Following last night's decisive and clear-cut victory over Carl Froch in the final bout of the Super Six World Boxing Classic, new super middleweight world champion Andre Ward has just one fight that is being "demanded," but it may not be a fight that can get done.
For Ward (25-0, 13 KO), there seems to be only one serious challenge left at 168 pounds, and that is IBF titlist Lucian Bute (30-0, 24 KO). Bute, by far the best fighter in the division who did not compete in the Super Six, has raised his profile outside of the tournament and constantly been mentioned alongside the participants over the last two years.
Since a controversial decision win over Librado Andrade in October 2008, Bute has been dominant, going 7-0 with six stoppage wins, including a KO-4 over Andrade in November 2009.
But the 31-year-old Romanian has faced questions about the level of his opposition. Fact is, his best wins during his recent run have come over Brian Magee and Glen Johnson, a pair of pretty good fighters but not exactly wins over the likes of Froch and Kessler, two men also in the division's top four, now both beaten soundly by Ward.
There can't really be any question at this point: Andre Ward is the No. 1 fighter in the division. What trips everything up is that Lucian Bute is the No. 1 money fighter in the division.
With his ability to draw big and vocal crowds to venues in Quebec, Bute is in a comfortable spot in the sport. His fans aren't going to stop turning up for fights if he "ducks" Andre Ward, or if he decides the fight isn't a priority.
Showtime, of course, will push for this. They've set it up so that Bute would still be under contract with the network when the Super Six came to its conclusion, and Bute indeed has one fight remaining on the three-fight deal he signed in 2010, coming back to the network that got him his U.S. TV start after a brief and ill-fated run at HBO.
But can Showtime do enough to make the fight a reality? Without Ken Hershman in charge, will Stephen Espinoza care enough about Ward vs Bute to go the extra mile? And if negotiations can legitimately begin, will Ward want to go to Montreal, or will Bute leave his bubble?
There are simply too many questions about the fight for it to be assumed that it will happen. Here's hoping it does -- like anyone else, I believe this is the fight to be made at 168. If it doesn't happen, there aren't many other options.
The most likely candidate without Bute? Anthony Dirrell. Yes, Anthony. No, not Andre.
Anthony (24-0, 21 KO) won a WBC eliminator on December 2 when he defeated Renan St-Juste via injury stoppage in four, and he looked on his way to a more "legit" win, too.
The 27-year-old doesn't have his brother's "skills," but he appears to be far more "fighter" than the more famous Dirrell, and he has speed, power, and a fearless sort of attitude that could make him every bit as interesting an opponent as anyone else besides Bute. If the fight happens, it happens. Dirrell also happens to be the WBA's No. 2 contender, and there's some story here.
This might very well be the next fight. Showtime will definitely, absolutely, 100% want and try to make Ward vs Bute happen. But if it can't be made, they've featured Anthony's fight with St-Juste on ShoBox, and showed him in the crowd last night in Atlantic City. They've covered their bases here, which tells me they know there's a realistic if not frankly high chance that Ward vs Bute isn't going to happen.