MONTREAL, Quebec – The folks at Showtime who have been crowing for the past three weeks about the extraordinary effect of Andre Dirrell’s upset victory over previously unbeaten Arthur Abraham are absolutely correct – at least in terms of its impact on their own in-house exercise, the grandiosely (and somewhat misleadingly) entitled World Boxing Classic. The German’s DQ in a fight in which he already badly trailed not only means that the Super Six remains anybody’s ballgame, but threw a lifeline to a couple of its lower-echelon performers by decreasing the possibility of their having been mathematically eliminated before the summer is out.
In terms of its actual impact on the world of super-middleweights, on the other hand, the principal effect of Dirrell’s win was to elevate the status of IBF champion Lucian Bute, who by the next morning had replaced Abraham atop the list of 854 practicing 168-pounders maintained by Boxrec.com. (Although Boxrec is a record-keeping site with no official status, the fact that it neither awards nor aspires to award title belts seems a persuasive argument for its neutrality. As far as we can see, it has no axe to grind in these matters.)
Bute (25-0) returns to Le Centre Bell for the 13th time in his last 14 fights this Saturday night to face the seemingly fading but nonetheless dangerous Colombian Edison Miranda (33-4) in what looms the junior half of HBO’s split-feed doubleheader. And while HBO will have its “A’ team (Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant, Emanuel Steward) in Atlantic City to monitor Sergio Martinez’ challenge to middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, you’d better believe Showtime will have its eyes glued on Montreal when the unbeaten (only Andre Ward and Carl Froch retain that status among Super Six participants) Bute takes a man who (if Bob Papa, Max Kellerman, and Lennox Lewis don’t remind you, we will) already has one Super Six boxer’s scalp – Allan Green’s – on his wall, and by rights should probably have another.
In Miranda’s first fight against Abraham, in Germany four years ago, El Pantera was penalized a total of five points by referee Randy Neumann. And while the deductions did not impact the outcome (Abraham would have won on two cards and been even on the third without them), the extraordinary measures taken by German officials that permitted Abraham to finish on his feet clearly did.
Neumann who described it as “the most bizarre fight I’ve ever been involved in, recalled later that after Miranda broke Abraham’s jaw, “I’ve never been in a position where I would have had to overrule the ringside physician to stop a fight, but in this case the German doctor wanted the fight to continue. He was even up in the corner in a t-shirt, attending to Abraham between rounds.
Old-time Canadian boxing traditionalists like George Chuvalo must cringe when they watch boxing cards at the Bell Centre. Transformed by a combination of pulsating disco music and rock-star glitz into something that resembles a modern-day “Gladiator replete with strobe lights and caged dancing bimbos, fights at the Home of the Habs are enthusiastically attended. That the principal hometown attractions these days are not, strictly speaking, Canadians at all, but a pair of transplanted Romanians (Bute and former WBC lightweight titlist Adrian Diaconu) and émigrés from Haiti (Diaconu’s successor Jean Pascal) and Cameroon (Herman Ngoudjo) seems to be of little consequence to the faithful.
So rabid are the passions of the Quebecois in support of their heroes that any opponent is going to be cast in the black hat – including Librado Andrade. His Montreal connections are nearly as well established as Bute’s, and he came closer than any other opponent to beating the Romanian champion in their first fight at the Bell Centre two years ago when Bute, somewhat abetted by referee Marlon Wright, was saved by the bell ending the 12th.
Miranda, who is accustomed to assuming the villain’s role, hasn’t had to try very hard this time around. Whether he knows that he is destined to be the bad guy no matter what he does or if it is a product of some recently-acquired humility remains to be learned, but the buildup to the fight has been accompanied by an uncharacteristic absence of trash-talk on the part of El Pantera. To the best of our knowledge, should he make one of his throat-slashing gestures in the ring Saturday, it will be his first since arriving in Montreal five days earlier.
“Someone at the grocery store asked me why I haven’t trash-talked Lucian Bute, said Miranda. “I answered that I respect fighters who have earned it, and Bute has earned that right.
It could be that Miranda’s baser instincts have been tempered by the presence of trainer Joe Goossen. Or it could be that a posture intended as a psychological ploy has backfired enough times (see Kelly Pavlik, Abraham II, and the boxing lesson administered by Ward in Oakland last year) that it has outlived its usefulness.
Ironically, considering the long shadow he now casts on their not-quite-the whole-World Championship Series, Showtime was in a position to enlist Bute as a charter member of the Super Six at its outset. They had just televised his two previous defenses (Andrade I and Fulgencio Zuniga) and had a prior relationship. Excluded from the original mix, he fought on HBO in his next outing, even though HBO’s date conflicted with a Canadiens’ home game and he had to go to Quebec City to redeem himself with a fourth-round stoppage in the Andrade rematch.
The future could confirm that Showtime’s exclusion of Bute was a major miscalculation. On the other hand, it could merely confirm that in 2010 he is just the best of what turns out to have been a very ordinary class of super-middleweights all along.
Although Bute is a heavy favorite on paper, some experts see this fight as an upset In the making. Having seen more than I’d probably care to of both guys, I’d say that the best of Miranda is probably a better fighter than the best of Bute. But the best of Miranda is a boxer who last showed up more than three years ago, when he twice dropped Green on the way to a one-sided decision.
Our exposure to Bute, on the other hand, dates back to 2004, when he stopped the immortal Norman Johnson in two at the Roxy in Boston. (Stormin’ Norman was 4-11-1 going in, but fighting Bute must have taken a lot out of him. He lost his next 12 in a row by the time he hung them up for good two years ago.) And by almost any objective criterion we can devise, his best of Bute came in his last fight, in which he showed surprising power in his knocking out Andrade. He might just do the same thing to Miranda in this one.