By Jay McIntyre:
When: Saturday, January 18th, 2014
Where: Bell Centre, Montreal, Canada
Who: Jean Pascal vs Lucien Bute
What’s at stake?: WBC Diamond light-heavyweight title (for whatever that’s worth)
It is a fight that has lost some of its significance. Indeed, had it happened several years ago, it would have been a very worthy pay per view draw. Nevertheless, on January 18th, Jean Pascal and Lucien Bute will finally meet in Montreal – a turf war of sorts in one of the oldest cities in North America that both men call home. It will be a fun fight that brings two stylistic opposites into the ring against one another. Regardless of this fight’s relevancy, there are some questions that beg to be answered, perhaps the most obvious being: who will win? Let’s have a look at what both men bring to the table in this installment of “My Two Cents”.
Praise: hand speed, patience, good power and precision.
Concern: drops his lead hand, questionable defensive footwork, doesn’t respond well to aggressive pressure fighters.
Bute does a lot of things right as a southpaw. Unfortunately, the qualities that he neglects are of vital importance when fighting at the truly elite level. He remained undefeated for the longest time because he was shepherded carefully against picked opponents. Visions of Rocky III materialize in my mind as I think of his relatively untested reign as the IBF champion, only to be suddenly derailed by an aggressive and real threat in the form of Carl Froch. So, what does he do well, and what should he do on Saturday, January 18th? Plenty.
When Bute fights he adopts a very wide stance, and has the interesting habit of dropping his lead hand. These are not terrible things to do as a boxer. In fact, Sugar Ray Robinson would keep his lead hand low and fire pestering jabs at will against aggressive opponents like Jake LaMotta. Then again, Sugar Ray was an orthodox fighter. He had an angle to land that jab, he wasn’t firing it into his opponent’s lead arm like a southpaw would. The problem with lowering his lead hand as a southpaw is that it takes away some of his punching options against his opponent – most notably the lead hook and the jab (used to blind or hurt). Alternately, he gives his opponent the opportunity to land those very same punches. Bute will need to keep his hand up and use it to stifle his opponent’s offense, while setting up his own.
Furthermore, an intelligent and effective defense starts in the feet. While Bute feints and moves his upper body well to evade incoming shots, this becomes increasing difficult to maintain when an opponent punches in volume. Carl Froch – for all of his reliance on his chin for his defense – was able to walk into Bute’s personal space and fired salvos of punches until Bute’s defenses unraveled (it didn’t help that Bute encouraged him to do so while trapping himself along the ropes). A widened stance allows for better upper body movement (it helps maintain balance), but relying solely on it is a perilous stratagem. Pernell Whitaker was a flashy boxer that used a widened stance and tons of upper body movement, but he also had frustratingly effective footwork that allowed him to nearly moonwalk around the ring unscathed. Standing still or backing up will only keep him in harm’s way of Pascal’s forward moving line of attack.
Given that he was the victim of a severe beating at the hands of Carl Froch, Bute should understand that there are some fundamental changes he needs to make in order to be successful for on Saturday night. What Bute will need to do defensively against Jean Pascal is rely on his feet more than his upper body. When Pascal closes the distance to put his combinations together (something he will want to do to maximize his own success), Lucien Bute will want to circle away to the left or the right, rather than stay on Pascal’s line of attack. Either will work and both have counter-punching options. If Bute is able to get his lead foot on the outside of Pascal’s own lead foot, then he can land a right hook over Pascal’s shoulder and pivot away (a technique Manny Pacquiao has pretty much mastered). He can also throw a straight left hand and pivot away or continue punching (depending on Pascal’s reaction). This will allow him to get off of Pascal’s line of attack, score points/damage and deny Pascal the opportunity to volume punch as he steamrolls forward. If he finds his lead foot inside Pascal’s lead foot, he should slip away to the left, firing either a blinding jab to obscure Pascal’s vision, or a lead left (if the opportunity presents itself) to Pascal’s stomach or head. Either way, he wants to get off his aggressor’s line of attack and set himself up for some smooth boxing.
Offensively, Bute will want to elevate and use that lead hand! The offensive options it provides for himself and simultaneously denies his opponent are too useful to be ignored. Another thing that Bute will want to do is unleash that left hand. When fighting against someone in a mirrored stance (lefty vs righty), the rules change and it is okay (even encouraged!) to uncork a straight power shot with no set up from the lead hand. The same rules apply when throwing the rear hand straight into your opponent’s body. Mixing up his lefts and rights to the head and body will confuse Pascal. I have written before that anticipation is part of a strong defense – one of the many reasons that Adrien Broner lost his fight to Marcos Maidana (http://a-neutral-corner.blogspot.ca/2013/12/aftermath-maidana-vs-broner.html). If Pascal is unaware of which hand to watch out for, he will be more reluctant to expose himself defensively (walking into straight power shots is a sure way to give away rounds, or slip into unconsciousness). In the past Bute looked rather sparing in the usage of his straight left, but against an aggressive fighter like Pascal, he will want to time its use to collide with his adversary as he moves in. That will discourage offense from his opponent, and allow him to box more successfully on the outside.
Mentally, I don’t think that Bute has quite recovered from his loss to Froch so testing his chin should not be at the top of his list of things to do on Saturday. While he showed that he does indeed have a chin (he did eat a buffet of punches on the ropes…), he should not try to stand and trade with Pascal. Bute must pick his shots and not stay in one place for too long. It may not make for an exciting fight, but it will generate success for Lucien Bute. He has the hand speed and the patience to exploit opportunities. These will be great assets to him on Saturday night.
Guillermo Rigondeaux is another southpaw and his skills – while leave something to be desired for some fans – epitomize the boxing maxim of “hitting and not getting hit”. If you are interested to see how he fights as a successful southpaw visit one of my older articles: http://www.boxingnews24.com/2013/12/rigondeaux-vs-agbeko-my-two-cents/. If Bute can learn anything from Rigondeaux, it is in the feet and the angles that he uses to stifle his aggressive opponents.
Bute has some sound boxing skill, fast hands, and he can pick his shots well. He has some excellent technical ability, but needs to augment it with better defensive movement and maximizing the potential of his lead hand.
Praise: powerful right hand, good chin, good hand speed
Concern: stamina, imprudent usage of time during rounds (can resort to ineffective blitzing to “wow” judges while otherwise looking complacent), head-hunting without setups
Pascal has fought some very credible competition in the form on Carl Froch (at 168 lbs.), Chad Dawson, and the age-defying Bernard Hopkins. These different styles have each been opportunities to teach Pascal something about himself. First and foremost, he knows that he can stay competitive against some of the very best. However, he has not fought many skilled southpaws that are worth using as a case study. This is important to consider because how one fights against an opponent of similar stance (orthodox vs orthodox) is markedly different from how one should fight against someone in a mirrored stance (southpaw vs orthodox). Lucien Bute is a southpaw, and this will change the game for Jean Pascal. We must look at Pascal’s ability overall, but also how he fared against his greatest southpaw test in 2010 when he fought Chad Dawson.
The greatest weapon that flustered Pascal when he stepped into the ring with Chad Dawson was “Bad” Chad’s thoughtful jab. Dawson was able to vary its rhythm and utilize it as an aggressive and defensive tool in such a way that Pascal frequently was left moving around the ring waiting to rush his opponent. However, Bute’s past unwillingness to keep his lead hand up will allow Pascal to dictate his own terms offensively. He will not need to fight for hand control and positioning and will have an easier time firing his own jab. This will set the table for his very useful straight right hand (remember that the rear straight hand is quite effective against an opponent operating in a mirrored stance to your own – as long as you get off of your opponent’s line of attack).
For Pascal to win he will need to use intelligent pressure – always on the outside but just close enough to respond to Bute’s mistakes. When Bute does throw his jab he should time his very effective right hand. Once Pascal bridges the gap off of his own counter (even if Bute ducks the right hand), the liver is a tempting target for his left hook. Once he is on the inside he should stay there and tire Bute out with more body shots. This will be important not only because of the concern regarding Pascal’s stamina, but also to slow down Bute so that his hand speed is less of a threat. Remember the liver is located on a person’s ride side (underneath their pectoral muscle) and that this is the lead side of a southpaw. Bute likes to duck which doesn’t create much protection for his right side behind his arm, it also allows Pascal to follow up with a right uppercut.
If Bute refuses to lead, Pascal has the ability to do so on his own. He can jab Bute, while circling to his own left at will and if Bute ducks these, Pascal will still be in the position to follow-up with more punches. Bute has the unsavoury tendency of relying heavily on his upper body movement to keep his head out of danger. Given this, Pascal has the option to lead with a right hook or straight to Bute’s body. If Bute adjusts to this then he will have greater difficulty anticipating the body blow and the head shot. Regardless of the effectiveness of his initial lead, Pascal needs to stay inside once he gets there and unload combination punches. Pascal should only stay on the outside long enough to set up how to get into Bute’s space, and he should always consider moving to his own left (Bute’s right) to take away the power hand of Bute.
Both men are coming off of relative periods of inactivity. Each man has also looked somewhat uninspired in their bouts since their respective losses and confidence will be a substantial variable going into the fight. Additionally, given that injuries have recently plagued both men, there could be some trepidation when it comes to taking calculated risks in the ring. As a result, both men could resort to playing it safe. Pascal frequently prepares himself for each of his bouts with a rather large dose of “smack-talk”. This is not new, and it is an effort to inflate his own confidence while simultaneously deflating that of his opponent’s. If there is any substance to what he is saying, it will be given the opportunity to present itself this Saturday.
Intangibles aside, I believe that Pascal will win by decision (*while unlikely, if Bute can make the necessary changes, he wins this fight handily – hehe, pun…). I believe that Bute is aware enough of what Pascal is capable of doing to survive the early rounds. He may even start to bank some points of his own toward the later half of the fight. But just because you know what someone is going to do, doesn’t mean you can stop them from making it happen.
I actually think that this fight is very tough to call. Pascal has less to change in his game than Lucien Bute and he will need to make less adjustments to what he already does. As with all predictions, I could easily be wrong, but I know that it is often easier to learn new habits than to unlearn old ones (that is why bad habits are so annoying – we aren’t paying attention to the fact that we are actually doing them).
The perils of arranging a fight like this, at this stage in both men’s careers are obvious. A loss for either man will almost undoubtedly keep him out any marquee match-ups for the foreseeable future. The defeated will be left treading water in the middle of a weight-class that has some very strong talent in its upper echelons (though little depth beyond that when compared to other divisions such as light-welterweight). The victor on the other hand will remain relevant, for a time. Mike Tyson once said that: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face”. There is truth in these words. Let us await the truths that surface on the banks of the St. Lawrence this Saturday night.
For a more thorough analysis with visuals go to my blog: a-neutral-corner.blogpsot.ca
Follow me on twitter: @JayMcintyre83