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Bute-Zuniga first look!

Coming off one of the most controversial victories in years, undefeated Lucian Bute will return to SHOWTIME® to risk his IBF super middleweight crown against hard-hitting Fulgencio Zuniga on a special World Championship edition of ShoBox: The New Generation on Friday, March 13 (11 p.m. ET/PT, delayed on the west coast) at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

Last October in his hometown of Montreal and his first ShoBox appearance, Bute dominated the initial 11-plus rounds against Librado Andrade but fell apart late and was brutally knocked down in the final seconds. Visibly shaken and hurt, Bute barely made it to his feet as he beat the referee’s 10-count to retain his belt on a lopsided decision.

A battered Bute, however, escaped with a triumph that was questioned by many who feel the time elapsed during the 10-count was closer to 20 seconds or more and that the ref’s decision-making after the knockdown aided the exhausted hometown hero. Most notably, the ref has been criticized by many members of the media for devoting too much concern – and precious time – to the whereabouts of Andrade and a neutral corner.

Bute (23-0, 18 KOs) did not depart the ring with the look of a winner, which is a reason he must be admired for coming back so quickly against a determined, dangerous slugger like Colombia’s Zuniga (22-3-1, 19 KOs), who is no stranger to hostile environments and whose only defeats were to world champions.

But is southpaw Bute coming back too soon? Is the aura of invincibility still there? How much did the final round drubbing by Andrade take out of him physically, emotionally and mentally? What is the homefield advantage worth to a classy young man with widespread popularity in Montreal? Is Bute truly a boxer you can never count out of a fight?

Tune in on March 13 for those answers and more.

ShoBox announcers Nick Charles (blow-by-blow) and Steve Farhood (expert analyst) called the Bute-Andrade fight and are eager to see how this one plays out.

“What makes this fight so fascinating to me are the question marks about Bute’s state of mind and especially his confidence,” Charles said. “He’s still champion — barely — but the way he left the ring against Andrade on ShoBox makes me wonder whether he’ll have the confidence to weather the storm against a hard-hitting power puncher like Zuniga.

“I love the fact Bute is fighting so soon and not just sitting around, but he had his world rocked. How he responds is difficult to measure, which is what makes this matchup even more interesting and compelling than it already is.”

Added Farhood: “Given what happened in the last 20 seconds of Bute’s fight with Andrade, there’s a strange curiosity to want to see this guy in another tough fight. Zuniga has the credentials and the punch to supply Bute with exactly that.”

A 29-year-old, 6-foot-2 inch Montreal-based Romanian, Bute will be making the third defense of the 168-pound belt he won with an 11th-round TKO over Alejandro Berrio on Oct. 19, 2007, in Montreal, where the defending champion’s last 11 fights have taken place.

With several more potential major fights looming if successful, the talented Bute, who possesses huge advantages in height and reach over Zuniga, is determined to make a statement on March 13.

“I want to put on a great show,”‘ he said. “Zuniga is a very aggressive fighter and I know he will try to pressure me. But his style will be very beneficial for my career.

“Friday the 13th will be very unlucky for Zuniga. He will not leave the Bell Centre with the IBF belt in his bag but rather with a fourth career defeat.”

Zuniga, not unlike Andrade, is an aggressive-minded puncher. He has excellent experience against top-level opposition. He is gritty, rugged-chinned and fights with pressure and purpose.

In his ShoBox debut, Zuniga put on a sensational performance against a previously undefeated fighter that came in with a record of 26-0 with 26 knockouts. Zuniga overcame a disputed first-round knockdown to out-work, out-punch and, ultimately, outclass the highly regarded Victor Oganov.

“That was obviously a very important victory for me and the best of my career,” said Zuniga, a natural junior middleweight. “I think I proved what kind of fighter I am.”

His only setbacks have been against Kelly Pavlik (the lone fighter to stop Zuniga), Daniel Santos and Denis Inkin.

The decision loss to local hero Inkin in September 2008 came on a controversial 12-round decision in a world title fight in Germany the 5-foot-10-inch, 31-year-old Zuniga took on two weeks notice.

“I had visa problems and didn’t get to Germany until six days before the fight,” said Zuniga. “I never adjusted to the time. But even though I was tired and Inkin is a good boxer, I believe I outworked him and won.”

Zuniga rebounded in his next fight (November 2008) to register a third-round knockout over Diego Castillo and has now won five of his last six.

For his next venture onto foreign soil, Zuniga plans to keep it simple. “I will pressure Bute from the first round,” he said.

Zuniga’s hopes of an upset likely were bolstered by developments in two recent, major boxing main events in Montreal. In both, local favorites Steve Molitor and Herman Ngoudjo were soundly defeated by Celestino Caballero (on SHOWTIME) and Juan Urango, respectively, in IBF championship fights.

“I sparred a week with Bute,” Zuniga said. “He is a fast, hard hitting boxer. But I’ve always been confident I could compete with the top guys. I have the power to knock him out and the skills to decision him. I’m working hard. I will be a world champion soon and I need to bring the belt back to Colombia.

“I only ask for a fair referee.”

The aforementioned Charles and Farhood will call the ShoBox action. The executive producer of ShoBox is Gordon Hall with Richard Gaughan producing and Rick Phillips directing.

For more information on SHOWTIME Sports, including exclusive behind-the-scenes video and photo galleries, complete telecast information and more, please go to the new SHOWTIME Sports website at http://sports.sho.com.




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