By Kieran Mulvaney
Photo Credit: Will Hart
The biggest event in the American sporting calendar is still a little under three weeks away, but to hear Jean Pascal tell it, this Saturday will see something akin to Canadian boxing's equivalent.
"It's like the Super Bowl," he said of his light-heavyweight clash with fellow Montreal resident Lucian Bute, which will headline the inaugural HBO World Championship Boxing broadcast of 2014. "The fight is crazy. It's going to be the biggest fight in Canadian boxing history and I'm going to win big as well."
Granted, some caveats apply. Neither competitor is the fistic equivalent of the 1972 Miami Dolphins or 2007 New England Patriots, given that both suffered tough and relatively recent reversals: Bute in a fifth-round TKO stoppage to Carl Froch that ended his unbeaten record, and Pascal (who had also previously had his zero removed by Froch) to veteran Bernard Hopkins. But each remains a world-caliber contender, each has entertained his hometown fans on the big stage on numerous occasions, and it seems the safest of safe bets that Saturday's Bell Centre crowd will be as raucous as ever. Over 17,000 were in the arena the night that Hopkins dethroned Pascal in 2011; with local hero Bute replacing Philadelphia legend Hopkins, don't expect any significant diminishment in those numbers.
It does not even matter that neither man was born in Canada; Pascal hails from Haiti and Bute from Romania, but the former has been in Quebec since he was four years old and the latter, who as of 2012 is also a Canadian citizen, for the duration of his professional career. They have been embraced enthusiastically in much the same way Germany has claimed the Ukraine-born Klitschko brothers, not only because Montreal is a genuine melting pot of a metropolis but also because it is a bastion of the boxing-mad.
The city has, after all, seen its share of big fights and popular fighters. It was here, for example, that Roberto Duran outfought Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980. Davey Hilton is persona non grata these days and rightfully so, but his battles with Mario Cusson, Alain Bonnamie and Stephanie Oullet packed venues to the rafters in the 1980s and 1990s. And while New Jersey adopted Arturo Gatti, who moved to the Garden State as a teenager, the fighter's accent was a clear product of Quebec, where he spent his childhood and all-too-brief post-boxing life.
The town's latest boxing star is, of course, Adonis Stevenson. Like Pascal, he came to Montreal from Haiti; like both of Saturday's competitors, he campaigns at light-heavyweight. He will almost certainly be in the arena on Saturday, and his presence will hover over the proceedings. Victory for Bute or Pascal could open the door to a tantalizing and lucrative shot at Stevenson's crown -- or alternatively either at Froch or super-middleweight champion Andre Ward.
In that respect, Saturday night is arguably more of a conference championship than a Super Bowl: a final eliminator to select the challenger for an even bigger prize. That itself is reason enough to tune in; plenty of people will watch Manning vs. Brady, even if it isn't for all the marbles. And it likely means that, for this city of fight fandom, this is just the beginning.