lucian, without being a slugger, is always a crowd-pleaser. He always pleases the fans the way he fights. Now he is sharper, better and he has crisper punches. He has worse intentions at the end of his punches. His weight is all good and he’s in tremendous shape. They're both great guys, but unfortunately there has to be a winner and a loser and the IBF title is going to stay in Quebec.”

Lucian Bute moved his training camp to Florida in preparation for this fight.

In terms of the first fight against Andrade, Bute offers a simple explanation as to why he became unglued at the end.

“I was tired,” he explains. “After twelve good rounds I was just tired and I just did a little mistake and you know what happened. But I showed a lot of courage to be on my feet before the end of the fight. We didn't make any real changes for this fight. We're just very well prepared, as usual. But for sure you are going to see a different Lucian Bute this Saturday on HBO. The last time I made a little mistake by standing in front of Librado. He was looking to give a show...I was tired...I made a mistake and I got hit. I have a strategy for Saturday. At the post-fight press conference Librado Andrade will tell the people there it was a different Lucian Bute.”

In the Corners

Bute and Andrade made weight on Friday afternoon as each man scaled 166 3/4. Andrade told me earlier this week that he began training camp at 200 pounds. But he also told me that he has no problem in getting down to the super middleweight limit. However, no matter how you look at it, 33 1/4 pounds is a lot of weight to lose and I think that will take something out of Librado as the fight wears on. My money is all on Lucian Bute tonight. He was winning the first fight handily before coming apart in the final minute. The oddsmakers are also on Bute's side and the most likely outcome they envision is for him to decision the iron-chinned and steel-willed Andrade...Lost on the undercard here is what I think will be an excellent fight featuring Joan Guzman of the Dominican Republic versus South Africa's Ali Funeka for the vacant IBF lightweight title. Guzman, who has had weight problems in the past weighed in at 134 1/2 Friday afternoon while Funeka came in at 134. I was very impressed with Funeka's effort against Nate Campbell earlier this year. This will only be Guzman's fourth fight in almost three years and only his second bout as a lightweight. Funeka is an extremely difficult fighter to face because of his height (6'1”) and reach (72”). He is six inches taller than Guzman and has a five inch reach advantage. With his inactivity and age (33) I'll be surprised if the undefeated Guzman doesn't suffer his first loss...Unbeaten Scottish middleweight Craig McEwan is also making an appearance on the card. I met McEwan for the first time a couple of weeks ago at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood and he looks like a contender in the making. Trained by Freddie Roach and promoted by Golden Boy Promotions, McEwan, 16-0, 9 KOs will face the undefeated James Parison, 12-0, 3 KOs who hails from San Diego. Oscar De La Hoya is supposed to be in attendance here tonight to show his support for Andrade, Guzman and McEwan.

November 2009

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