By Kieran Mulvaney
Photo Credit: Will Hart
Jean Pascal is considered the betting choice for his light-heavyweight clash with local rival Lucian Bute on Saturday night, but judging from the crowd reaction at a packed and chaotic weigh-in at the Montreal’s Sheraton Center on Friday, it is Bute who is the fan favorite.
The packed ballroom echoed to chants of “Bu-te, Bu-te,” as first the former super-middleweight champion, and then the erstwhile light-heavyweight kingpin, stepped on the scales. Bute, born in Romania but now a Canadian citizen, slid comfortably inside the weight limit at 173.6 pounds, while Pascal, who moved to Quebec from his native Haiti as a child, needed to remove an apparently quite heavy headband to hit 175 pounds on the nose. And all the while, the chants continued:
“But-te, Bu-te, Bu-te.”
Perhaps it is the fact that Bute has been fighting at a higher level for a longer period, or that he has never lost on home soil (his lone defeat, to Briton Carl Froch, came in England). Perhaps the taste is more for Bute’s reserved personality rather than Pascal’s eager self-confidence. Or perhaps Bute’s friends and family simply found it easier to spend their Friday lunchtime in downtown Montreal than did Pascal’s.
It certainly seems improbable that Pascal won’t have at least several thousand supporters in the Bell Center on fight night. Spend even a few minutes channel surfing on TV here and it seems impossible to miss at least some mention of, or detailed discussion about, the fight; this, one imagines, is what it was like when boxing was truly a mainstream sport, the topic of barroom debate and casual conversation on the street. Close to 20,000 people are expected to cram into the arena, roaring their chosen fighter to victory.
The case for Pascal rests principally on uncertainty over Bute’s fortitude; although he entered the Froch fight undefeated and on many pound-for-pound lists, he was annihilated inside five rounds by the Englishman, and looked less than dominant in his sole comeback fight since then. There is no doubt about Pascal’s toughness; the questions are about his boxing skill and his stamina, both of which were somewhat exposed when he dropped his title to Bernard Hopkins in this same venue three years ago. The conventional wisdom is that the contest will be either a points victory for Bute due to his superior technique, or a stoppage win for Pascal.
Convention, of course, counts for nothing once the fists begin to fly, and especially in a bout as full of emotion and significance as this one. Both men have been world champions before, but although neither presently wears that crown, the winner on Saturday will be the champion of Montreal, and it’s hard to escape the feeling that for both men, being able to boast that title will mean so much more.