The violent and ruthless nature of boxing leads to a survivalist mindset. In a sport where one loss—one punch, even—can lead to the swift decline of a fighter’s stock or serious injury, taking the most lucrative bout is in a boxer’s best interest. Whether such a fight carries historical or championship implications (or both) is often a bonus.
Because the United States has a genuine abundance of outstanding fighters—whether they be prospects, contenders or champions—it’s hard to imagine two Americans boxing professionally in a fight with nationalistic implications.
Smaller countries with fewer champions, however, can sometimes offer fights that can define that nation’s boxing history, while simultaneously engaging the sport’s mainstream fanbase.
Jean Pascal versus Lucian Bute can be that fight for Canada.
The prospect of the bout finally coming to fruition is tantalizing for all boxing fans. So what’s the caveat? A scheduled May 25 rematch against Chad Dawson currently stands in the way of Pascal (27-2-1, 16 KO) making the vastly more compelling fight against Bute (31-1, 24 KO).
Now, obviously, contracts are technically binding, but the prospect of Pascal-Dawson II has been downgraded to depressing in light of the news that Pascal and Bute have agreed to fight. As one might expect, Gary Shaw, Dawson’s promoter, is upset (per ESPN):
I met with Yvon [Michel] this week in New York, where he told me that [Jean] Bedard had offered him a fight with Bute and he would put Dawson on the undercard, give him $600,000 and we could bring our own opponent.
I told him, "I would never do that to my fighter or HBO." We finished lunch, I asked, "Do we still have a fight," and Yvon said, "Yes," and shook my hand, and said, "We have a deal."
Unfortunately for Shaw, he needs to realize that he promotes a fighter in Dawson (31-2, 17 KO) who is as talented as he is unappealing. This is not intended as an ad hominem attack against Dawson, who appears to be a decent guy and is a quality champion. However, HBO invested in Dawson and tried to make him marketable, and it simply hasn’t worked.
Skirting out of his deal with Shaw would damage GYM Promotions and Michel’s reputation to a certain extent, but the consequences of not making Pascal-Bute now could be far greater. Bypassing Dawson to make this fight would be a tough break for Shaw and Dawson, but the reality is that boxing is a ruthless business.
Should Dawson get left out and the better alternative prevail, there are still harsh realities to be dealt with. Regarding Pascal and Bute, Michel has a lucrative matchup with a rapidly approaching expiration date.
Before turning professional, both Pascal and Bute were decorated amateurs. Pascal represented Canada at the 2004 Olympics after winning gold at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, and Bute claimed bronze at the 1999 World Amateur Championships.
As professionals, Bute would capture and make nine defenses of the IBF 168-pound title, and Pascal would become the lineal and WBC champion at light heavyweight.
But there is something even more significant than either man’s resume: They have both been universally embraced in the Province of Quebec. Both Pascal and Bute can pack the Bell Centre in Montreal or the Pepsi Coliseum in Quebec City to the tune of 15,000 rabid fans (easily).
Fighting each other would only increase these impressive live numbers, and ESPN boxing scribe Dan Rafael astutely points out that Pascal-Bute is far more lucrative than Pascal-Dawson II (surprised?):
"This is what we haven't decided yet. This is what we are evaluating right now," Michel said of whether to fight Bute or Dawson next. "But Pascal will make $700,000 to fight Dawson. He will make more than $2 million fighting Bute."
Pascal-Bute makes dollars and sense. Economics aside, the fight would pit two of the best ever Canadian-based fighters on home soil in what would surely be a raucous and gargantuan event.
It is conceivable that Pascal-Bute could outgrow the Bell Centre’s 21, 273-person seating capacity and find a home in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. This would actually be a fitting tribute to the most significant fight to take place in Canada to date: Roberto Duran’s welterweight title-winning decision victory over Ray Leonard in 1980.
The fight could also act as a symbolic passing of the torch. An undercard could easily be stacked with such established and emerging Canadian fighters as Kevin Bizier, Mikael Zewski, Pier Olivier Cote, Tony Luis, Adonis Stevenson and Troy Ross, to name a few.
All would be excellent candidates to round out the broadcast. There’s an abundance of boxing talent in Canada, and Pascal-Bute would be the ideal venue to showcase it.
The importance of Pascal-Bute is also a sobering reminder that it would be a major crossroads fight. Bute appeared sluggish in his comeback victory over Denis Grachev after getting obliterated by Carl Froch, and Pascal suffered through an extended layoff after losing his title to Bernard Hopkins, only to reinjure his shoulder in a gutsy comeback performance against Aleksy Kuziemski in December.
Thus, both men are fragile in their own ways, which means that they are teetering on the edge of obscurity if they each lose another important fight.
The stakes for the winner of Pascal-Bute are extremely high. Whoever prevails will be in prime position to land at least one more major fight. If Bute were to defeat Pascal, would he finally look to avenge his defeat against Froch? And similarly, would a Pascal victory also set the stage for a rematch of his classic 2008 defeat to “The Cobra?”
The latter scenario would obviously involve Froch moving up in weight, but the point is that the winner of Pascal-Bute would regain lost momentum and championship viability.
Most difficult in all of this—especially for Canadians—is the reality that the loser will likely never return to championship form. That said, it’s better for the sport and for Canadian boxing if Pascal and Bute fight now, as opposed to going their separate ways, risking a loss and then quietly fading into irrelevance.
Pascal and Bute have a chance to make history, and they’ve had careers worthy of this opportunity.