Sometimes in boxing, you can win even if you lose. Case in point is former super middleweight titleholder Lucian Bute, who is coming off a loss to world titlist James DeGale but looked so good it secured him another shot at a major belt.
Bute won a 168-pound world title in 2007 and made nine successful defenses in a dominant reign before leaving the comforts of Quebec in May 2012 to travel to Nottingham, England, the hometown of Carl Froch, who knocked him out in the fifth round to take the title.
Bute, 36, has struggled since. He did not fight in 2013, mainly because of injuries, and is just 2-2 since the loss to Froch.
Bute's wins came against lesser opponents: Denis Grachev by decision in a huge struggle and a fifth-round knockout of Andrea Di Luisa. The losses came against quality opponents: a lopsided decision to former light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal in an all-Montreal megafight, and against DeGale in Quebec City in November.
However, even though Bute lost to DeGale, his performance hearkened back to his better days. Bute put on a spirited effort and pushed DeGale all the way before losing a competitive unanimous decision in a tremendous fight.
It was the kind of performance that had many rethinking Bute's position in the sport. He did not look like the faded fighter many believed him to be. Rather, he looked fresh and energetic against the No. 1 super middleweight in the world.
It was a performance certainly good enough to warrant Bute receiving another big opportunity, which he will get when he challenges Badou Jack for his version of the 168-pound title on Saturday night (Showtime, 10 ET) at the DC Armory in Washington.
"Bute's fight against DeGale was one of the best fights last year," Jack said. "That's the only reason he got this shot. He lost, but he looked good. It was a great fight. [Saturday] will be another great fight and another loss for Bute."
England's DeGale (22-1, 14 KOs) will make his second title defense against mandatory challenger Rogelio "Porky" Medina (35-6, 29 KOs) of Mexico in the co-feature. The winners on Saturday will meet to unify their belts later this year, also on Showtime.
Coming off his strong performance against DeGale, Bute (32-3, 25 KOs) said he has rediscovered the confidence he lost in the wake of the knockout loss to Froch.
"My confidence before the fight with DeGale was not 100 percent. Now it's back [to] 100 percent," Bute said. "I feel good. I feel strong. The training time is going very well. I feel very comfortable. I think it's a big opportunity for me to become world champion for the second time. I will do that in Washington, D.C. I'm very confident about that."
Bute said his fourth-round knockout of Di Luisa helped him get back into shape after a 19-month layoff following the loss to Pascal, and that he carried it over into the DeGale fight.
"I was not comfortable maintaining my fitness. I had a long break," Bute said. "I'm healthy in this moment. Everything is going well. I had one fight before DeGale, a tuneup fight. Against DeGale I think I looked good and everybody saw I'm very competitive in the high-level fights."
Bute also admitted that it's easier to come in without the pressure of being the titleholder. Instead, he is the hunter against Jack, who will be making his second title defense.
"The champion is Badou Jack in the United States and the fight is in Washington, D.C.," Bute said. "I'm very comfortable with that. I have no pressure. I'm coming in to Washington, D.C., looking forward to becoming world champion on [Saturday]."
Jack (20-1-1, 12 KOs), 32, is a Sweden native fighting out of Las Vegas, where trains at the gym owned by his promoter, Floyd Mayweather. Jack was originally supposed to fight former middleweight titlist Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (49-2-1, 32 KOs), but the fight was not finalized because Chavez tore a tendon in his foot and is sidelined.
"I'll be ready for this fight. Bute is a very tough opponent," Jack said. "I have to bring my A-game to win. Much respect to him, but he's not leaving with my belt. Absolutely not. You can expect a very tough fight. Bute is a much, much tougher opponent that Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., but I'm ready for him."
When Chavez was injured, Bute was eager to fill in.
"I'm in good health and I've been in the gym since February. When the phone rang, I said yes without hesitation," Bute said. "When you are given the opportunity to fight for a world title, at this level, you cannot refuse. I haven't been injured in a long time. Although I had some small doubts before going up against DeGale, after the performance I came up with against him, my confidence level is now at 100 percent.
"I can see it in the gym and everyone can see it, including my trainers and my sparring partners. I'm hungry for another championship title, like I was when I was younger, at age 26 and 27. I want to take away the belt from Badou Jack.
"I respect him. He has a good background at the amateur level, he went to the Olympic Games and he showed that he was part of the boxing elite when he beat Anthony Dirrell [to win the vacant belt] and George Groves. But on [Saturday], the province of Quebec will have a new champion."