For a big-time boxing fight, Saturday's clash in Nottingham, England, between IBF super middleweight titlist Lucian Bute and former two-time titleholder Carl Froch, hasn't kicked up a lot of dust. In other words, it's a welcome change to what has become the norm. Instead of two fighters talking, it is simply two of the three best fighters in the world at 168 pounds getting ready for battle, with enough storylines to create further intrigue.
There has been obligatory trash talk from Froch, but centered in at least some form of reality, depending upon one's opinions. The usually brash Englishman has merely offered the belief that his opponent has built his 30-0 professional record not on a collection of stiffs, necessarily, but against competition that has been usually unable to challenge him.
Whether this is a reflection of Bute's talent -- he has faced some solid fighters along the way, but we'll get to that -- or a reflection of Bute's opposition remains to be seen. On Saturday, we'll find out the real story on the Romanian-Canadian, as he's chosen to silence critics by not only facing a top-flight super middleweight with an impressive resume to date, but he's going to Froch's hometown to do so.
Bute (30-0, 24 KO) was left out of the gloriously oversold Super Six for one reason or another. Depending upon the storyteller, either Bute rejected an offer from Showtime, or Showtime never came to him. Early theories also included a logical answer: That even if asked, Bute was already a legitimate draw in Quebec, and had no particularly good reason to enter a tournament where he'd be locked into a series of fights and inevitably sent off somewhere where he would make less money than he would to stay at home and fight anyone available outside of the tournament.
But whatever the reason, Bute wasn't involved, and to the hardcore boxing fans that actually cared about the tournament, this has sort of haunted his achievements ever since. "He's unbeaten," a Bute supporter might say, only to be quickly countered with, "Who's he beaten?" The Super Six fighters -- even though half of them were gone by the end of "Stage Two" -- did receive some bump in the respect department to those same fans, which Bute missed.
Bute has beaten some quality foes. Way back in 2007, he defeated tough Sakio Bika in Montreal to earn a shot at the IBF belt, which he then lifted from all-or-nothing slugger Alejandro Berrio. A title defense against worn-out William Joppy followed, and then came what wound up the most telling fight of Bute's career, as he controversially survived a 12th-round charge from Librado Andrade, many feel with the blatant help of referee Marlon B. Wright (I do not quite feel this way, though I do believe Wright made a mess of the situation and lost control of the fight at a key moment).
Since that night, though, Bute has been nearly untouchable. He stopped Fulgencio Zuniga in four, and then did the right thing by rematching the affable warrior Andrade in November 2009. This time, he left no doubt, using his trademark crunching body attack to get the iron-chinned Mexican out in the fourth as well.
Edison Miranda, Jesse Brinkley, Brian Magee, Jean-Paul Mendy, and Glen Johnson have all fallen, in that order. It needs to be said that none of these fights were against bad opponents, really, but most were quite frankly against undeserving opponents. If you're still bothering yourself with the idea that boxing's championship belts should have some meaning, it's hard to find any compelling reason that any of those fighters should have been on the receiving end of a shot at world championship glory.
Miranda was washed-up; Brinkley a fairly clear no-hoper, a tough club fighter and nothing more; Magee a good European-level fighter but not a serious contender; Mendy a terrible opponent forced upon Bute by the IBF after a silly DQ win over Bika; and Glen Johnson came to that fight last November and took a dump, barely offering any effort whatsoever, yet still finding a way to bitch and moan about the decision.
I do not think there's any strong reason to doubt Bute's talent, but much better fighters than Bute have lost several fights in their careers. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, and I'll say it a thousand more: When good fighters take actual challenges, someone has to lose. Bute is not a supernatural talent by any means. He is a very, very good offensive fighter, but his defense and stamina have been question marks at times.
Carl Froch will attempt to turn those question marks into big, red, flashing exclamation points on Saturday. Froch (28-2, 20 KO) may have earned more of a jump in global respect from the Super Six than anyone did, even dominant tournament champion Andre Ward. While Ward emerged as the world's best super middleweight, Froch entered the tournament a fighter waiting to be exposed in the minds of many. There were plenty who thought he'd fail at domestic level as he got higher up. Plenty still who thought he'd fail before he got to the world stage.
Nobody really expected Carl Froch, with his slow hands, slow feet, and dangerous defensive holes, to become an elite-level fighter at 168 pounds. But he has. Some way, somehow, "The Cobra" has proven skeptics and critics wrong time and again, beating the likes of Jean Pascal, Andre Dirrell (though this was highly debatable), Jermain Taylor, Arthur Abraham, and Glen Johnson (a version who actually tried to win, even). His two losses to Ward and Mikkel Kessler were nothing to be ashamed of, either. He gutted out 12 rounds against a clearly superior fighter in Ward, and lost a nail-biter to Kessler in the Super Six's only actual good fight.
Neither man is a spring chicken heading into this one, but the 32-year-old Bute's ring years are probably vastly less than the 34-year-old Froch. Froch's brutal schedule, where he hasn't faced less than a good fighter since mid-2008 when he thrashed poor scrub (and late replacement opponent) Albert Rybacki, has not seen him in many true "wars," despite his self-created reputation as an action fighter, but he's had to go hard rounds. He's fought consistently (seven times since December 2008) and gone 12 rounds every time out, with only one fighting ending before the scores could be read, when he stopped Taylor with 14 seconds left in their fight.
Bute has kept a similar schedule in some ways (eight fights since October 2008), but only two of those fights have gone 12, and only one of them was a stern physical test for him. He's had his way with most of those opponents, and half of them were gone by the fourth round.
This is such a legitimately good matchup that I'm inclined to break it down video game-style:
|Wear and Tear|
The speed, power, and footwork I truly favor Bute, as I do in experience (by which I mean experience under pressure, in big fights) and punch resistance for Froch.
With ring IQ, I have seen Froch better survive scares and trouble than I have Bute -- I nick to Carl on that one. Wear and tear, I'm confident Bute is in better overall shape than Froch at this point, but not that he'll be in "better shape" on Saturday.
As for defense, both have holes. Bute leaves his hands down a lot, but so does Froch. Bute creates defense from offense at times, being so dangerous when he's built momentum that it encourages opponents to take less risks, which means less danger for Lucian, which is defense in its own way. Froch is odd to attack because he keeps a sort of strange distance, and is willing to tie up when he gets in close if he hasn't really opened anything up on the way there. It's not pretty, but it has worked fairly well for him.
Neither man gets hit truly flush that often -- when they do, Froch takes it better, but Froch takes punches better than just about anyone. He's got among the best chins in boxing.
What may tip this to Bute is the variety of his offensive attack, and in particular, his brilliant body punching. Froch is almost exclusively a headhunter, and pumps out a large amount of jabs for a super middleweight -- in his pre-Ward fights in the Super Six, Froch was averaging 40.7 jabs/round, compared to a 23.6 average of jabs/round in all super middleweight fights counted by CompuBox. Ward did shut him down to 20.8 jabs/round, but that's probably a lot more to do with Ward than any serious change in Froch's approach.
I've had a hard time picking a winner for this one because I believe it's as close to a true 50-50 fight as we get in boxing these days. That's not to say it's the best fight on the schedule (it's up there), or that it's an incredible matchup, but it's even, and there are intangibles -- such as Froch fighting at home -- that could swing this thing.
If Bute does not have a shock-and-awe sort of attack that finishes off the durable "Cobra" early, Froch is going to press him through 12 hard rounds, especially if he's got his jab working and can keep Bute at bay, out of the tighter quarters where the southpaw ripper prefers to work.
I would warn a bit that those expecting some great fight may wind up disappointed. Froch has never been afraid to ugly up a fight if it benefits him, and on paper, I believe that's the approach that gives him the best chance to win: Picking his shots, picking his moments to open up offensively, and tying Bute up frequently to prevent him from getting any real sustained rhythm. If Bute can connect to the body with regularity, or even with just a few of his laser beam lefts, the knockout could happen. There's nobody with an "iron body," including the double-tough Froch.
I'm cautiously going with Lucian Bute here, but I have only minor confidence in that pick. Thus far, Bute's wins have been largely covered in a safety blanket. One way or another, the Froch fight will teach us more about who Lucian Bute really is in the ring -- whether he's earned the accolades, or whether he's been a sheep in wolf's clothing all this time.