When Lucian Bute held the IBF super middleweight title and Jean Pascal possessed the WBC light heavyweight belt, a bout between the two was the most attractive and lucrative match that could be made in Quebec. Both were emigres who developed into local favorites that regularly jammed the Bell Centre but for whatever reason the match was never made.
Neither has a belt but the intrigue remains. But, to paraphrase Larry Merchant, will Bute-Pascal be a case of "better late than never" or "better never than late?" Their respective CompuBox profiles offers clues as to who may emerge victorious. Pascal is a 7-5 favorite (as of 1/8/14).
The Three Cs: Both fighters can be described as careful, cautious and calculating, traits that caused them to produce alarmingly low average punch outputs. The typical light heavyweight throws 54 punches per round but during a four-fight stretch Pascal averaged 40.2 (TW 11 Chad Dawson), 29.2 (D 12 Bernard Hopkins I), 31.4 (L 12 Bernard Hopkins II) and 31.3 (W 10 Alexey Kuziemski). In the Kuziemski fight Pascal had a valid excuse as he suffered a left shoulder injury during the fight while in the Hopkins bouts the "Executioner's" tactics slowed Pascal even more. As for Dawson, he was already past his best and was in the midst of the offensive erosion that has marked his curiously premature decline. Pascal, who is a reactive fighter rather than a proactive one, simply went along with his ring environment.
But in Pascal's most recent fight against George Blades, Pascal seemed to turn a corner. Showing the verve and volume that persuaded many to compare him favorably to Roy Jones Jr., Pascal averaged 47 punches per round, landed at sky-high rates (57% overall, 51% jabs, 60% power) and led 134-19 overall, 40-10 in jab connects and 94-9 in landed power shots. A hammering series of rights produced three knockdowns in round five, capping off an impressive performance. Critics can say that Pascal shined against a 39-year-old who was 2-2 in his last four fights but supporters will reply that Pascal was finally healthy after a series of physical maladies.
As for Bute, his decline has been a fairly recent development. Six fights ago against Jesse Brinkley Bute averaged 53.8 punches per round, slightly below the 54.4 super middleweight norm. But in four of his next five fights, Bute clocked in below the divisional norm (38.8 vs. Brian Magee, 46.2 vs. Jean-Paul Mendy, 24.7 vs. Carl Froch and 34.7 vs. Denis Grachev). The only time he exceeded the norm was when he threw 60.9 against Glen Johnson and that's only because "The Road Warrior" forced him to fight at a hard pace by firing 83.8 punches per round at him.
Could this output reduction be a sign that the 33-year-old Bute -- who is fighting his 24th consecutive scheduled 12-rounder -- is showing signs of age and/or wear?
Bute's saving grace has been his precise power punching. Bute still managed to land 51% of his power shots in his only loss against Froch (who landed 54% of his). He landed
53% against Magee (Magee landed 37% of his), 42% vs. Mendy (Mendy landed 24% of
his), 37% vs. Johnson (Johnson landed 40% of his) and 46% against Grachev (Grachev landed 25% of his).
As for Pascal, he landed 49% of his power shots in the Diaconu rematch (Diaconu landed 30%) and 42% vs. Kuziemski (Kuziemski landed 22% of his), but he struggled with his precision against Dawson (36%, took 35%), Hopkins (33% in fight one, took 41%, and 22% in fight two, took 34%). Based on this information, it can be argued that Bute has been the more consistently sharper puncher, but will that hold up against Pascal's mobility -- and perhaps Bute's own erosion as a fighter?
The Injury Bug: As mentioned earlier Pascal injured his left shoulder in round four against Kuziemski, a development that inhibited his already sub-par output when compared to his light heavyweight peers. However, the injury, in a way, forced Pascal to become a more forceful fighter. In the first three rounds, 54% of Pascal's total offense was jabs but from round four onward -- with his left arm virtually useless -- 78% of his offense was power shots. He also became a more effective fighter after the injury, for in the first three rounds he landed 21% of his total punches and 38% of his power shots but afterward, though his activity dropped from 36 per round to 29.3, Pascal landed 42% of his total punches and 44% of his power shots. In the end, Pascal out-landed Kuziemski 110-86 (total) and 89-52 (power) by keeping Kuziemski to 20% overall accuracy and 22% power shot precision.
This isn't the first time Pascal stepped up amidst injury. When he suffered a separated right shoulder in his rematch with Adrian Diaconu, Pascal still averaged 54.9 punches per round and out-landed Diaconu 274-169 (total), 74-73 (jabs) and 200-96 (power). Pascal landed 42% of his total punches and 49% of his power shots in winning a lopsided 12 round decision to retain the belt he won from Diaconu in fight one.
This fight was originally scheduled for last May 25 but Bute pulled out after an injury to his left hand that prompted surgery. That has precipitated a career-long 14-month layoff and he is not coming into this fight on a high.
Long portions of Bute's fight against Grachev were uneven and unimpressive. Averaging 34.7 punches per round to Grachev's 72.3, Bute still prevailed in total connects (152-150) and jabs (45-9) while Grachev led 141-107 in power connects. Bute was the far sharper puncher as well as the better defender (37%-17% overall, 25%-3% jabs, 46%-23% power) but it wasn't until the 12th round that Bute demonstrated his clear superiority. In that round Bute was a fight high 29 of 59, including 25 of 42 power shots (60%) while Grachev was 9 of 91 (10%) overall and 9 of 70 (13%) power.
Prediction: What effect will Bute's long layoff have on the longtime 168-pound titlist? Will Pascal continue the form he showed against Blades or will he regress to his old ways? Given their habitually low outputs this likely will be a tense chess match that will be difficult to score. Pascal is younger, naturally bigger, more mobile, fresher and more active as of late, factors that will tip the scale his way. While Bute will have more crowd support it will be Pascal who will emerge with the decision victory.