High Stakes In Quebec City

Yesterday, Lucian Bute and promoter Yvon Michel gathered media at the Montreal Casino to officially announce the former IBF super middleweight champion’s next fight: a light heavyweight showdown against WBC number one contender Eleider Alvarez. “Storm” Alvarez is in fact fighting this Saturday, against Norbert Dabrowski in what was supposed to be a tune-up for an overdue title shot against lineal champion Adonis Stevenson. Needless to say, Alvarez vs Bute, which will take place in Quebec City on February 24, is a startling turn of events.

Howard Grant, Yvon Michel, Lucian Bute and Marc Ramsay at yesterday's press conference.
Howard Grant, Yvon Michel, Lucian Bute and Marc Ramsay at yesterday’s press conference.

First, the positive angle. While the boxing scene in Montreal and area has flourished over the last decade, there’s been a notable lack of compelling domestic clashes between Canadian fighters, despite an abundance of talent. And when these contests do happen, they’re often past their best-before dates, Bute vs Jean Pascal being a prime example. However, whatever one thinks of Bute vs Alvarez, it is a major fight with major implications, and with Steven Butler set to face fellow unbeaten rival Brandon Cook on January 28, we just might be witnessing a positive shift in terms of high-profile, all-Canadian showdowns.

And yet, one can’t help but raise an eyebrow at this match-up. Bute has enjoyed a resurgence over his past two fights, a highly competitive and exciting decision loss to IBF boss James DeGale, and then a draw against WBC champion Badou Jack, though virtually all agree Lucian was fortunate to get the draw verdict; the majority of observers saw Jack a clear winner.

Pascal vs Bute was a let-down.
Pascal vs Bute was a let-down, but it sold-out the Bell Centre.

However, following the Jack fight, the former champion tested positive for Ostarine and for months his career was in limbo. Bute maintained his innocence, claiming a supplement he had been taking was tainted with the banned substance. After Bute agreed to pay $50,000 to an anti-doping fund and accepted a six-month suspension, the situation was resolved. So Bute is back in action and in another major fight, but the DeGale and Jack tilts came at 168-pounds; prior to the Alvarez announcement there were no signs of a desire to move up in weight.

"Storm" Alvarez: does this match make sense?
“Storm” Alvarez: does this match make sense?

Even more puzzling is Alvarez’s decision to risk his position as Adonis Stevenson’s mandatory challenger. The Colombian has been billed as a top contender for years, but landing an actual title shot has proved almost impossible. Despite his obvious talent, in the ring Alvarez sometimes appears complacent just when fans and pundits are looking for explosiveness, which has contributed to his having a lower profile than many of his fellow Montreal pugilists. While the Bute fight promises to be Alvarez’s biggest payday, and is certainly the kind of significant bout he belongs in, one wonders if he could have simply waited a bit longer and found himself in a similar situation, but with a world title on the line. All that said, Yvon Michel offers here a compelling case for why this is a good career move for the undefeated fighter they call “Storm.”

Potentially at least, Lucian Bute stands to benefit most from this opportunity. Few fighters get slotted into a title shot elimination match after going 0-1-1 in consecutive championship fights at a lower weight, not to mention following a positive drug test. While few, if any, are questioning Bute’s sincerity or integrity, nor the grit and skill he’s shown during this late-career second wind, he has no credentials at light heavyweight to speak of, other than his loss to Pascal. Make no mistake, this fight has genuine merit, but the logic behind it requires deciphering and one suspects the chief motivation may be, more than anything else, a chance for all involved to cash in.

Interestingly, as Le Journal de Montréal’s Réjean Tremblay notes, the odd man out could very well be Jean Pascal, who makes his relatively low-profile return to the ring on December 16 in Trois-Rivières. According to Tremblay, the Bute-Alvarez news sideswiped a potential Pascal vs Bute rematch, which had been tentatively discussed. Apparently, Eye of the Tiger’s Camille Estephan is content to play the proverbial long game with Pascal’s latest comeback attempt and wants to give Jean the time to gel with new trainer Stéphane Larouche.

Prieto and Alvarez mix it up.
Alvarez defeats Isidro Prieto last year.

There is some wisdom to that, but what this entire situation ultimately reveals is that both Bute and Pascal, two fighters who deserve plenty of admiration from all Montreal boxing fans, are truly entering the final acts of their careers. Should Bute lose to Alvarez, the case can be made that he simply isn’t a light heavyweight, which may, as Tremblay suggests, lead to him being recycled one more time at 168 pounds, although the division is about to undergo a shift with DeGale and Jack set to unify titles. But if Alvarez loses, what happens to the Stevenson fight? And if Bute were to win, does he stand a remote chance against the murderous-punching “Superman”? As for Pascal, every outing is now life or death for his future career prospects.

In the final analysis, Lucian Bute vs Eleider Alvarez is a prominent and significant fight, albeit a completely unexpected one. But instead of being a logical eliminator for the right to fight Adonis Stevenson, it’s a contest that in the end might produce more questions than answers. Either way, let’s hope it also produces some serious thrills for fight fans.          — Zachary Alapi 

Bute vs Alvarez image by Bob Levesque.

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