For manager Chris Ganescu, boxing is a passion. Which is not surprising considering his father competed in the squared circle back in his native country of Romania. Chris grew up around fighters, loved the sport, but though he tried boxing himself, “it didn’t stick.” At that time Romania was a communist nation, ruled by the brutal dictator Ceaușescu, and Ganescu knew from a young age he wanted to be free. When he was 18 he had the opportunity to start a new life in Canada and no one had to ask Chris twice. It was pure chance that he ended up in Montreal, a city where, more than any other in Canada, boxing has thrived.
The man who opened the door for what would become a wave of fistic talent from Romania was Leonard Dorin, a two-time bronze medallist at the Olympics who established himself as a professional in Quebec with the help of Yvon Michel’s fledgling promotional company, Interbox. Chris became a friend and advisor to Dorin, helping to guide him to a world title and high profile bouts against Paul Spadafora and Arturo Gatti. Soon other Romanian boxers would, as Chris puts it, “follow the path of Dorin,” coming to Canada to pursue professional success and many of them have worked with Chris, including former world champion Adrian Diaconu.
By 2002 boxing was full-time for Ganescu and in addition to working with Dorin he was helping Yvon Michel find and recruit fighters from Romania. The following year he met a young man named Lucian Bute. He had in fact been keeping his eye on the successful amateur talent for some time and decided to bring Bute to Canada to spar with champion Eric Lucas. Soon after, Bute was signed with Interbox and by the end of that year had begun his pro career.
For almost two decades Ganescu has worked in boxing, not only managing and advising but also promoting events back in Romania. Today he dedicates himself full-time to handling a stable of talent that includes world title challenger and NABA champion Jo Jo Dan, undefeated prospect Flavius Biea and a pair of fraternal prospects from Florida, Dario and Bruno Bredicean.
“I like to say that I work at the highest level,” says Ganescu. “Every fighter I’ve worked with either became world champion or fought for a world title. I’m not interested in guys who don’t have the desire or skills to succeed. My goal for my fighters is to take them beyond their potential. I get upset when I see fighters with great potential who don’t fulfil it. And that seems to be the trend. These days there’s too many boxers who don’t have the right people around them and don’t take their careers seriously.”
As a result of seeing too many prospects squander their potential, Chris is adamant that talent alone is not enough to succeed in the boxing business. When asked about assessing young boxers and deciding who he wants to manage, Ganescu says what’s in a fighter’s refrigerator is as important to him as what trophies or belts might be on their bookshelf.
“You’ve got to look at the whole package,” he says. “Because to make it at the highest level, talent is not enough. The fighters I work with, I like to know their friends, their families, how they live. If I open the fridge of a young boxer and there’s a case of beer in it and not much else, I have a problem with that. But I’m not a babysitter. If you don’t understand how you have to live in order to be a professional, that’s your problem.”
But despite the aversion to babysitting, Ganescu understands not only what’s required of a fighter to succeed, but also what’s required of a good manager.
“It’s 24 hours a day. That’s my job. My fighters have to know I’m there for them, that I will do everything I can to help them. I’m a fierce competitor. If you’re on my team, I will do all I can to help you. And if you’re on the other team, I will do everything I can to crush you. And I want my guys to know that.”
“You know, I never ask a fighter to trust me. No one’s ever heard me say, ‘Hey, trust me.’ Never. Instead I show them that they have to trust me. Because the way I work, my fighters get more and they go further. After all, the more successful you are as my fighter, the better it is for me. If the cake is bigger for you, then so is my slice. So I work hard and make sure my fighters maximize their potential.
“Sometimes it’s tough. This is probably what I’m going to do with the rest of my life and it’s not the money, believe me. Being in this business, it’s like being in love with the wrong woman. You know she’s not good for you but you love her, so you stay. It’s the same thing. Boxing has brought me a lot of disappointments but I can’t walk away. Money is not the most important thing. To me it’s about the thrill of winning, defending the titles, being on top.”
But as hard as Ganescu works, that same effort has to be present on the fighter’s part.
“There are no shortcuts. When I start working with a young fighter, I tell them, it could take five years. People get impatient and I say, ‘Don’t rush the kid!’ You have to take your time and do things properly. Otherwise you don’t have a long career. Don’t rush the fighter, protect him. Make sure he’s got good defense. When I see young guys getting hit in sparring, it hurts me because it shouldn’t happen. Take your time and get the fundamentals down. I make sure my fighters become very solid, have good defense. I’m always going to stress that because the head was not made to take punches and I want to protect my fighters and make sure they’re okay. So you’ve got to be dedicated and you have to work hard.”
In this regard, there have never been any concerns at all when it comes to Lucian Bute.
“Lucian Bute is exceptional. That’s why I really respect him as a person. Even though he’s younger than me, I look up to him, because his work ethic is amazing. Out of all the fighters I’ve managed, he has the best work ethic. I just hope it can rub off on my other fighters.”
For Ganescu, Bute is more than just a boxer, but also a good friend and to preserve that friendship, Chris and Lucian parted ways in 2011.
“I just didn’t like some of the moves they were making and I said, ‘Look, let’s stay friends, but I can’t be part of this.’ And I walked away. We would talk once in a while, but not about boxing. I just thought he should have been taking bigger fights, the right fights to make him a better boxer and to build his legacy. For example, I didn’t like him going to Romania to fight Jean Paul Mendy. To me that didn’t make any sense. He was about to break into the American market and had signed a contract with Showtime, but Showtime didn’t want that fight. I didn’t get it. Why not just do a fight that Showtime wants? Showtime is a huge stage, why not take advantage of it?”
Similarly, Ganescu was distressed when Bute agreed to fight Carl Froch in “The Cobra’s” hometown.
“I was shocked when I heard he was going to England. I didn’t like that fight from the start. And Lucian told me afterwards that he was not in top shape, there were problems in training camp, an injury to his hand, different problems. When we got back together last year, I told him, ‘That’s never happening again. If you’re not ready, if you’re not in top shape, you don’t fight.'”
Ganescu also didn’t like the moves made in the aftermath of that devastating loss.
“I think Froch did a lot of damage to Lucian, but it was emotional and psychological. He had never lost as a pro, so naturally that’s hard to come back from. So why not give him time to recover? They should have waited and let him recuperate, not put him in a fight that didn’t mean anything to him and that was out of his weight class.”
The Bute-Ganescu reunion happened after the former champion’s second loss, a lopsided points defeat to hometown rival Jean Pascal. “He called me and said he wanted to make some changes and wanted me to be part of it and to see if we could do things the way we used to.”
Thus began an 18 month odyssey as Chris and Lucian picked up the pieces. The journey took them to Los Angeles and the Philippines to work with Freddie Roach, to Las Vegas to sign with Al Haymon, and then eventually back to Montreal and the Grant Brothers Boxing Gym.
By last May Lucian was at long last where he needed to be, training regularly, feeling healthy, with Chris taking care of managerial concerns and Howard and Otis Grant overseeing his work in the gym. In August he finally stepped back into the spotlight at the Bell Centre in Montreal to score his first win in almost three years. The fourth round TKO of Andrea Di Luisa paved the way for Saturday’s title shot against James DeGale, but did Chris ever consider having Bute take a few more tune-ups before fighting for the title?
“I don’t believe in tune ups when you’re 35 years old. You do your tune ups in the gym. You work hard in the gym and you only take big fights. There’s no point in taking tune ups where you can get injured and when you’re not getting any younger. Howard and I, we asked Lucian, ‘Are we going for the big fights? Are you ready? You tell us if you’re ready.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I want my title back.'”
Did Chris see something in the Di Luisa fight that told him Lucian was indeed ready to take on the “big fights,” to challenge a young champion like DeGale?
“Yeah, he got hit and then he stopped the guy. In the past, when he got nailed, sometimes he would hesitate, become tentative. This time, Di Luisa caught him with a left hook and Lucian came right back and ended it.”
And there’s something else Chris liked about the Di Luisa fight.
“I’m glad it didn’t go much longer because if it had, I think Lucian was gonna show things that definitely would have made a champion think twice before coming to his home turf to fight him. If Bute had looked spectacular over eight or ten rounds do you think DeGale would come here? Never. DeGale comes here because he thinks Bute’s finished. We’ll see if he’s right. I think he’s wrong.” — Michael Carbert