Jean Pascal got back on the big stage tonight at the Centre Bell in Montreal, beating crowd favorite Lucian Bute over 12 rounds by clear unanimous decision on scores of 117-110, 116-112, and 117-111.
Pascal (29-2-1, 17 KO) looked the more confident and comfortable fighter throughout the night, at times mimicking his "idol" Roy Jones Jr, who was working Pascal's corner and helped him in camp for the bout. He was able to beat up Bute (31-2, 24 KO) to the body early on, and whenever he rushed the Romanian-Canadian with a flurry of shots, he mixed it up well, and also found that Bute just wasn't able to do much more than freeze up. Even reactions to protect himself seemed delayed, let alone throwing back in counter.
Bute, who turns 34 next month, looked better tonight than he did against Carl Froch in 2012, at least in terms of going the distance. But part of that was simply a more tentative approach than he had that night in England, and the fact that Pascal, 31, is also notable for not keeping up his activity rate as much as Froch did in that fight.
Would Bute have survived a full 12 rounds against a more aggressive opponent tonight? Perhaps not. He did have brief flashes of looking like his old self, but that's all they were. The most telling stat of the night may have been the fact that Pascal, not a noted body puncher, completely outworked and outlanded Bute to the body. Bute, when he was rising up the super middleweight ranks, was noted for a murderous left hand to the body that dropped and stopped a lot of opponents.
What Bute once did well was largely gone tonight, much as it was in his last fight in late 2012 against Denis Grachev. Maybe Carl Froch ruined Bute, or maybe Bute was just never as good as the hype and handling led us to believe. But either way, tonight was Pascal's night, and he's got himself in the mix for a big fight at 175 pounds.
"It means a lot. I've been working really hard for this. It's been five years, seven years I've been chasing Bute to show people I'm the best in town. Today I proved it," Pascal told HBO's Max Kellerman.
"It's all about the rematch, to make the fight a bit closer. I knew I was winning the fight." Asked by Kellerman if he was joking, Pascal said, "This is boxing, this is war. I love to play, I love to get punches, I love to throw back. This is the sport of boxing, baby."
"I'm disappointed in my performance tonight. I prepared well, I trained well. For some reason things didn't go as I planned. I'm really disappointed," Bute told Kellerman through an interpreter.
When asked if he wanted a rematch -- seemingly based entirely on the mildly interesting 12th round -- Bute said he did, again through an interpreter: "Yes, I want a rematch. I know, I'm convinced that my punches can land way more than they did tonight. I do want the rematch."
It was a lot of hype for a rematch that is, quite frankly, completely unnecessary at this point in time. It's hard to imagine even the loyal Montreal fans coming back in numbers like tonight's announced attendance of 20,749, given that they didn't see a particularly exciting or competitive bout.