James DeGale vs. Lucian Bute: Time for Chunky to Dominate the Division?

Weigh in-0003 (James Degale and Lucian Bute)
All photos by Amanda Kwok/Showtime

There’s been a considerable upturn in excitement in the boxing schedule in recent weeks. Big fights drive the interest in the sport, and last weekend’s Canelo Alvarez vs. Miguel Cotto fight drew eyes back to the fight game.

This weekend is no different, with the heavyweight titles on the line between the methodical beast of Wladimir Klitschko and the unpredictable, maybe unhinged ferocity of Tyson Fury.

But on Saturday, Quebec plays host to a fight that has gone a little under the radar. James “Chunky” DeGale (21-1, 14 KOs) defends his IBF super middleweight title against former titleholder Lucian ‘Le Tombeur’ Bute (32-2, 25 KOs).

This fight may not be the main event of the weekend, but it is well worth tuning in on Saturday to see DeGale vs. Bute. It’s an opportunity to get answers to some of the remaining questions about each fighter. Bute comes into this fight as the underdog, and a fighter in desperate need of a big win to get himself back on track.

Since his 2012 obliteration at the stone hands of Carl Froch, questions remain as to whether Bute has lost it, or if he ever had it at all. When Le Tombeur stepped through the ropes to the screams of the Cordingley banshee, and the boos of a rabid Nottingham crowd, he was ranked amongst the very best in the world at super middleweight by many observers. By the end of that night, his bubble had burst and his brains scrambled. In a fight against DeGale, he has an opportunity to exact some revenge on the British crowd that were baying for blood that night, and an opportunity to put some demons to rest.

Bute’s only other loss came when he stepped up to light heavy and lost a drab affair but Canadian mega-event against Jean Pascal. Prior to all this, Bute looked the business. He was slick, tricky and powerful, and he looked to be trouble for anyone in and around the division he was inhabiting.

Nowadays, he seems to have lost some of that fire that he possessed in his powerful left hand, and most of all, he seems to have lost confidence in himself. A fighter like Bute, with his lead hand held low, relying on his defensive know-how, reactions and his conviction that he could spark any opponent out, needs every ounce of confidence he can get. Now that’s gone? Bute seems to be gone too.

DeGale, on the other hand, finally appears to be fulfilling some of the incredible potential that he clearly possesses. A few too many fights languishing in with opposition that he should have been demolishing, explained away with niggling injuries and a loss of his passion for the sport, but now he’s started to step up the level and look like the fighter many in Britain were expecting him to be.

Of course, that didn’t stop him drifting off against Dirrell and letting a quality fighter back in a fight that Chunky should have been dominating, a problem that seems to be DeGale’s biggest. He has a tendency to drift off, to coast and to lose interest. Chunky could be truly dominant in this division if he can overcome the mental lapses, but he seems so aware of his ability that he is willing to let rounds slip away from him. That’s a dangerous game to play against the top boys.

You can fully expect James DeGale to show some brilliance this weekend, but also to let us see his frustrating side. Bute, if there’s anything left of this mythical creature, could capitalise on DeGale’s laziness. If there isn’t? We might have time for a drink break during the fight, as DeGale sleeps and Bute does his best impression of a man that doesn’t much fancy getting beaten up again.

Either way, expect DeGale to win this by unanimous decision, and if he’s switched on and wants to put on a show, he will stop Bute. Because he’s the real deal, and Bute either isn’t, or isn’t anymore. And if DeGale demolishes Bute, the questions will turn to what’s next. Could he dominate anyone in this division? How does he fare against the division’s previous ruler, Andre Ward? And is Carl Froch prepared to come out of retirement for one last chance to shut the mouth of another cocky upstart?

So it doesn’t offer the glitz and glamour of a heavyweight title or two, nor the intrigue of an unleashed lunatic–and don’t expect Bute or DeGale to enter the ring to fire and some terrifying German metal–but this fight serves up some interesting questions, and the potential for some top-quality action, so it’s the perfect digestif after the main meal in Dusseldorf.

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