Much has been made in the last year or so of Lucian Bute, the top super middleweight in the world who did not compete in Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic, fighting the winner of Showtime's big tournament. Many assume that the winner of the tournament (to be decided on 10/29 when Andre Ward faces Carl Froch) will face Bute next, assuming Bute defeats Glen Johnson on November 5.
The timing adds up. We know Showtime wants it. And Showtime will have a big say.
But Ward's promoter Dan Goossen says there's no obligation. From Ryan Maquiñana at BoxingScene.com:
"We’re not [obligated to fight Bute], but we came into this tournament with pre-arranged fights against the other five guys. There are plenty of opportunities to fight the Butes of the world after Oct. 29. ... Bute’s one of those [possible opponents after the Super Six]. There’s Kessler and the Stieglitz fight. There’s Hopkins. Who knows who will be in the landscape over the next eight months? We’ll have to see."
Goossen also says that both Dirrell brothers, a returning Andre and his lesser-regarded brother Anthony, could be in the mix.
So what is Goossen saying here? Is he setting up a fight that gets Ward away from Bute immediately following the Super Six? Is he looking to take an interim fight first, and perhaps pick up another belt along the way? Or is he perhaps trying to avoid Bute altogether?
I'm not making accusations that Ward or Goossen want to "duck" Bute, to be clear. But I will say that one thing we know is that Bute is in a unique position today in boxing. He's got a three-fight Showtime deal right now, with Glen Johnson being fight No. 2 on that contract, and to make him even more unusual, he can actually draw big gates at home against just about anyone he fights. Bute, in pure business terms, does not need the Super Six winner. He really doesn't "need" anyone. He needs legit opponents to keep his credibility with boxing fans and perhaps media on the up-and-up, but that's about the only reason he has to take tough fights. Quebec loves him, and they show him that whenever he takes to the ring.
So with that in mind, you have to note that Bute probably isn't the easiest person to deal with, in terms of negotiations. Kelly Pavlik felt he was being low-balled to fight Bute, and while most didn't side with Pavlik in that situation, he's not the only one who has said as much recently. Mikkel Kessler says the offer he received to fight Bute was low. So did Glen Johnson, before he agreed to better terms for the November fight.
Bute can call the shots. He can demand that fighters face him in Montreal or Quebec City. Will Ward want to travel there for that fight, when with a win over Froch he will be largely considered the clear No. 1 super middleweight?
Or will Froch want to go on the road yet again, should he defeat Ward? Froch would then be a double beltholder, plus the legit Ring Magazine champion, and while he and his team are happy to hype up the fact that "The Cobra" has traveled all over for big fights, one also gets the feeling that they're sick of traveling, and would like to fight in the United Kingdom again after the Super Six ends, whether Froch wins or loses against Ward.
Goossen is definitely right about one thing: We currently can't be 100% sure that this is even going to be an issue. Things can change in boxing with any given fight, and Glen Johnson beating Bute wouldn't be the biggest upset of the year or anything, and then there are other names out there who could be attractive financially and to Showtime for either Ward or Froch.
But you can obviously expect Showtime to push as hard as they can for the winner to face Lucian Bute next, if Bute beats Johnson. They signed Bute to a three-fight deal, and have timed it so that his third fight would line up perfectly with the tournament, allowing him to face the winner in 2012. That's not a coincidence. And don't think that HBO isn't watching all of this unfold, and that the network won't be ready, willing, and able to snap up Ward, Froch, or Bute when the opportunity presents itself. Showtime will be keenly aware of how important it is to make the Ward/Froch vs Bute fight as soon as possible, if indeed they think it's a must-have fight, and they surely do.
Ken Hershman and Showtime have plenty riding on those back-to-back weekends in October and November, and they just have to hope that the potential involved parties are willing to do business.