It takes a little time for this writer to identify the peculiar element in the atmosphere at the final press conference for the Premier Boxing Champions card taking place Saturday in Montreal. As Yvon Michel introduces the different boxers, sponsors, managers and trainers, including Jean Bedard of Interbox, and as the fighters themselves take their turns at the podium, a somehow subdued yet expectant air is conspicuous at the Casino de Montreal, despite the background jingle of a thousand slot machines.
As each of the undercard fighters approaches the microphone to voice the usual platitudes about having trained very hard and looking forward to a good fight, perhaps Yves Ulysse Jr. best highlights the mood of anticipation when he remarks that he is less interested in his own match on Saturday and instead looking forward more to seeing Bute finally back in the ring. The line gets a laugh from the small crowd of media, despite the fact Ulysse does not appear to be joking.
Bute’s opponent, Andrea Di Luisa of Italy, speaks neither French nor English, so his translator comes to the microphone to point out that while the former champion is the star of Saturday’s show, Di Luisa is “coming to win.” It is also mentioned that Bute vs De Luisa is a rematch, as the two had fought in an amateur tournament some 15 years ago. Interestingly, he fails to say what had been the result of that first meeting.
Jean Bedard of Interbox highlights the importance of Otis and Howard Grant to Bute’s comeback, and both Bedard and Michel make reference to Lucian’s impressive work ethic and dedication to training. Howard Grant, Bute’s new head trainer, reinforces the same theme and goes on to say how impressed he is by the veteran’s focus and drive.
Finally, the former champion himself takes the podium to thank all involved and to highlight the importance of starting his comeback in Montreal. “This city is my home,” he says, before going on to stress the fact that, for the first time in a long time, he feels not only fit and in top condition, but completely healthy. And as Bute spoke, one identified the feeling among those present, the particular element defining the atmosphere. It was hope, mixed with a certain degree of trepidation.
With the exception of De Luisa and his people, there was no one present at today’s press conference who is not hoping for a Bute win, not hoping he will look like the Bute of old on Saturday and resurrect his career. The writers and media people want fresh copy and content, and the organizers and promoters want to sell more tickets to future Lucian Bute fights. And who doesn’t want a story to have a happy ending?
But beyond that, despite his Romanian roots, this is Lucian Bute’s home, where thousands have chanted his name and roared with joy after his wins over William Joppy and Sakio Bika. People here like Lucian Bute; they want the best for him. But the images of him reeling from the fists of Carl Froch and Jean Pascal, hurt and vulnerable, are still fresh in those same people’s minds. It is harder, and more poignant, to hope for a warrior who you have seen wounded.
But for the moment, these images and memories, as much as they can be, are cast aside. Instead, just look at this smiling, sharply dressed, handsome man at the podium, an athlete who everyone refers to as “a class act,” who Howard Grant keeps calling “a gentleman.” How can anyone not hope he will redeem himself?
The climactic staredown between Bute and De Luisa reveals little and only reinforces the sense that it has been years since Bute felt this comfortable and relaxed before a match. As the two fighters lock eyes, the smile never leaves Bute’s face.
It was time then for everyone to mingle, the media given a chance to talk to all the fighters and ask questions, and this reporter approaches De Luisa, who has never before competed professionally outside of his home country. With the help of his translator we learn that the outcome of that first meeting at a tournament in Europe had been a decision win for Lucian. So revenge is on De Luisa’s mind? “Yes.” What strategy will you pursue on Saturday? “It’s a surprise,” says the translator. “Decision or knockout?” “Knockout.”
Clearly the same images which trouble Bute’s fans dance in De Luisa’s mind as well.
But tellingly, while De Luisa recalls that first encounter in the amateurs, Bute does not. “Oh, come on,” he exclaims when asked. “That was 15 years ago!” As has been previously noted, Bute is not interested these days in looking back; now is the time to move forward, to start again. And when told De Luisa says he is gunning for the knockout, the handsome gentleman and class act flashes that beguiling smile. “Of course,” says Bute. “What else can he do?”
Let others remember Froch and Pascal; new beginnings call for new visions. And the confidence to make them real.
— Michael Carbert