16 March 2011 – Kevin Byrne
Extended version of interview carried out for Seconds Out boxing column, every Saturday in the Irish Sun.
Brian Magee takes on Lucian Bute for the IBF world super-middleweight title in Canada this Saturday night. We don’t have to tell you he’s up against it – he’s probably our greatest underdog of the three world title challengers we’ve got. But Magee reckons he’s reaching his peak at 35 and is planning to gatecrash the division starting by shocking Bute.
He said: “No doubt, Bute’s the best in the world, a top-class operator and I know what Im up against. But I feel like Ive paid my dues and I deserve to be there. Im definitely getting near to my peak now at 35.”
Magee remains a huge betting underdog and is seen in Canada as just another opponent to pad out their man’s 27-0 record. It’s the champion’s first fight of a big-money deal with Showtime. The Romanian is reportedly getting $2million for this fight alone with the winner of the Super Six – set to be either England’s Carl Froch or American Andre Ward – to face him down the line. European champion Magee fancies jumping the queue and ruining the broadcaster’s best laid plans.
Magee’s manager Pat Magee – no relation, as we have to stress in every article we write about the man – said: “The winner of this is going to fight the winner of the Super Six. Bute should have been in that and Showtime have signed him up in order for him to fight the tournament winner. But we intend to spoil the party and leave a lot of people in Montreal unhappy.”
His fighter agrees. Former Holy Trinity boxer Brian is planning one of Irish sport’s greatest ever upsets on foreign soil. On St Patrick’s week too. Is that any use to him? He added: “It does add to it but its nothing thats going to help me in the fight. Still, its nice for everyone else and a good time to pick up a world title.
“The main thing is to take the world title but Ive worked hard and trained hard so Im ready.”
Pat added: “Were not thinking of losing. Realistically if Brian wins youll not see him fighting in Ireland again. Well stay in America because thats where the money is. We would only think of reverting back to Europe in the event he loses. If he wins we couldnt afford to put him on here.”
A win over Bute could set him up for a rematch with Froch after he lost a British title fight to ‘The Cobra’ in 2006. That was just one low point in Magee’s career but certainly not his basement. For that, take your pick from what Pat saw as a ‘robbery’ defeat in Germany to Vitaly Tsypko in 2005 or the cancellations that saw him inactive in all of 2009.
Magee embarked on a comeback under Bernardo Cheka after a split from long-term mentor Harry Hawkins. The European title was wrenched in an upset win over Dane Mads Larsen last year. Knowing he could not rely on a decision, Magee stopped the betting favourite in the seventh round. If that was the performance of a career, he’ll have to better it again.
Pat added: “When he got round to fighting Larsen he realised what it was like to be at the bottom of the heap and he said: Thats not gonna happen to me again.
“His whole approach changed – maybe through the influence of Bernardo. Coming from the South American academy – they have a hard edge to them. Its hit the guy where you can hurt them. Now thats the attitude Brian has.
“In his last few fights Brian has been battering guys – Larsen and the guy in Dublin Roman Aramyan last September. Thats the way he fights now. Brian is not out to please people. He will jump on Bute. Its gonna take a good ‘un to beat Brian with the form hes in.”
The big-punching Bute has promised a nasty surprise on fight night, claiming he has spotted weaknesses in Magee’s defences. But Magee fired back: “Youre always going to get that. I dont know how many times I’ve heard that. I’m sure hes trained as hard as he always would and wont let the hype get to him. But when you go toe-to-toe anything can happen. Im definitely looking to carry on for a few years now – Im actually enjoying my training now and see no reason to stop. I feel like Ive still got something to give.
“Ive got myself back to the top 10 in the world, the No 1 challenger. I dont want to fall out of that and go back to the bad old days when times were hard.”
Pat added: “This is the fight of Brians career, the opportunity of Brians career. Opportunities like this dont come up in most boxer’s lifetimes.
“Winning means hes in a different category of fighter. Hes into million-dollar – if not millions of dollars – fights. And were not even thinking of losing. Butes fought in his comfort zone all along. Theyre all good opposition I’ll admit, but theyre all types he cant miss. Theres no doubt hes a big puncher – no doubt about that. But if you stick him in against walk forward fighters thats ideal for him. What he hasnt met is a seasoned, hard pro like Magee whos met all styles.
“If youve seen his first fight with Andrade, he fell apart in the 11th round and then the 12th and only won because the ref saved him with a count even longer than the famous Long Count. If his record read 26-1 with one KO, would people still be seeing him as the same fighter today?
“Mick Hennessey, Frochs manager did an article and he picked Magee to beat Bute. He felt Magee was Frochs hardest fight and Magee would give Bute all he wants.
“Brian’s the highest-ranked super-middleweight in the world who doesnt have a championship belt. And for me the IBF is the best belt out there among the big four organisations including the WBC, WBA and WBO. Its the purest. They dont have interim or super champions – they have just one and that is Lucian Bute.”
Magee has prepared by sparring Dolphil fighters JJ and Paddy McDonagh, big tall southpaws. Bob Ajisafe came over too. And finally, the man who has got it all to do added: “You never know but I dont think I’ll be fighting again at home. If I won the title I dont think anyone I know would begrudge having to travel to watch me and I have 60 or 70 coming with me to Canada to watch”
Magee v Bute will be broadcast live in Ireland on Setanta. The bout will also be shown on Sunday on BBC NI and later in the week on Sky Sports Ringside magazine show.