UK boxing fans, a big fight on the world stage appears headed your way, as a deal is nearly completed to send IBF super middleweight titlist Lucian Bute to Nottingham on May 12 to face hometown hero Carl Froch.
Interbox promoter Jean Bedard hinted at the rumor that the fight is all but 100% finished by tweeting at Bute earlier:
Bute (30-0, 24 KO) and Froch (28-2, 21 KO) have been negotiating pretty much since the week after Froch lost to Andre Ward in December, after word got out rapidly that Ward, the legit champion of the division and the Super Six tournament winner, wasn't interested in fighting Bute.
First, Bute vs Froch was proposed as a two-fight deal, with one fight happening in the UK and the other in Quebec, taking advantage of both fan bases, which can be expected to turn out for fights. Then it became a standard, one-fight idea. And then Showtime, for whatever bizarre reason they have, rejected the fight, which is getting worse by the week as the network targets far, far worse fights than Bute vs Froch, which still pits two of the top five super middleweights in the world.
To expand here and go off track, I have no clue what Stephen Espinoza and Showtime are thinking by rejecting this fight, but it flat-out stinks. I've said this before, but it just makes no sense to me at all. Word is that they wanted Ward vs Bute -- OK, that's fine, we all want that fight. But Ward doesn't want to fight Bute right now, so it's not an option. Bute's team comes up with arguably the next-best thing, a fight against a guy Showtime has been featuring on their airwaves for three years now, who has name value, plenty of credibility, and makes sense in the role, but they reject that?
Even worse, they supposedly offered to have Bute fight Andre Dirrell, a fighter with no following. (Not that Dirrell was involved, it doesn't seem. As soon as word of that got out, whether coincidental or not, Dirrell fired Al Haymon and Gary Shaw, and has decided to go his own way, which promises to be an adventure.)
And I don't buy the idea that Froch is coming off of a loss so he's not attractive as a Bute opponent. Showtime approved Glen Johnson, who was coming off of a loss to Froch, for a November fight with Bute.
The IBF stepped in after negotiations seemed to fall through again, making Froch the mandatory challenger in a mildly surprising move. Bute has always taken mandatory challengers seriously, and while he could have paid $20,000 to take an optional defense next, it appears he's going to just fight Froch, which is probably the best fight he can make right now anyway.
But back to the other thing.
When Showtime turned the fight down, the two sides basically decided they could go ahead anyway, and just not involve Showtime. The only problem there was that Showtime has a fight left on their deal with Lucian Bute. There have been rumors about that, but I won't speculate. I can only note that Osman Rodriguez of BoxingScene.com says that Epix will carry Bute vs Froch in the United States. Sky Sports, of course, will carry the fight in the UK per their deal with Froch.
Showtime has themselves in a bit of a bind with this super middleweight investment of theirs. Let's be really honest: The Super Six was a great idea, and sure a lot of boxing fans did enjoy it (I thought it was OK but overall a grinding, consistent disappointment, but we've been over that and that's not the point right now).
Showtime overpaid for that tournament. It did not do anything when it comes to making the participants bigger stars than they were -- not really, and not in the case of the guy who, in the end, should have most benefited, that being the winner, of course, who dominated the tournament.
Andre Ward is a bigger name now to boxing fans, more highly regarded on pound-for-pound lists, but the people who will come to see him fight in Oakland didn't grow by leaps and bounds, and he still has no real star power on the road. The tournament made him a better fighter, and showed us an elite-level boxer, but it didn't make a star.
So the network has their eggs in the Ward basket -- or, in other words, a guy who's not the level as an attraction that Bute is, or that Froch is. In this scenario where we're just talking about those three (and leaving out other guys who are bigger attractions than Ward), Showtime has decided, fair or not, right or wrong, smart or stupid, to back the guy who has the least fans. I mean, I'm genuinely not convinced that Ward has more American fans than Bute or Froch, let alone international recognition.
We'll have more on this situation and more on the fight when something comes up. Hopefully we'll get a full go-ahead soon.