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Bute, Zuniga all set!

By Rick Scharmberg

Romanian-born Lucian Bute (23-0, 18 KOs), now living in Montreal, Canada, will make the third defense of his IBF super middleweight title against IBF #13-ranked Fulgencio Zuniga (22-3-1, 19 KOs), of Barranquilla, Colombia, this Friday at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Bute, 29, won the title on October 19, 2007, with an 11th round stoppage of Alejandro Berrio, with successful defenses coming against William Joppy (TKO 10) and Librado Andrade (UD 12). Zuniga is a former world title challenger, who dropped a decision to Russian Denis Inkin in a try for the vacant WBO super middleweight title last September. The Bute – Zuniga bout will be featured on a special edition of ShoBox: The New Generation, televised on SHOWTIME.

In his last outing, Lucian Bute barely escaped with his title against Librado Andrade, of La Habra, California. Bute was leading comfortably until the relentless Andrade caught up with and floored Bute in the closing seconds of the bout. Referee Marlon Wright sparked controversy by repeatedly sending Andrade to a neutral corner before picking up Bute’s count. Lucian was on his feet, but badly hurt, as the final bell sounded. “I was so tired in that last round,” said Bute. “I learned from that experience.”

Fulgencio Zuniga, 31, gave such a good performance in a losing cause against Denis Inkin; he was able to maintain a high ranking. In his most recent bout, Zuniga stopped Diego Castillo in five rounds in his native Colombia. “Zuniga can finish what Andrade started,” stated Zuniga’s promoter, Alfredo Marchio. “He is an aggressive fighter, and he wants to win the world title.”

In addition to having a decided hometown advantage, Bute has a four-inch advantage in height (6’2” to Zuniga’s 5’10”), and is also a southpaw. Their reach, however, is the same at 70 inches. Bute appears to be the naturally bigger man, having fought at 168 pounds, or higher, for his entire six-year professional career. Zuniga, meanwhile, began as a 154-pounder in 2001, and spent several years campaigning in the middleweight division, before rising to the 168-pound class in 2007.

Although Zuniga’s team threatened to pull out of the fight if Marlon Wright was selected as the referee, Zuniga is not worried about being on the wrong end of a hometown decision. “No problem,” said Zuniga. “I believe in fairness. I am a believer in God and that it will be a good decision.”

Bute first served notice with a fourth round knockout over former world champion Dingaan Thobela on December 3, 2004. His next major win came against former world title challenger Kabary Salem (TKO 8). Bute defeated Contender star Sakio Bika in a title eliminator, before stopping Berrio for the title. Zuniga will represent Bute’s third defense of that title.

Zuniga scored 15-straight knockouts in his native Colombia, before securing a title shot against then-WBO light middleweight champ Daniel Santos back in 2003. Santos took a decision, and Zuniga bounced back with two wins, including an impressive TKO over David Lopez. After a draw against rugged Jose Luis Zertuche, Zuniga faced rising contender Kelly Pavlik for the NABF middleweight title. Pavlik stopped Zuniga in the ninth round on cuts, but had to get off the floor to do so.

After facing Pavlik, Zuniga beat gatekeeper Antwun Echols (UD 10), before scoring his biggest win to date. On September 1, 2007, Zuniga scored a brutal ninth round knockout over then-unbeaten and highly touted Victor Oganov, who was 26-0, with 26 KOs at the time. Ironically, the Zuniga – Oganov bout was also featured on ShoBox.

Bute and Zuniga are somewhat familiar with each other. Zuniga was selected to be Bute’s lead sparring partner in his preparation for Librado Andrade, but the arrangement was abruptly cancelled after Zuniga got the call to face Denis Inkin, after Inkin’s original opponent and eventual conqueror Karoly Balzsay, fell out due to injury.

“I really didn’t learn much from [sparring with Bute] because it was only for a week. That is not enough time to learn anything,” stated Zuniga.

The question remains: Can Lucian Bute, who appeared shaky in the final round of his last bout, utilize his physical and technical advantages to withstand what is sure to be another aggressive assault from another Latino warrior, or will Fulgencio Zuniga finally realize his dream and become a world champion on his third, and possibly final, try?




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