MONTREAL -- They came, they saw, they roared. More than 20,000 fans filled Montreal's Bell Centre, cheering on local favorites Lucian Bute and Jean Pascal in what had been billed (mostly by Pascal) as the Super Bowl of Canadian Boxing.
And if what they saw wasn't always a classic contest, it didn't matter; few Super Bowls are, after all, and what was undeniable was that this was a battle that was absorbing even as it was mostly one-sided, and it ended with a desperate Hail Mary play from a weary Bute that for a brief moment looked as if it might actually succeed.
For neutral observers, the matchup suffered some from taking place after both men had experienced significant defeats -- Bute at the hands of Carl Froch in England, Pascal to Bernard Hopkins in this same building -- but that appeared to concern the boisterous crowd not one bit. Both Bute and Pascal have been able, at recent points in their careers, to call themselves world champions. But this was a meeting for the mantle of Champion of Montreal, and the intensity in the arena was all the greater because of that.
Alas, in the ring, most of the intensity came from Pascal. Bute sought to play the role of matador to Pascal's onrushing bull, but although he enjoyed some success when his foe became overeager and almost literally fell over himself while flinging furious punches in his direction, he looked uncomfortable whenever Pascal focused enough to enjoy a spell of sustained success. By the second half of the contest, Bute appeared very ragged indeed.
The assumption had largely been that Pascal would do what Pascal largely has done: be aggressive, put pressure on Bute, seek to wear him down. And although he did just that, after a fashion, it was in a different manner to what we have seen from him in the past. He crouched low, his hands sometimes at his waist, looking to suddenly spring an attack whenever an opening presented itself, to play possum and goad his opponent into an attack that opened up counterpunching possibilities, to explode in bursts of activity rather than sustain it for three minutes. It looked, in short, in many ways a paean to Roy Jones Jr., who worked closely with Pascal in camp. And though it didn't always work, it worked well and often enough to befuddle and break down Bute, who after 11 rounds looked a beaten mess.
Then, at the end, Bute rallied, trapping Pascal in a corner, landing jabs and straight lefts and bringing a delirious pro-Bute crowd to its feet. Had Pascal punched himself out? Was a dramatic finish in sight? Pascal countered with another flurry, but back came Bute again, desperately willing himself to snatch victory. But Pascal had too much left, and Bute had had too much beaten out of him, and the final desperate stand fell short.
It has been several years now since Lucian Bute looked like a world beater. He certainly didn't appear like one on Saturday night. But his determined closing round will likely have ensured that his legion of local fans will rally around him still. And although Pascal remains the less popular of the two, there was at the end at least a recognition that, on this night, he was the baddest man in town.