Photos by Sumio Yamada
LUCIAN BUTE vs BRIAN MAGEE
Many people in boxing wondered why Lucian Bute was not included in Showtime’s Super Six World Boxing Classic tournament in the super middleweight division. Undefeated, hard-hitting and talented, the Montreal-based Romanian southpaw seemed a natural for the innovative event. All’s well that ends well, though. Showtime has signed Bute to a multi-fight contract, and the Quebec superstar appears on the network on Saturday night in a championship defence against fellow-southpaw Brian Magee, the European champion from Belfast in Northern Ireland.
Bute is a massive favourite, as high as -1400 at some books. These odds are a little surprising, because Magee is experienced and capable. However, Bute has been looking so impressive lately that it is difficult to see him losing, especially as he will be on home ground in front of a huge, roaring crowd at the Bell Centre.
Bute is a dangerous puncher, and his left hand to the body or head is like a lightning bolt. He is very good at boxing a relaxed, smart fight, throwing quick punches, and then suddenly blasting in the big left hand just when the other man is least expecting it. The supposedly super-tough Librado Andrade was blown away in four rounds in his rematch with Bute, while Fulgencio Zuniga also went out of the fight in four rounds, an outstanding result for Bute when you consider that in his last fight Zuniga grittily went the full 12 rounds with unbeaten light-heavy champ Tavoris Cloud.
Still, Bute doesn’t destroy everyone this quickly. It took him 10 rounds to stop an ageing William Joppy, for instance, while his title-winning bout against Alejandro Berrio went into the 11th round. Bute was unable to buckle Andrade in their first fight, and, of course, Bute almost got stopped in the controversial final moments that night. In his last fight, Bute stopped Jesse Brinkley in the final 20 seconds of the ninth round, and I would put Magee on a slightly higher level than the Contender first-season competitor.
Magee, 35, has only been stopped once, in the 11th round of an exciting fight against Carl Froch five years ago. The Irish fighter was right in the fight on the judges’ cards after 10 rounds despite having been dropped in the first and ninth rounds — there were rounds in which he was simply outworking the bigger-punching Froch.
Although Magee suffered four knockdowns against a top-form Robin Reid he gamely battled through to the final bell and was highly competitive in the rounds in which he wasn’t dropped.
Magee is, then, a fighter who has shown a determination not to be stopped and the ability to survive and rally when he’s in trouble. He hasn’t lost in his last 10 bouts, and Magee pulled off a surprise when he knocked out Mads Larsen in Denmark last year to capture the European title, although I must say that the Danish veteran caved in rather easily. (The win over Larsen was especially impressive considering that Magee hadn’t boxed for 13 months due to a back injury.)
Bute is one of the world’s best boxers at any weight, but I don’t see Magee being quickly banged out. Magee has been the 12-round distance several times, and he has shown that he can fight well abroad, hammering Larsen in Denmark and losing a very close decision to Vitaliy Tsypko in Germany. I like Magee’s approach to the fight. He is giving Bute all the respect due to an outstanding champion but says he is well prepared, ready for a very tough fight and will do his best to upset the odds — no empty boasts.
I think that Magee is fighting with a bit more authority and confidence after hooking up with the Panamanian trainer, Bernardo Checa, who lives in Belfast. His manager, Pat Magee (no relation to the fighter), is convinced that this is a winnable fight for his man.
“Brian’s fight against Robin Reid back in 2006 was without doubt Brian’s worst performance,” manager Magee told me. “The main reason was that he got his weight wrong and had to take off 3.5lbs on the day of the weigh in. He was dead at the weight on the night against such a strong opponent as Reid and he paid dearly for this bad mistake.
“His two best performances after that were against Tsypko in Germany, when he was robbed, and Froch in London, when he was only one point behind when he got caught in the 11th round. The loss to Froch left us out in the cold as far as the super middleweight division was concerned and as you can see from Brian’s record we dallied with the light heavyweight division for a time.
“Brian was never comfortable at this weight and only found his true form again when he reverted to super middleweight. In between winning the British title and challenging for the European title in Denmark he was nursing an injury, which proved difficult and was a major factor in giving up the British title, which led to a period of enforced inactivity. Subsequently he was denied the opportunity of boxing for the title he had given up voluntarily, and this was a cruel injustice at that crucial point in his career.
“The injustice in fact served to spur him on, and the evidence of that was his performance against Larsen for the European title. Also in the background before this title fight in Denmark was a dispute within his management team resulting in his leaving his longtime coach and gym. This led to me engaging Bernardo Checa as his coach for that fight. The difference in approach was like a breath of fresh air to Brian after all the disappointments and frustrations, and Brian and Bernardo hit it off from day one.
“I believe this relationship has produced a new Brian Magee. His style is much more aggressive and he has that hard edge and fluid movements which one normally associates with the South American style, and this undoubtedly comes from Checa.
“Bernardo as you well know has a wealth of experience and has trained a number of world champions going back over 25 years. It also helped that Bernardo, who had drifted away from boxing, was given this new lease of life and the opportunity to get back to what he is best at. All in all, the match up between them has been tremendous and I don’t know just how good, because of the improvements, Brian Magee can be. He’s just a different fighter and, I know, since I have been with him since he turned pro.
“I think Brian is a handful for anyone, and I think he will prove that in Montreal. Brian has to be a very attractive bet indeed at his present odds. I know I will be proved right.”
Despite the manager’s confidence, though, I just can’t see Magee winning and if he can survive full 12 rounds I would count it as a moral victory.
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