The Lucian Bute Project
By Double Standard: Last night in Montreal, former IBF super middleweight champion and Montreal based fighter Lucian Bute (32-2 25 KOs) stopped the European champion, Italian Andrea Di Luisa (17-3 13 KOs), by TKO in the 4th round of a bout scheduled for 10. The fight was set at 171lbs catch-weight, although both men weighed in at 170lbs. or less.
It took place at the Bell Centre, but looked like the 21.000 seats arena had been converted into a 3.000 seats casino type venue. The small but loud crowd was surely pleased by the outcome, but also by the way Bute passed the test.
After a 19 months layoff and over 3 years of doubts left by his devastating KO loss to Carl Froch, everyone knows Bute needed to take a few steps back. The opponent was carefully chosen and finally, the native Romanian southpaw looked good and confident in the ring.
There was not much action in the first two rounds, but that’s not surprising. Bute has always been a slow starter, even back in the days when he was known for his high punch volume. He moved around Di Luisa, trying to establish his jab, and to get his distance and his angles right. Nonetheless, you could tell by the way he was cutting the ring and the pacing of his head movements that it was a very active process. Bute’s head movement has always been one of his primary tool and he used it perfectly in this fight, both for avoiding shots and for setting traps. You could tell by the second round that Bute was too slick for Di Luisa who was the more aggressive fighter. Someone with power and a chin could have nullified that kind of defense though, just think Froch and Pascal.
Bute threw his first combination late in the 2nd round. It was the beginning of the end for Di Luisa. Bute just outclassed him in terms of accuracy. He tested his arsenal in a way he could not do in the past years by throwing straight lefts, left-and-right hooks, and left uppercuts, varying body and head shots. Plus, he seems to have developed a slightly better jab. In the 3rd, Bute was working from short distances and was still able to land a stiff straight left, as well as hooks and uppercuts. He had Di Luisa cut under his right eye. It was interesting to see Bute bringing up an inside game. At some point, he even shoved Di Luisa in the corner. That’s something Bute couldn’t afford to do against bigger guys, but still it’s quite unusual for him considering his style and personality.
In the fourth round, while operating from the pocket, Bute connected with three consecutive left hooks to the head and sent Di Luisa on his knees. Bute immediately started to mutter angrily while looking at Di Luisa, which I found both untypical of Bute and satisfying. Moments later, Bute showed killer instinct as he sent a flurry of left-and-right hooks and straights to Di Luisa’s head, while standing a mid-range. Di Luisa got caught with most of them shots as he was unsuccessfully trying to cover up. His cornermen threw in the towel at 1:53 of the fourth round. There was blood coming out of his badly swollen right eye. Bute connected 41% (64/158) of his overall punches (and an impressive 65% of his power punches), while light hitting Di Luisa only landed 17% of his own (35/205).
Bute seemed relieved to finally get his way, and shouted “I’m back!” seconds after the judge waved. Now 35 of age, you have to wonder where does Bute go from here. One of his biggest problems was his damaged confidence and lack of inside game. Being trained by the Grant brothers for the past 6 months or so, one already saw some improvements in those respect last night. Can they turn him into a gritty fighter who can stay in the pocket by clinching and shoving? Who’s so comfortable up close that he able to stay there, leaning and bending low without getting hit with bombs, while making his opponent pay?
Bute is gifted, but I doubt his confidence level is where it should be at the moment. He could still be rocked by pressure fighters with heavy hands, especially in the early rounds. That would surely end his career. He needs more time with his new team, but can’t take forever before taking on an elite fighter again. That’s why he needs to be carefully matched. Luckily, the super middleweight division is open for him. Many of the top contenders are somewhat vulnerable. Bute is currently ranked #6 by the WBC. If Bute beats any of 5 guys ahead of him, he would probably get a shot at Badou Jack’s title. WBC super middleweight ranking before last night’s fight was:
Badou JACK, champion
1. George Groves
2. Callum Smith
3. Gilberto Ramirez
4. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
5. Anthony Direll
6. Lucian Bute
A Bute win over Groves (#1) could make it interesting for Bute because Groves also has a history with both the current (Degale) and the former (Froch) IBF champs, the latter being a mutual foe. Their young UK land mate Callum Smith (#2) is likely to get a title shot soon, assuming Groves loses to Badou Jack next month. Should Groves win, the very green Smith might accept to fight Bute.
Young Mexican Gilberto Ramirez (#3) is highly ranked by the IBF and the WBO as well, so he’s likely to fight for Jack’s, Degale’s, or Abraham’s title soon. A fight with popular landmate Chavez Jr. (#4) also seems more likely than a Bute fight. As for Chavez Jr., he has called out Bute a month ago. They are both popular fighters and both advised by Al Haymon.
Anthony Direll (#5) is scheduled to fight next month against aging middleweight Marco Antonio Rubio. He’s probably hoping to get known by Mexican fans in order to lure Mexican prize fighter Chavez Jr. to fight him. If Dirrell is looking for a big payday, then I see him agreeing to a fight in Montreal against the very popular Bute. They are both advised by Al Haymon.
In sum, Groves, Chavez Jr. and Anthony Dirrell seem to represent realistic options for Bute’s next fight and further step in his comeback to the elite level.