I have no idea which Lucian Bute Showtime’s Steve Farhood and Nick Charles were talking about — Bute is a big puncher. He had 18 knockouts in 23 wins before Friday night. But they just kept calling the super middleweight titlist a “pure boxer,” over and over again. After a spectacular performance that culminated in a 4th round knockout of the usually sturdy Fulgencio Zuniga, Zuniga now knows Bute is a big puncher, even if Showtime still doesn’t know.
Perhaps the Showtime team was fooled by Bute’s last appearance, when Bute boxed beautifully against Librado Andrade for 11 rounds before that controversial 12th. But you tell me: What’s the point of trying to knock out Andrade? I’ll give you my answer, because I’m generous that way — there is none. Andrade is as close to unknockoutable a boxer as there is in the sport. Mikkel Kessler hit Andrade with the equivalent of a team of men with baseball bats, and Andrade just kept coming. You could see the look in Kessler’s eyes: “Who the F#%K is this guy?” In that context, of course Bute would try to outbox Andrade, especially since boxing isn’t what Andrade does at all, and especially since Bute had been cast as a puncher early in his career before unveiling excellent boxing skills. And, as the 12th round of Bute-Andrade showed, it’s foolish to stand around and trade with Andrade. He hits almost as hard as his head is, good enough to put Bute down hard. If not for an inordinately long count by the monumentally poor hometown ref Marlon B. Wright, Bute might not be undefeated right now.
Wright wasn’t around to save Bute Saturday night, but Bute didn’t need him. Not for a moment. In the 1st round, I thought to myself, “Bute is going to knock Zuniga out.” I said this despite the fact that, coming in, I didn’t see Zuniga as all that knockoutable himself; he’d been in against big punchers, and only middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, one of the biggest punchers in the sport of any weight, had gotten the KO. The way Zuniga reacted said to me that he felt Bute’s power, and he didn’t like it. Maybe Zuniga wasn’t properly prepared. The Showtime boys noted that his mouth was open at about round 1. I don’t know. All I know is, Bute was in one class, and Zuniga was in another.
Bute did it first with fast counters. He did it next with some body shots. He did it most eye-poppingly with left uppercuts. If Zuniga’s plan was to wear Bute down, it wasn’t working. He couldn’t touch the significantly faster fighter, and either because of a faulty game plan or Bute’s persuasive counters — or both — he never got close to landing anything of note.
In the 4th, Bute landed a shot that looked to me (and the Showtime team, too — see, we agree on some things) like a low blow. The replay showed it was, instead, nearly as perfect a punch to the center of Zuniga’s gut as you’ll ever see. It was an uppercut to the solar plexus that put Zuniga down immediately and had him wincing in severe pain. It was a true beauty of a body punch. How Zuniga got up, I will not know. Perhaps it was some spare sturdiness. It didn’t take long for Bute to beat the rest out of him. Zuniga was firing back at times, but mostly Bute was hammering him along the ropes with all kinds of head shots. After a while, Zuniga stopped firing back, and all he could do was cover his head. The referee stopped it, appropriately.
There were no signs whatsoever that the 12th round against Andrade had taken anything out of Bute. From his glorious entrance — pitch black, then digital sparks display, then fiery LCD explosions, then “Where the Streets Have No Name” (U2 works. Who knew?) — to the sensational finishing touches, it was a perfect performance. And the riotous crowd in Montreal loved every second of it. They should have.
Next for the loser: Zuniga’s ceiling is clear — he’s not good enough to beat a title-holder level opponent. He may trouble some of them, but he didn’t come close to the ceiling Friday night. Maybe he can go back to exposing hype jobs, as he did against Victor Oganov, or making exciting bouts with other fringe contenders, as he did against Jose Luis Zertuche.
Next for the winner: Bute said the magic words — he wants Andrade again. That’s a real fighter talking. I was worried he’d dodge Andrade, but he said he hoped Andrade wins next month against Vitali Tsypko in a title eliminator, because he wants to prove he’s the better fighter. On a perfect night, Bute put a magnifique cherry on top when he said that.