Applying his busy, swarming style to its best effect, Jean Pascal won a commanding points victory over crosstown rival Lucian Bute this weekend. But in my mind it wasn’t Pascal’s punches in bunches energy that stood out, but Bute’s relative passivity. He was effectively shut down for most of the fight, rarely letting his hands go with any degree of what had previously been La Tombeur’s customary aggression. Following his hesitant performance against Denis Grachev, Bute looks done as a world class fighter.
Bute’s Shell Is Cracked
The first hint of Bute’s present difficulties was in his 2008 clash with Librado Andrade. Using his hand speed, power, and southpaw skills, Bute hammered Andrade for 11 Rounds in an effective display of controlled aggression, but then went for the knockout in the 12th by mixing it up with the tough Mexican. Andrade had plenty left in him, and came very close to stopping Bute when given the opportunity.
This near-upset pointed straight to Bute’s average chin (average, not weak), but the incident was ultimately not much more than a big bump in the road. Bute wasn’t knocked out, and he kayoed Andrade in their rematch the next year. Much like Wladimir Klitschko, so long as Bute could use his abilities to keep his opponents too busy to zero in on his chin, he went from victory to victory. The problem is that Bute, as a super middleweight and then light heavyweight, could never enjoy the size advantage over any opponent that Klitschko does.
So, when Bute fought the super middleweight ironman, Carl Froch, he was smashed into bits. Unfortunately for Bute, the damage to his self-confidence proved more lasting than the concussion he suffered that night.
A Difficult Comeback
A fighter failing to comeback in the wake of a decisive knockout defeat is an old story, and for good reason. While some suffer lasting physical damage, a more common injury is the damage done to a fighter’s self-confidence. The fight game is very psychological at its root, and Bute is as good a case point for that as any fighter in modern memory. All of Bute’s physical gifts are still intact, but he is now gun shy and shrinks from taking the moderate risks needed to apply them.
Bute wouldn’t commit against Denis Grachev, and had a tough time for it. He wouldn’t commit against Pascal, and lost by a mile for it. The question for Bute is now whether he can rebuild his confidence, and how to go about that.
The answer is a time in the wilderness, which would probably now be in the cards for Bute whether he needed it or not. Usually fighters who suffer crushing knockout defeats such as what Froch dished out to Bute don’t jump back in with a tough fringe contender like Grachev, let alone move on to a major contender like Pascal. Instead, they start over from scratch with easy tomato cans and move up from there. Bute clearly needed a couple of easy wins to soothe his psyche before he got in with Grachev, let alone Pascal.
The rebuilding process takes time, however. Lucian Bute is 33 years old, and it’s an open question whether he can regain his verve. More likely than not though, the career of Lucian Bute as a world class boxer is over.