Best I’ve Faced: Lucian Bute
Lucian Bute held a super middleweight title for 4 ½ years and now intends to add a belt at light heavyweight.
On Friday, the soon-to-be 37-year-old will face the WBC’s No. 1 contender, Eleider Alvarez, in Quebec City. If Bute can pull off the upset against his stablemate, he’ll be next in line to face 175-pound titleholder Adonis Stevenson.
Bute has come a long way from his roots in Pechea, a small town of just over 10,000 people that is 3 ½ hours northeast of the Romanian capital Bucharest.
“When I was young, it was not difficult but it wasn’t easy,” Bute told RingTV.com. “I had three meals a day and what my parents could give me. There was seven of us living together. I have four sisters.
“It was difficult before 1989 when it was Communist time, with [Nicolae] Ceaușescu (Romania’s final Communist leader). But after ’89 we have been democrat. We had a good time, good life. Even now, it is not a good economic time in Romania.”
When Bute was 14, he visited a boxing gym for the first time with a friend. Initially, he didn’t even know what boxing was. However, when he arrived, it resonated with him and things quickly progressed as he moved into the amateur scene.
“In my opinion, I had a good amateur background,” he explained. “I won a bronze medal at the world junior championships in Argentina in 1998. In 1999, I became a senior. I (won) bronze at the world championships in Houston and participated in the European championships.”
At the 2003 world championships in Bangkok, Bute fought another rising amateur star: Gennady Golovkin.
“It was very tough,” Bute said looking back on their meeting. “He was good. He was younger than me — 21, 22. I think he was world junior champion at that time. Very tough guy, very tough fight.
“When the fight started, it was very competitive. (Then) he took advantage on points. It was open scoring back then. He was ahead by many points and I was catching up. I backed up Golovkin a lot. Golovkin said many times that I am his toughest opponent.
“(He was given a) standing count in the third round, and in the fourth he was up 10 points. I had nothing to lose. I had to go for the knockout. I was tired and he caught with me a good right hand. I was down but got up and the referee stopped the fight 20 seconds before the end.”
Bute was 23 years old and felt the time was right to make the transition to the professional ranks. He exited the amateurs with over 300 fights and estimates that he lost 26 of them.
Golovkin turned professional a year later and Bute is far from surprised that he has made such a formidable world champion. “I felt (Golovkin) had good potential and he confirmed that at the Olympics; winning silver in Athens,” he said.
As a pro, Bute would align himself with manager Chris Ganescu, who is also of Romanian descent but lives in Canada.
“We had people watching (Bute) in Thailand (and he) was in Canada in 2001, winning the Francophone Games, so we saw the potential,” explained Ganescu, who still manages Bute. “The promoter in Montreal wanted to recruit him. He came (in) as a sparring partner for Eric Lucas, who was a world champion back then, and decided to stay pro in Canada. That’s how his career started.”
Due to his extensive amateur pedigree, “Le Tombeur” (The Heartthrob) was moved quickly.
In his ninth outing, Bute stopped former two-weight world titleholder Dingaan Thobela. He then won an NABF 175-pound strap before focusing on a world title at 168 pounds.
After three wins – including one in his native Romania – Bute won the vacant NABF super middleweight belt against former world-title challenger Kabary Salem. He became the first and only man to stop the tough Egyptian-born fighter, who had earlier floored Joe Calzaghe in a world title bout before losing on points.
Bute was becoming an attraction in Montreal and was headlining his own shows. In June 2007, he was matched against grizzled veteran Sakio Bika in an IBF title eliminator. Bute won a tough 12-round unanimous decision to earn himself a title shot.
Just four months later, he fulfilled his dream by stopping the heavy-handed Alejandro Berrio in 11 to claim the belt.
After stopping former middleweight titlist William Joppy in his maiden defense, Bute faced the once-beaten Librado Andrade. The new titleholder was handily up on the scorecards before the bout was tinged with late controversy. With only seconds remaining, Bute was floored and many felt the referee delivered a long count to save him from a knockout.
“I won 10 rounds (and) he was down in the 10th,” explained Bute. “After he was down, I tried to finish him. I put (in) the effort to finish him and became a bit tired. (In) the 12th round I tired and in the last 20 seconds, I was very, very tired. I was down (but) I got up and the bell ended the fight. I won the fight and asked for a rematch one year later.
“I understood the controversy. I wanted the rematch. I had other offers but I said, ‘No, I want to do the rematch, I want to make this clear, I’m the better fighter.”
Bute stopped Fulgencio Zuniga in four rounds and repeated that result against Andrade in their rematch.
In the second half of 2009, Showtime announced the “Super Six” tournament, featuring the best super middleweights in the world. Bute was a glaring omission. He was left in the cold but remained active, ratcheting up a number of successful defenses.
“He was never invited,” said Ganescu, who was keen to set the record straight. “The ‘Super Six’ was started by (Arthur) Abraham’s promoters (Sauerland Promotions) and they wanted three Europeans and three North Americans. (Lucian) was available but never got an invitation. Even when fighters dropped out, they always found other people.
“He had to do his own thing while the ‘Super Six’ was going on. That’s why at the end, he was hoping to fight (Andre) Ward but he didn’t want to fight him. (Ward) found all sorts of reasons not to fight Bute.”
One thing Bute was able to do during this time was defend his title in Romania.
“It was a good experience for me,” he said. “All my career I said, I’d like to defend my title in front of my people. In 2011, (Jean-Paul) Mendy was the No. 1 contender. There was 10,000 people (in the arena) and I knocked him out in four rounds.”
Bute later signed a three-fight deal with Showtime, with the intentions of securing a showdown with Ward. In the first fight of that agreement, he bested former light heavyweight titleholder Glen Johnson. When the Ward fight fell through, Bute decided to do the next best thing.
“I was the champion and we tried to bring (Carl) Froch to Canada (but) he never accepted,” said Bute. “I didn’t have many possibilities to fight with good names. That’s why I said, ‘Okay, I will go to England.’
“I think it was the wrong thing to do. I was injured before the fight. I had a foot infection (and) was on antibiotics 10 days before. (I also) had a hand problem (and) they froze my hand two hours before the fight. I never had that before. It’s not an excuse. We had all the reasons to postpone the fight. It was the wrong decision looking back. I believed, even with these things that I could beat Froch in his hometown but it was naïve. For Froch, it was his last fight. If he lost, he was done. He was very, very motivated. I saw that in his eyes.”
In May 2012, Froch rose to the occasion. He handed Bute his first professional defeat and claimed his third super middleweight title with a spectacular fifth-round stoppage in Nottingham.
Six months later, Bute returned but looked shaky outpointing Denis Gratchev. Injuries then sidelined him for 14 months before he met Jean Pascal in a Battle of Canada. Bute looked less than his usual self and was soundly outpointed.
Things had to change and after a 19-month hiatus he took on Italian Andrea Di Luisa. This time Bute looked a lot more impressive and posted a fourth-round stoppage. This timely victory set him up for a shot at his old IBF title which was, and still is, held by Englishman James DeGale.
Although Bute performed admirably, he dropped a 12-round unanimous decision. It was enough to procure another title opportunity, though, and this time he faced Badou Jack in Washington, D.C. Again, Bute fought well and according to the judges, earned himself a majority draw.
Afterwards, however, it was revealed that Bute had traces of a banned substance (Ostarine) in his system. He protested vehemently, stating his innocence.
“It was a very difficult situation for me,” he said. “I never took something illegal in all my career. I’ve been tested since the amateurs. With the DeGale fight, I was tested nine times before and after the fight. With Badou Jack I took some over-the-counter supplements (that were) contaminated. I proved it was contaminated. I never tried to gain an advantage over another fighter. Mentally it was very hard. I was a clean fighter. I felt people looking and doubting me but now everything is behind me and I am looking forward.”
Bute accepted and paid the $50,000 fine.
In many ways, Bute now finds himself in the position Froch was in prior to their fight. His upcoming battle with Alvarez is last-chance saloon. He can’t afford to lose if he is to achieve his goal of winning a second world title.
“I decided to challenge myself,” explained Bute, who is now 36 years old. “We’re looking for the opportunity. I would (have liked) to fight for a super middleweight title but that wasn’t going to happen for a year or so.
“We had this opportunity with Alvarez. He’s mandatory, he’s undefeated. A win puts me into mandatory position for Adonis Stevenson. I think it’s a very big challenge for me.”
Bute has been married for three years and his wife is pregnant with their first child. He gained Canadian citizenship in 2012, although he still visits his family in Romania two or three times a year. Bute co-manages fighters with Ganescu and has some other investments away from boxing. He also recently took a position as a spokesman for the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association to share his experiences.
The former titleholder graciously agreed to speak to RingTV.com about the best he has faced, thus far, in 10 key categories.
Badou Jack: It’s a good question. I fought many, many good fighters, many good boxers. I think, in my opinion, Badou Jack. He has a very good jab (and) good distance.
James DeGale: He has good skill. A southpaw who changes from orthodox to southpaw many times. (He has) good ability, good speed.
Librado Andrade: Andrade was the tough guy. I fought (him twice) and gave him good, good shots in the first fight and he never (went) down. He always came forward and is a very durable fighter.
DeGale: James DeGale had the fastest hands of anybody I fought. Good combinations, speed — very good speed.
DeGale: DeGale was very difficult to catch. He is slick but as the rounds go by, I can feel he is not so mobile and takes many shots. He hates to get hit.
DeGale: DeGale has the rings smarts and an ability to survive. (He’s) very clever for a fighter. I gave him too much respect early and I guess that is what cost me the fight. Plus, his tactics to delay the combat by spitting his mouthpiece out and holding inside.
Carl Froch: Very physical. Not good skill, not good ability, but very strong. Froch was very determined and physically strong. He took some early shots from me but he was not affected. He had a great night and I did not. I wish we would have a rematch.
Alejandro Berrio: Very good puncher. With Andrade, he had a good chin, (he) was tough, but (he) was not a big puncher. I think the accumulation of the punches made you tired. Froch has a good punch, good power, but I think it was Berrio.
DeGale: He’s complete. He has everything. Like I said; skill, speed, movement, distance.
DeGale: I think James DeGale was the best guy I fought (in the professional ranks). Speed, skill, power too. He was the best. If we include people I fought in the amateurs, I would say Golovkin. (Golovkin) is the best — good background, good distance, movement, power, he’s the best overall.
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