A scintillating, gruelling contest worthy of it’s hyped all-Canadian billing went down at Montreal’s Bell Centre, where Brandon Cook upset hometown favourite Steven Butler by sudden TKO stoppage in round seven. It was a deserved victory for Cook, who retained his WBA-NABA title and added Butler’s IBF-North American 154-pound strap to his haul. However, the event also featured some heinous, nearly riotous post-fight antics on a night where everyone should have been celebrating the quality of Canadian boxing.
We’ll save the sensational, moronic nonsense for later because the obscene behaviour of a select few fans shouldn’t overshadow a fight card that featured two distinct narrative threads: Brandon Cook’s coming out party, and yet another strong showing from Eye of the Tiger Management’s impressive stable of talent.
Early undercard action featured some explosive stoppages, including a first round win for Brandon Cook stablemate Josh O’Reilly, who abused Hungarian Attila Csereklye with left hooks to the body, scoring a pair of knockdowns before a flurry prompted a referee intervention. Montreal-based Kazakh Ablaikhan Khussainov used a purposeful jab and some late body work to bust up Oscar Mejia. Khussainov battered Meija around the ring, his overhand right causing Mejia’s left eye to swell shut and eventually forcing the contest to be stopped.
Ayaz Hussain, who only two fights ago was blitzed in a single round, is firmly back on track after his second-round TKO of Uilses Perez. The fight got off to a torrid start, with Hussain landing some sizzling right hands. This would prove Hussain’s most potent weapon, as he used it to tag Perez in the second, buckling him after a delayed reaction. A follow-up left floored Perez, and his corner threw in the towel amidst a relentless barrage of shots from a galvanized Hussain.
Montreal fight fans should probably pause for a minute to reflect on what they have in Batyrzhan Jukembayev, who scored a spectacular knockout at 2:24 of the opening round against David Rangel. Jukembayev is one of Anna Reva’s imports from Kazakhstan, and the ruthless southpaw may be the city’s top prospect. Jukembayev hurt Rangel immediately with a pair of straight left hands from his southpaw stance, and he then unleashed a body shot combination before obliterating Rangel with a right hook that nearly spun him around. Jukembayev can progress as quickly as his handlers are willing to move him.
Two distance fights that offered style to complement substance were the wins by Mathieu Germain and Yves Ulysse Jr. Germain defeated the rugged Juan Armando Garcia via three identical 80-71 scores, which included a knockdown in round seven via an overhand right and subsequent flurry. It should also be noted that Germain boxed well both off the front foot and in retreat, exhibiting some crafty upper body movement and tricky stance switching.
Ulysse, who was on the shelf due to injury for most of 2016, is finally healthy and served further notice that he may be Montreal’s most naturally gifted prospect. In defeating the supremely tough Jose Emilio Perea, who bested David Theroux last time out, Ulysse displayed the breadth of his skills, which includes some amazingly athletic evasive maneuvers. But while Ulysse moves a ton, he plants well when he throws and knows how to sit down on his punches. Whether he was catching a shot and then shooting his left hook, or shredding Perea with combinations, Ulysse was truly a class above.
Heavyweight Simon “The Grizzly” Kean displayed his Olympic pedigree in besting the credible Avery Gibson via scores of 80-72 (twice) and 79-73. This was the first time Kean had been past five rounds, and his stamina (for the most part) and technique held up. Kean’s thumping jab was his best weapon, and by the third round he had discovered his rhythm and was timing Gibson with right hands. The game American, who appeared gassed mid-fight, lunged wildly with left hooks, and while Kean ate a few shots, he remained in complete control. In fact, he nearly stopped Gibson in both the sixth and final round, as he battered the jelly-legged American with both fists. Overall, a competent, professional performance from Kean.
At the post-fight press conference, Camille Estephan indicated that Kean could return on March 11 in Verona, New York, to fight on the David Lemieux-Curtis Stevens undercard. Kean admitted to being a bit stressed about fighting in chief support of the Butler vs Cook main event, but stated that the Gibson bout was an invaluable learning experience. “I got stronger as the fight went on,” Kean said. “If I’d had one more round, I could have stopped him.”
The night, though, belonged to Ontarian Brandon Cook, who strutted into the Bell Centre’s hostile confines, amidst a sea of Quebec flags, and blasted out 9-1 favourite Steven Butler. The evening, understandably, was sold as a major springboard for Butler, an impressive victory over Cook being one that might propel him to a world title opportunity in short order. After all, Cook was ranked fourth by the WBA heading into the bout, and he’d had a prospective fight against Erislandy Lara just slip through his fingers. A Butler win, which everyone expected, would have burnished the prodigious Montrealer’s world level credentials.
The script had been written and polished, but Brandon Cook didn’t care. As expected, the taller and athletic Butler started fast from range, keeping Cook at the end of his thudding shots, which included some stiff overhand rights in the opening round. These punches seemed to jolt Cook, who by the end of the first frame had worked into punching range and was also swinging freely. In round two, Butler flashed his boxing skills, peppering Cook with off-speed shots as the Ontarian struggled to land clean. At this point, Butler was boxing beautifully.
Credit Cook, though, for making the necessary adjustments. In round three he landed a telling right-hand, left hook combination from in-close and then buckled Butler with a massive overhand right. It was a clear Cook round, and he’d also shown he could recuperate from getting buzzed. Oozing confidence, the Ontarion pressed forward in round four, only to find himself on the end of a counter right hand from Butler, who appeared to be timing his more aggressive foe. The difference for Cook in round four, however, was that he started to invest in some punishing body work, flooding Butler’s basement with brutal right hooks.
This reduced Butler to being reactive in round five as Cook banged his body and started to set Butler up for his massive overhand right. Though it was not a right hand but a left hook that had Butler dancing in imaginary potholes in round six, and it took every ounce of the Montrealer’s will to remain upright. Despite this bravery, a sense of foreboding was in the air. And then it happened. In round seven, Cook’s unrelenting body work prompted Butler to lower his guard. Brandon unleashed a cannonading overhand right that stunned Butler and the follow-up left hook put the Montrealer down hard. When he rose on unsteady legs, referee Marlon Wright looked at the dazed fighter in front of him and made the only call he could; the fight was over.
And that’s when things got messy. While most fans were understandably distraught at the result, a few moronic troglodytes in the VIP section started hurling beer at Cook. Then, the unfathomable happened: someone chucked a chill bucket filled with ice and a glass bottle to the far end of the ring, and the projectile struck Brandon Cook directly on his head, while at the exact same moment a groggy Steven Butler staggered towards him and pushed him into the ropes. Cook crumpled and was quickly assisted by his trainer and promoter. Police were on the scene in large numbers, and a woman seated ringside was also hit in the head and taken out on a stretcher as a precaution. Ultimately, the disgraceful actions of a few idiots cast an unfortunate cloud over an otherwise perfect evening of boxing.
Plenty of praise, however, needs to be handed out in this messy aftermath. First: Eye of the Tiger’s Camille Estephan. He profusely denounced the actions at ringside, which was expected but necessary. He was also supremely respectful of Brandon Cook, while remaining clear-eyed about Steven Butler’s future. At the post-fight presser Estephan said that they had taken a challenge they thought Butler was ready for, adding, “We’re going to let him absorb the defeat.”
He also noted that Butler was very much in the fight before the stoppage, and that his lack of physical maturity and energy let him down. He also nixed an immediate rematch, recalling David Lemieux’s early defeats and how a steady rebuild is necessary. Right now, Estephan seems like the steady hand Butler, who naturally wants a rematch, needs at this point. Moreover, Estephan refreshingly said he will not reconsider his philosophy of matching his fighters tough.
An impassioned Brandon Cook took to the dais and was appropriately classy and outraged at what had happened. Cook stated that he will never fight Butler in Montreal again, although he would consider returning to the city for other opportunities. He cited the exceptional treatment he received from Eye of the Tiger and the Quebec media, but he had harsh words for Butler and his supporters. “I put everything on the line for this,” he stated with some heat. “And for me to get hit in the back of the head with a bottle is unacceptable.”
Cook mentioned that many of his supporters were drawn into a fight, which only further soured the evening. Also, don’t forget that Cook took time away from his day job to train; when he mentioned he has to return to work on Tuesday, the assembled media applauded his valiant effort.
A note on Steven Butler, who had actually broken his nose in sparring prior to the fight but showed gumption by going forward with the bout. While he exhibited guts and at times showed impressive skill, he deserves to be officially reprimanded for shoving Brandon Cook after the fight was over. Yes, Butler was groggy, and he was of course frustrated and devastated, but he’s also a professional, and age shouldn’t be an excuse for a poor display of sportsmanship. The hope here is that Butler is appropriately taken to task before he issues a formal apology to Cook and his team.
Lastly, let’s not forget to celebrate all the brilliant prospects who showcased that Montreal’s next wave of talent could scale even greater heights than Jean Pascal or Lucian Bute. Obviously there’s a long way to go, but boxing in this city has never had this kind of depth. And credit both Steven Butler and Brandon Cook for readily agreeing to a 50-50 crossroads Canadian battle. That doesn’t happen enough, and both men, from a purely boxing standpoint, are a credit to the high standard of pugilism in this country. Indeed, Saturday’s post-fight antics cannot be ignored, but the shameful actions of a select few should not erase all the positives that were on display, yet again, at the Bell Centre.
— Zachary Alapi