By 2012, the super middleweight division had a clear new king, and it was Andre Ward. The American and former Olympic gold medalist had stormed through Showtime’s ambitious and mostly successful Super Six World Boxing Classic tournament, and in the final in Dec. 2011, defeated Carl Froch via decision in Atlantic City to unify the WBA and WBC 168-pound titles.
But it’s not just about No. 1; if you only care about THE top fighter, boxing gets pretty boring pretty fast, I’d imagine. There was still a strong crop of fighters in the division, and a really strong No. 2 in Lucian Bute, the Romanian-Canadian who had caught some flak for not taking part in the Super Six while most of the division’s other best fighters did, including Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham, Andre Dirrell, and Jermain Taylor.
Bute, the unbeaten IBF titleholder, had a record of 30-0 (24 KO) but a somewhat questionable slate of wins. He’d had decent victories, over guys like Sakio Bika, Edison Miranda, a faded Glen Johnson, and Librado Andrade (twice, the first with some major refereeing controversy, the second a no-doubt KO), but having not taken part in the tournament, he remained a bit unproven at that top level.
Froch, at 28-2 (20 KO), had losses to Ward and Kessler and a debatable and ugly win over Dirrell, but he’d also proven his mettle in victories over Abraham and Taylor. He had been willing to take the risks Bute would not.
The two signed to fight on May 26, 2012, with the 32-year-old Bute heading not just to the United Kingdom to face the 34-year-old Froch, but to Froch’s hometown of Nottingham. It was a bold move, and frankly it was the sort of bold move Bute needed as he looked to prove he was the real deal.
“For me it’s the right time to come away from home and defend my belt and in my heart I believe I will be victorious,” Bute said before the fight. “I’ve been criticized for not fighting away from home. I remember when Joe Calzaghe fought away from home at the end of his career he received the respect he deserved for doing that and that’s what I am looking to do.”
“He’s not often fought out of his hometown, so to put his title on the line in my backyard he’s either very confident or very stupid,” Froch countered. “I think he’s very confident and he’s the champion, so why not be confident?”
Oddsmakers had Bute as the favorite going in, not by a ton, but he was the unbeaten titleholder, and Froch was coming off of a defeat, and was 2-2 in his last four. Even fighting at home and even having faced the better competition (by quite a bit), it would have been hard to install Froch as the favorite.
On the night of the fight, though, Carl Froch left no doubt about the better man. The difference in hand speed that sank any chance he might have had against Ward in December proved to be no issue against Bute, as a fearless and determined Froch blitzed the undefeated man from the get-go, stinging Bute in the opening rounds and not even letting his foe get out of the gates.
In the third round, with Bute trying on a tough man pose and calling Froch, on, Froch began laying the heavy pressure on, battering Bute. The road fighter tried to get things going in the fourth, and had a better round, but Froch drilled him again late in the frame, and Bute’s fate was looking sealed.
65 seconds into the fifth round, it was over. Bute was staggered near the ropes, and referee Earl Brown administered a count. Bute’s corner, though, had seen enough, entering the ring to stop the fight and save their man.
It was arguably the best performance of Froch’s career. He was in a ferocious zone in this one, fighting as though he were purely and truly determined to knock Bute out and prove a serious point. The win made him a three-time titleholder at super middleweight, and all in all, he goes down as one of the greats in the short history of that division. He would win four more fights between 2012 and 2014, finishing up with an eighth round stoppage of George Groves in front of 80,000 at Wembley Stadium.
Bute conceded defeat rather humbly, saying after the fight, “Carl Froch was better. Any great athlete must have dignity, to be able to congratulate your opponent. I was the favorite and everyone thought I would win easily. We all thought that, even me. Unfortunately, you saw what happened there. I believe that in five rounds I boxed in only one, for about three minutes. I was totally dominated.”
Bute also said he wanted a rematch, which never came, and he never really got back to where he had been. He still looked a bit shell shocked when he came back about five months later, winning a decision over Denis Grachev in what was meant to be a rebound fight, but turned out to be a fair bit tougher than imagined, which largely came down to Bute looking flat.
Bute went 1-4 for the rest of his career, beating Andrea di Luisa in 2015, but suffering losses to Jean Pascal, James DeGale, Badou Jack, and Eleider Alvarez. Bute wasn’t a bad fighter at all, and some of his laser left hands to the body were wonderful highlight reel material, but in all honest it’s hard to see anything but the fact that he went 0-5 against the five best fighters he ever faced.