by Kieran Mulvaney
During the build up to their Saturday clash in Montreal's Bell Centre, Lucian Bute and Jean Pascal had been a study in contrasts. Bute, as is so often the case, was reserved, understated, confident yet quiet; Pascal was a constant bundle of nervous energy wrapped inside a coating of seething contempt for his foe. When the time came for words to cease and punches to fly, the two men approached their battle for Quebec supremacy in similarly divergent styles: Pascal all coiled aggression and Bute, the would-be matador, seeking to spear a dangerous and onrushing bull.
At the end of 12 rounds, there was no doubt which approach prevailed. Pascal's fire melted Bute's ice, securing the Haiti-born fighter a deserved unanimous points victory in front of over 20,000 wildly enthusiastic fans.
The tone, if not the result, was set in the early going, as Bute jerked his southpaw lead right in and out, seemingly slightly confusing Pascal, who stood on the outside, looking for an angle and an opportunity to be the attacker. In the second round, that desired assault erupted into a spell of highly effective aggression, as Pascal responded to a short Bute left hand by landing a flurry of hard lefts and rights; they didn't appear to hurt his foe unduly, but they sent the spray flying and clearly scored points.
Bute appeared more composed in the third, and enjoyed some success in landing sharp deterrent punches as a crouching Pascal eyed his putative prey. In the fourth, Pascal exploded into action again, straightening up his punches and landing a sharp right hand, followed by a left and another right. Bute, wobbled, waved Pascal in, and Pascal duly obliged with another flurry until a round-ending bell that was drowned out by the cacophony that filled the arena.
As if over-enthused by his success, Pascal became sloppier in his approach for a couple of rounds, allowing Bute to gain a little confidence and snap a southpaw jab while dancing on his toes. At times, Pascal gave the impression of falling asleep and then waking up with a start that was marked by a series of wild rushes; but when he was fully alert, he was focused, dangerous and confident, and the next five rounds were the most dominant of the fight.
Demonstrating elements of technique and showmanship characteristic of Roy Jones, Jr., who worked with him in camp, Pascal crouched low and sprang into action whenever an opening presented itself, appearing to drop Bute in the eighth with a left hook followed by a right, although the fact that the second punch caught Bute on the back of the head caused it to be ruled a push.
Push or punch, the effect was much the same: Bute looked ragged and busted up, and it would have been no surprise if at any stage in the ninth, tenth, or eleventh Pascal had managed to finish him off. In the event, however, feeling correctly that he was clearly dominating, he moved into cruise control, even to the extent of playing possum somewhat in the eleventh, allowing Bute to jab at him in the corner before erupting into another fierce flurry that rocked Bute backward.
When Bute opened up the twelfth again pinning Pascal into a corner, and again landing with jabs and now straight lefts as well, the first thought was that Pascal was again leading him on. But Bute kept landing, and memories returned to Pascal's fatigue issues in previous fights. A dramatic collapse and a sudden turnaround seemed possible, until Pascal fought back hard enough to keep a weary Bute at bay, and although the Romanian-born fighter summoned up one last effort, Pascal again responded in kind, the two men exchanging blows as the crowd roared in lusty approval.
At the beginning of the evening, Bute was the clear crowd favorite, and it remained that way at the end. But although Pascal's victory was greeted with some boos, there were also cheers for both men, in recognition of an effort befitting of the Super Bowl of Canadian Boxing.
In the co-main event, heavyweights Mike Perez and Carlos Takam battled to a majority draw in what was, candidly, a strange fight. For several rounds, Cameroon's Takam circled away from the southpaw left hand of Perez - whose trunks bore the name of Magomed Abdusalamov, who is continuing a slow recovery from brain injuries suffered in a November bout with the Cuban. But beyond the occasional overhand right, Takam did little early on to assert himself in the contest. Perez seemed content to allow Takam to play keep-away, but at least demonstrated a degree of intent and an element of desire to cut off the ring.
It briefly appeared as if the contest might end prematurely when a clash of heads opened a deep gash on the right eyebrow of Perez. But the two men carried on, circling each other, until suddenly in the sixth round, a fight broke out.
As if tiring of constantly retreating and circling, Takam stood his ground, and the two men spent the rest of the fight leaning on each other and ripping each other with hooks and uppercuts to body and head. Takam got the better of the change in strategy and pace, rocking Perez on several occasions while the Cuban's efforts to land counters between his foe's punches had little effect.
Had the bout been 12 rounds, the Takam juggernaut would surely have ultimately run its way downhill to victory, but although he clearly swept the second half of the contest, it was too little, too late to gain the win, even if it was enough to avoid defeat.