Bute Finds Unlikely
Stardom Up North
By Nat Gottlieb
Like Ricky Hatton in England and Mikkel Kessler in
Denmark, Lucian Bute is a hometown phenomenon in
Montreal. He wants to spread his popularity by fighting
in the U.S. and Europe. But first the unbeaten champion
has unfinished business to take care of at home.
Call it love at first sight. When
the Romanian-born Bute adopted Montreal as his hometown
six years ago, the city adopted him in turn. The passion
Montrealers show for Bute regularly sells out major
arenas and translates into big numbers on television. In
a country where hockey is almost a religion, Bute has
single-handedly done the unthinkable: made boxing a
Part of the reason for Bute's
immense popularity is the fact that he's a world
champion with an unbeaten record (24-0), and his
power-packed fists have produced 19 knockouts. But there
is more to the 6'2" Bute than just his ability in the
"When I came here I worked very hard
and I realized fans appreciate hard work," said the
29-year-old. "They also like me because I'm a simple
person and don't pretend to be something I'm not. I
think because I took the time to learn French it has
made me more popular, too."
Bute (pronounced Boo-TAY) brings his
fighter's intensity out into his work in the community.
"We built a foundation to help troubled kids go to a
training camp, and Lucian is president of the foundation
and very generous with the kids," says Bute's promoter,
Jean Bedard of InterBox.
For Bute's November 28th rematch of
a controversial fight with Librado Andrade in Quebec
City, he has done something few boxers in the U.S. have
been able to do. "We sold all 16,000 tickets in one
day," Bedard says.
Bute now fights on cable, where he
draws high ratings, but he has demonstrated in the past
that when his bouts were on Canada's largest regular TV
station, his numbers were unprecedented. "When Lucian
fought for the championship against Alejandro Berrio in
2007, it was on regular TV and 1.5 million people
watched," Bedard says.
Bute is equally as popular in his
native Romania, where his Canadian fights draw millions
of viewers as well. Although Bute fought his entire
amateur career in Romania and won several international
tournaments, he knew he had to relocate when he turned
pro if he wanted to make serious money and become a
champion. He could have chosen Germany, where boxing is
tremendously popular, but from the time he started
fighting at 14, he never had any doubt where he would
go. "My fellow Romanian Leonard Dorin opened the door
for me," Bute says. "I looked at how he came to Montreal
and became a world champion. I wanted to be just like
Bute didn't exactly slip in the
backdoor to Montreal unnoticed. "InterBox had been
following Lucian's amateur career in Romania," says
Bute's trainer, Stephan Larouche. "I met Lucian in
Romania and was impressed at how well he fought; his
size and popularity with the fans."
It was while Larouche was training
champion Eric Lucas for a rematch with Marcus Beyer in
2003 that he first saw that Bute could be a successful
pro. Still an amateur at the time, Bute was brought in
to spar with Lucas and more than held his own. That
prompted Larouche to recommend that InterBox sign him.
For Bute, the sparring sessions did more than just land
him a promoter.
"When I went to spar with Lucas I
really didn't know what level of boxing to expect," Bute
says. "He was a champion and after a few days of
sparring with him I saw that I was able to compete. That
helped my confidence very much. I realized if I could
compete now I could be a very good pro in the future."
Larouche, one of Canada's best
trainers, came on board and almost immediately sensed
there was something special about Bute. "When I first
started training him I knew within two weeks how good he
could be," he said. "The first few fighters he faced
were not as good as some of the amateurs he had fought
and he won easily, so I gave him his first step up in
his fourteenth fight, against Kabary Salem in 2004."
Although Salem had lost a unanimous
decision to Joe Calzaghe in his previous fight, he had
knocked the undefeated Welsh boxer down in the fourth
round. Salem was also an experienced fighter with a very
good chin, having stayed on his feet for 12 rounds
against title challengers Mario Veit, Antwun Echols and
Eric Harding. "I felt if we could beat Salem and also
stop him, then it would be a successful move," Larouche
Bute rose to the occasion. He
knocked out Salem for the first and only time in his
career, battering him in the eighth until the referee
stopped the fight just before the end of the round.
After that, Larouche matched Bute up with nothing but
tough competition. Six fights after Salem, Bute won a
unanimous decision over Top 10 fighter Sakio Bika in a
title eliminator. That victory set him up for Berrio and
his first world title.
Like Hatton did when he crossed the
pond to fight six times in America, Bute's promoter
intends to showcase Bute beyond Canada's borders. "I
have big plans for him the future," Bedard says. "But
right now in his heart Lucian needs to settle the
Andrade thing," referring to the controversial 12th
round of their fight last year in which Bute went down
with two seconds left and an apparently long count by
the referee enabled him to survive.
"I talked to Lucian afterward and he
said he took too many chances in that round when he was
easily ahead on the scorecards," Bedard said. "He should
have moved around and not engaged, but he told me that
for the fans he wanted to finish spectacular, which is
why he went toe-to-toe with Andrade. That was the reason
he was so tired."
If Bute gets by Andrade, Bedard said
he'll be ready to fight in the U.S. against a big name
star like Kelly Pavlik, and would be open to going to
Denmark to face fellow reigning champion Kessler. If
Bute is successful on the international stage, he might
achieve the status of former Canadian residents Arturo
Gatti and Lennox Lewis, the London-born heavyweight who
won a gold medal for Canada in the 1988 Olympics and
went on to become an undisputed champion.