Other than that they fall on the same night and same HBO card Thanksgiving weekend in Canada — I should say, the American Thanksgiving — Saturday’s super middeweight rematch between Lucian Bute and Librado Andrade and the lightweight fight between Joan Guzman and Ali Funeka appear to have little in common. Bute-Andrade II: Canadian vs. Mexican, boxer-puncher vs. iron-chinned slugger. Guzman-Funeka: Dominican vs. South African, slickster vs. giant.
What they do share is a link to scandals. Bute-Andrade II, is a rematch of a fight marred by some of the worst homer refereeing you’ll ever see, when Bute got bailed out in the final round courtesy a long count from Montreal referee Marlon B. Wright. Funeka’s last opponent was Nate Campbell, who failed to make weight after having just seen his previous fight with Guzman canceled because Guzman couldn’t make weight. And they share another trait, too: They’re both legitimate, meaningful fights for which I’m grateful on paper that could prove really interesting or be boxing’s answer to tryptophan.
LUCIAN BUTE – LIBRADO ANDRADE II
If not for Wright, this fight might not have the spice it does now. I say that not to praise Wright; I’m STILL pissed off about what he did. But it was Wright’s actions that necessitated a rematch of what was a wipeout until the 12th round. Bute had thoroughly outboxed Andrade for 11 rounds, but had exhausted himself in the process. Andrade caught up to him, battering him from one corner of the ring to the next, before finally sendng Bute down with about three seconds left. Badly hurt, Bute slowly got to his feet. But Wright found an excuse to yell at Andrade to get back into a neutral corner he was already quite close to, thereby interrupting his count and giving Bute about 20 seconds to recover.
Boxing fans have debated ever since whether Andrade should have been ruled the winner by KO, or Bute would have earned the win even without the aid of Wright. On the Andrade side, the argument is that Bute was in no condition to continue after the count of 10, and even though the fight was effectively over, that should have led to an Andrade win. I initially favored Bute as the legit winner, since, if you count the seconds from when Bute goes down and gets back up, he beats the 10 count, and that was enough for me. But I say now we’ll never know whether Bute or Andrade deserved the win, since Wright never asked Bute to walk toward him at the end of the count of 10, leaving shrouded in mystery the question of whether he could have continued. He looked bad off, absolutely, but he also looked like he wouldn’t have gotten up — and then he did.
Both men took solid fights after that controversial ending. Bute fought fringe contender Fulgencio Zuniga and knocked him out in four rounds, dispatching of him more easily than anyone has by using his steady defense, southpaw stance, excellent jab and some very nasty left uppercuts to the body. Bute slugged it out with fringe contender Vitali Tsypko to win a 12-round decision, using his utter disregard for getting punched in the face, decent-to-fair boxing skills and the kind of power that decked and wobbled Tsypko several times throughout. The Tsypko win earned Andrade a mandatory shot at Bute’s IBF title.
So here we are again. At age 29 and 31, respectively, Bute and Andrade are unlikely to have changed much as fighters. My original thinking was that Bute should win the rematch fairly easily, assuming that if he’s tired in the 12th round this time, he gets on his bicycle and doesn’t engage like he foolishly did last time. But recently, I’ve seen some predicting an Andrade win. Why? Because now that Andrade knows he needs to wear down Bute and can hurt him when he does, he’ll start faster with his relentless pressure.
I can dig that line of reasoning, and it makes me less certain about my prediction, but I still think that if Bute can outbox Andrade once, he can do it twice. Hitting Andrade isn’t the problem. That will happen in spades. Hurting Andrade is out of the question; it hasn’t happened in a long time, and until it does, I won’t believe it’s possible. Outboxing Andrade is a given. Mikkel Kessler — whose boxing skills have been called into question after the beating Andre Ward laid on him Saturday — did it, and Bute did it, too. I think he’ll do it again. Bute by unanimous decision.
The winner, by the way, will have a viable claim to calling himself the #1 super middleweight in the world, quite an honor in these days of mighty deep talent at 168. Ring has Ward at #1 after beating former #1 Kessler, and while I think you can make a case for that, I’m more of the mind that Bute should be at #1, since he’d been at #2 and his resume is longer than Ward’s. But a second (and decisive) win over Andrade should do the trick. Andrade is at #5 these days, so his case is harder to make, but a case is a case.
JOAN GUZMAN – ALI FUNEKA
Guzman and Funeka are on opposite ends of the karma spectrum, but they’ve ended up in the same place. Guzman’s unprofessional failure to make weight for the Campbell fight — and refusal to fight even thought Campbell still wanted to throw down — forced Campbell to declare bankruptcy. Campbell himself failed to make weight himself for the Funeka fight, but despite giving away a few pounds to Campbell, Funeka took the fight anyway and went on to lose — and consequently, the government of South Africa gave him static for some goofy-sounding gripes, like not sharing the fight contract. (I’m no expert on South African boxing regulations — it just sounded goofy to me.) Now they’re fighting for the IBF title that Campbell vacated when he failed to make weight against Funeka.
Both fighters have a pair of identities. Early in his career, Guzman was all about power, power, power. He had 17 knockouts in his first 21 fights as a junior featherweight. But in his last eight fights dating back to 2004, mostly at junior lightweight, he has zero knockouts. Even in his knockout days, Guzman had that lightning speed, that uncanny knack for avoiding getting hit cleanly. And he can take a shot, too — when he wants to stand and trade, he can. He may not have knocked out Humberto Soto or Jorge Barrios, but he survived their onslaughts and beat the former with ease. He’d built up a resume as a top-20 pound-for-pound talent and the kind of fighter nobody wants to fight, since he’s very good and will make you look bad; just two years ago, he was in the running for a bout with Manny Pacquiao. But he’s hurt himself in the public’s eye with some less-than-thrilling performances and not making weight for the Campbell bout, and he’s fought just once in the last year, a meaningless decision win over 25-7 Ameth Diaz.
In his two highest-profile fights, versus Zahir Raheem and Campbell, Funeka looked like two different fighters. Against Raheem, he was a tactical, sharp-shooting power puncher with tremendous speed. Against Campbell, he was an all-out volume puncher. He knocked out Raheem pretty conclusively, knocking him down 8,524,109 times before finishing him off in the 4th. It was an impressive performance, given that Raheem had shown few signs of having a shaky chin. Funeka never hurt Campbell, but for a giant-sized lightweight — he’s a whopping 6’1″/72″ reach to Guzman’s 5’7″/67″ reach — it was a little freaky to see him throwing so many punches, like he was as slightly more miniature Paul Williams. I actually had Funeka winning that fight, and the audience didn’t like the majority decision win for Campbell, but the pair of knockdowns Campbell delivered helped him win on the scorecards and in the eyes of most who saw the bout. Along the way, it may have raised some question marks about Funeka’s ability to take a punch.
As with Bute-Andrade II, I thought the winner of Guzman-Funeka was obvious until I started thinking about it more. Guzman is just the more talented and skilled of the two fighters, and his lack of pop doesn’t really figure into things either way. But watching Funeka blow away Raheem again, I realized that fight proved he could handle a tricky speedster. And Guzman is 33, coming off a long layoff where he might be rusty. As with Bute-Andrade II, all that realization did was make me think my original prediction wasn’t as secure as I’d perceived. I’m still going with Guzman. He’s infinitely more talented than Raheem, better in every single way. And he didn’t look like he was slowing down in his fight against Diaz, so unless Guzman ages overnight, I see him being able to stay out of Funeka’s way enough and land enough counterpunches along the way to pull out a comfortable decision. I hope I’m wrong, though. I’d be a bigger believer in cosmic justice if I was.