Like Ricky Hatton in England and Mikkel Kessler in Denmark, Lucian Bute is a hometown phenomenon in Montreal. He wants to spread his popularity by fighting in the U.S. and Europe. But first the unbeaten champion has unfinished business to take care of at home.
Call it love at first sight. When the Romanian-born Bute adopted Montreal as his hometown six years ago, the city adopted him in turn. The passion Montrealers show for Bute regularly sells out major arenas and translates into big numbers on television. In a country where hockey is almost a religion, Bute has single-handedly done the unthinkable: made boxing a close rival.
Part of the reason for Bute's immense popularity is the fact that he's a world champion with an unbeaten record (24-0), and his power-packed fists have produced 19 knockouts. But there is more to the 6'2" Bute than just his ability in the ring.
"When I came here I worked very hard and I realized fans appreciate hard work," said the 29-year-old. "They also like me because I'm a simple person and don't pretend to be something I'm not. I think because I took the time to learn French it has made me more popular, too."
Bute (pronounced Boo-TAY) brings his fighter's intensity out into his work in the community. "We built a foundation to help troubled kids go to a training camp, and Lucian is president of the foundation and very generous with the kids," says Bute's promoter, Jean Bedard of InterBox.
For Bute's November 28th rematch of a controversial fight with Librado Andrade in Quebec City, he has done something few boxers in the U.S. have been able to do. "We sold all 16,000 tickets in one day," Bedard says.
Bute now fights on cable, where he draws high ratings, but he has demonstrated in the past that when his bouts were on Canada's largest regular TV station, his numbers were unprecedented. "When Lucian fought for the championship against Alejandro Berrio in 2007, it was on regular TV and 1.5 million people watched," Bedard says.
Bute is equally as popular in his native Romania, where his Canadian fights draw millions of viewers as well. Although Bute fought his entire amateur career in Romania and won several international tournaments, he knew he had to relocate when he turned pro if he wanted to make serious money and become a champion. He could have chosen Germany, where boxing is tremendously popular, but from the time he started fighting at 14, he never had any doubt where he would go. "My fellow Romanian Leonard Dorin opened the door for me," Bute says. "I looked at how he came to Montreal and became a world champion. I wanted to be just like him."