Photos by Sumio Yamada
LUCIAN BUTE vs CARL FROCH
The big fights against the toughest opponents in his weight class keep coming for Carl Froch, one after the other. Tonight in his hometown of Nottingham (EPIX TV coverage in the U.S., Sky Sports in Britain), Froch enters the ring as the underdog to challenge the undefeated Lucian Bute in a fight for Bute’s IBF super middleweight title. For Froch, there was no point in taking an easy fight after his defeat against Andre Ward in December. It just isn’t Froch’s way.
There are some boxers who can only get motivated for the big-occasion fights, when they are in the ring against an opponent who is considered dangerous. Froch is this type of fighter. He wants constantly to test himself against the best.
“I have no intention of becoming a world champion and defending against nobodies,” Froch declared when the fight was announced. “I’m the kind of man who always wanted to become a legend and secure my legacy.”
Bute is showing, in taking this fight on Froch’s home territory, that he, too, has the pride of a genuine champion. Hugely popular in the Canadian province of Quebec, he is taking a calculated risk in travelling to the U.K. to meet a fighter of Froch’s calibre. If he beats Froch away from home it will be the greatest performance of Bute’s career and enhance his prestige enormously. If he loses, there can always be the rematch in Quebec and the chance to set the record straight.
Since Decenber 2004 Bute has boxed just once outside of Quebec, and that was when he scored an easy win in Romania, the country of his birth. He is aware that up to now he has been widely viewed as a stay-at-home fighter. “I’ve been criticised for fighting at home but we never got offers to go elsewhere and I had to keep boxing,” Bute told a Montreal press conference. He referenced Joe Calzaghe, who had nearly all his big fights in Britain before making a belated U.S. debut with the win over Bernard Hopkins in Las Vegas. Bute seeks to answer his critics in the Calzaghe manner — by winning a big fight outside his comfort zone.
The site will, I believe, be a big factor, with most of the 9,000 crowd at Nottingham Arena roaring every time Froch lands a punch (although a contingent of Bute supporters from Montreal will be in hand). Bute will have the unusual experience of being booed as he commences his ring walk. “It will be tough for me right up to when I get in the ring,” Bute told the Montreal media. “Going to the ring will be tough. The crowd will be yelling. The negative energy will be aimed at me. Everyone will be behind him — but once the bell rings it will be just him and me.”
I’m wondering, though, how Bute will react if the fight starts to slip away from him and the crowd gets right behind Froch, the way the Manchester crowd got behind Ricky Hatton when Hatton upset the odds against Kostya Tszyu, or when the London crowd roared Frank Bruno home against Oliver McCall, to give just two examples of many instances when home support seemed to lift a British boxer to new heights.
Bute is a seasoned, skilled boxer and a powerful puncher with the left hand from his southpaw stance, but I have a suspicion that he could be one of those good “on top” fighters — what the Americans call a front-runner. I’ve never seen Bute battle through adversity. Froch, though, has been in several tough, difficult fights and found a way to win, notably when getting off the canvas and coming back to stop Jermain Taylor with 16 seconds remaining.
Bute has the unbeaten record, but Froch has fought the sterner opposition. Five of Froch’s last six bouts have taken place on the road, and he had home advantage only once in the Showtime Super Six tournament, when he narrowly overcame Andre Dirrell in Nottingham.
Froch is tough to beat anywhere but especially so in Nottingham. He has always exuded confidence, a belief that he can beat anyone who steps into the ring with him. Froch’s confidence remains unshaken even though he lost his unbeaten record to Mikkel Kessler and was outpointed by Andre Ward in the Super Six final. I don’t think Froch believes he has ever been really beaten. Froch believes he did enough to beat Kessler in their exciting fight in Denmark, and, while he acknowledges that Ward scored more points, Froch feels that he was essentially outmanouevred that night rather than outboxed or outfought, paying Ward a rather backhanded compliment that the American boxer “did a good job of keeping out of harm’s way”.
Froch has been pleasant towards Bute and complimentary about his opponent in the lead-up to the big night, but he has long believed that he has Bute’s number. I was able to have a conversation with Froch during a Super Six press conference in Las Vegas and he told me at that time that he saw Bute as distinctly beatable.
They have two opponents in common, Brian Magee and Glen Johnson. Both outpointed Johnson and each has a stoppage win over Magee. On paper, Bute won the fights more easily. When Froch stopped Magee in a long, hard fight it was six years ago, though, in only Froch’s 19th bout, and he is now an improved, far more seasoned fighter, while Johnson was hampered by an arm injury against Bute. (Interestingly, Johnson’s trainer, Orlando Cuellar, is tipping Froch.)
Bute has dominated most of his opponents in a record of 30 wins in a row (24 KOs) but many believe he was saved by hometown refereeing when barely surviving the last round against Librado Andrade, although to Bute’s credit he outclassed and knocked out what, to me, seemed to be a somewhat subdued Andrade in the rematch. Froch, I feel, is capable of putting Bute under the type of sustained mental and physical pressure that he has never experienced.
Froch has prevailed in the sort of fights in which he has had to dig deep and find answers — against Magee, Dirrell, Taylor, and in his rousing victory over Jean Pascal. While the two men have had the same number of fights, Froch is the more battle-tested.
If this develops into a gruelling, back and forth fight, with each giving and taking hard punches, Froch will be secure in the knowledge that he’s been there before and can keep going, while Bute will be in an unfamiliar terrain.
Bute is the faster man, the smoother technician, and he has the power in his left hand to hurt anyone — his left to the body, often thrown as an uppercut, is a debilitating weapon. Froch possesses firepower, too, however, and his unconventional style can help him to land his punches because he throws them from unexpected angles. Bute has excellent evasive skills and I can see him making Froch miss and countering with the left hand, but I don’t think that Bute will be able to dodge everything.
I think that Froch’s long-reaching jab will likely play a part in the fight. The jab can keep Bute from settling down, keep him guessing and perhaps pave the way for Froch’s right hand. Froch has beaten top-quality southpaws in Dirrell and Magee, but I don’t think Bute has fought anyone like Froch.
While I agree with the oddsmakers that Bute is the logical favourite, I am swaying towards Froch. I think that, on home ground, Froch has the experience, power, ability and mental and physical toughness to pull out a memorable victory.
The above preview is largely as I wrote it for Boxing Monthly: An updated and more wagering-orientated preview is now available for subscribers, along with previews of Harrison-Adams, Frampton-Hirales; Maderna-Acosta; Abis-Jackiewicz and more.