Lucian Bute was considered well past his prime, but showed Saturday that he’s anything but.
The former super middleweight champion was unable to top James DeGale and win his title back, but put on a tremendous performance to announce his return to the top level.
DeGale traveled to enemy territory and retained his IBF super middleweight championship in a terrific action fight at the Videotron Centre in Quebec City with a unanimous decision (scores of 116-112, 117-111, 117-111) over Bute in the main event of Showtime Championship Boxing. USA TODAY Sports scored it 115-113.
“I’m peaking now and I will be at my best in the next three or four years,” said DeGale, 29. The only Brit ever to capture a world title after winning Olympic gold, DeGale said he’d like to unify titles with WBC champ Badou Jack in April in Las Vegas.
DeGale (22-1, 14 KOs) started fast and landed several stinging combinations in Round 1, particularly the overhand left, which seemed to hurt Bute. DeGale exerted non-stop pressure and pushed the fight at a torrid pace, but Bute responded and landed a few combinations of his own.
Bute (32-3, 25 KOs) really got going in Round 4 and began to march forward, meeting his fellow southpaw in the middle of the ring, where he went to the body and clipped DeGale several times. DeGale was the fresher, quicker fighter, though, did tremendous body work and was able to befuddle Bute by constantly switching stances.
The Romanian was effective with the jab and was able to pin DeGale in the corner in Round 9, where he inflicted some of his best damage of the fight. They exchanged on the inside for most of the bout, but DeGale was able to dart in and out and landed the cleaner shots.
According to CompuBox, DeGale connected on 211 of 710 punches (29%), while Bute landed 140 of 521 (26%).
Bute lost, but far exceeded expectations and will surely be back in a meaningful fight in 2016, especially as one of boxing’s biggest draws. He routinely attracts large crowds in his adopted hometown of Quebec and Saturday was no exception.
“I did my best tonight, I thought it was a close fight,” said Bute, 35. “I will be back in the gym and continue to work out to get to the top one more time. I feel great, I feel healthy and will continue to work.”
DeGale defeated Andre Dirrell on points in May to win the vacant title in an impressive performance that included two second-round knockdowns. On Saturday, “Chunky” was able to bully yet another southpaw. His lone defeat came to bitter rival and countryman George Groves in 2011.
Bute was once considered a world-class talent, but hadn’t looked the part since a 2013 knockout loss to Carl Froch. Bute followed the defeat with a lackluster win over Denis Grachev and then was dominated by Jean Pascal in a light heavyweight bout in 2014.
The Romanian fought just once in between, a knockout of domestic-level talent Andrea Di Luisa. The loss to DeGale was the former super middleweight champ’s first bout at 168 pounds since the Froch bout, but he looks rejuvenated after the long break.
Bute is back.