An intriguing match-up in several respects, DeGale vs Bute pretty much guaranteed an interesting outcome of some kind. This was a contest between two unanswered questions: how good is James DeGale, and what did Lucian Bute have left?
While the younger man deserved to be the betting favourite, he had not exactly set the boxing world on fire with his last fight, a win over Andre Dirrell for the vacant IBF super-middleweight title. His performance was marred by inexplicable lapses in concentration and a preference for coasting to victory as opposed to winning in impressive fashion. While most anticipated he would defeat Bute, the challenge for DeGale was if he could make an unequivocal statement regarding his worthiness as a champion against a fighter many regarded as washed-up but who still qualified as a “name” opponent.
Meanwhile, the former belt-holder had the luxury of minimal expectations. Bute had not looked to be of championship calibre himself for over three years, his defeat to Carl Froch and his poor showing against Jean Pascal seeming to indicate he was finished as a title threat. While he now claimed to have revitalized his career with new management and a new trainer, and in August had notched his first stoppage win since 2011, few regarded him as a legitimate threat to defeat DeGale.
Questions abounded: Could Bute recapture any of his championship form? Had he in fact exorcised the demons of past defeats? Would his greater experience enable him to compete with the younger man? Would the bout taking place on Bute’s home turf be a significant factor? Or would DeGale simply prove too fresh and talented for the older fighter?
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was how entertaining this match turned out to be. Boxing fans more than got their money’s worth in terms of action and drama as every round offered lively exchanges and the outcome was in doubt almost until the final bell. DeGale proved a man of his word in terms of being aggressive and looking for an early stoppage, but Bute responded, blocking shots and handling the pressure well.
The opening rounds belonged to DeGale as he set the pace and Bute struggled to put punches together, but in rounds three and four the former champion showed this was a revitalized Lucian Bute who had indeed come to win. Clearly DeGale was expecting Bute to fold under the pressure and when he did not the champion at times appeared uncomfortable. In round four Bute hurt the Britisher with a hard left hand to the body and forced his opponent to give ground. The following round saw a cut open over the champion’s left eye as Bute continued to press.
While DeGale showed more moxy in this match than he did in his title-winning effort against Dirrell, the final outcome had as much to do with the challenger’s lapses in activity as anything else, a fact conceded by Bute and his trainers after the fight. Lucian’s failure to stay busy and stick with a body attack that appeared to bother DeGale gave the younger man the time he needed to regroup and regain the initiative. He rebounded over the next three rounds to assert his points lead, though Bute clearly won the ninth, giving hope to the Quebec City crowd as the match went into the final rounds. Round eleven also belonged to the Romanian-Canadian but it just wasn’t enough to secure a points win.
That said, two scorecards of 117 to 111 were harsher than Bute deserved, and perhaps surprising considering the fight was taking place in Quebec City. Many scored it for the champion by a margin of seven rounds to five. To this reporter’s eyes, the match was still up for grabs heading into the final rounds.
As stated, few expected such an action-packed affair, and thus the outcome enhances the standing of both men. DeGale withstood a gallant effort from an experienced and capable adversary who took him places he had never been before. More than once DeGale was hurt and he was clearly bothered by the cut over his left eye. Still, he withstood the challenge, pulled out the win and is likely a better fighter for it.
Meanwhile, everyone who had written off Bute and deemed the outcome of this match a foregone conclusion must concede they had vastly underestimated the former champion. Lucian showed he is back as a legitimate title threat and, considering the fact this was only his second fight after an 18 month layoff and his first in almost three years against an elite opponent, who knows what the 35-year-old battler is capable of if he stays active and healthy, something Bute made clear he fully intends to do.
As Bute’s trainer Howard Grant stated afterwards, “They said he was finished but he fought his ass off and proved everyone wrong. I’m proud of him.”
— Michael Carbert