Carl Froch and Lucian Bute reside near opposite ends of a spectrum, where at one end is mythical, untapped and untested unobtainium and the other end is sheer stone, hardened by years of harsh nature and underestimated by those searching for rare diamonds. These two super middleweights, set to meet Saturday on Epix, possess the precise formula for exposing the other as iron pyrite: Froch, as battle-tested as anyone in boxing today, is himself capable of rendering Bute’s thin resume into mere papyrus for the Bunsen burner, while Bute’s special qualities could make Froch look like a substance from a previously relevant generation, an advancement in the three-age system to replace the one that came before it.
And if you put away the elemental table, it’s about as interesting a fight as we’ve had yet on the 2012 calendar.
Froch is, in my view, boxing’s most criminally under-appreciated boxer. No one, and I mean no one, has had as brutal a schedule as he has over the past four years. Jean Pascal, Jermain Taylor, Andre Dirrell, Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham, Glen Johnson, Andre Ward and now Bute — that’s one mean guantlet. Kessler beat him, although it was close; Dirrell beat him on my card, but it wasn’t the easiest fight to score, and he got the win; and only Ward really made him look bad, which, no shame in that, because Ward might be one of the five best fighters alive right now. The fights against Pascal, Taylor, Kessler and Johnson were slugfests that should’ve made Froch one of the most popular boxers in the world, and the display of boxing against Abraham should have made people realize Froch had real skill, someone who wasn’t just some plodder. Yet Froch is confined to Epix this weekend. Kudos to Epix for picking up Froch-Bute, but if boxing fans truly wanted what the loudest among them scream — action! action! action!– and what some of the quieter often say — best against best. take all challengers. — Froch should do be the kind of ratings gold where he is in higher demand. Fans are fickle, and unpredictable.
Perhaps it’s that Froch often inches by his competition. He is faster than I used to think he was. He is more skilled than I used think he was. But he’s also not exceptionally speedy, and he’s still extremely hittable, and so his fights tend to be nip-and-tuck affairs against more gifted or more astute boxers. With his awkwardness and intelligence, he evades more punches and is more more unpredictable on offense than he has any right to. With his physical strength, he’s a hard puncher if not a big knockout puncher. With his holy-cow punch resistance, he can afford to be as fearless as any boxer alive. I have to guess that any boxer who gets into the ring with Froch thinks at some point, “You know, I thought this would be easier than this. Instead, I’m gonna have to dig deep,” and most can’t dig deep enough.
It’s just that the Ward loss is the freshest in our mind, and it’s probably the most pertinent to how Froch stacks up against Bute. Ward was lightning quick, and like Dirrell, he gave Froch massive problems with that quickness. Taylor, too, befuddled Froch for long stretches with far superior speed. Bute is right in the radar gun zone of Dirrell and Ward. That Bute is a mighty fine boxer, too, a superb body puncher with great legs, quality defense and enough zap in his gloves to make the most granite chins turn to ash — for all Froch’s Fight of the Year candidates, Bute has had about as many Knockout of the Year candidates.
But then, where Bute mimics the worst of Froch’s nightmares, so too does Froch get all Freddie Krueger in Bute’s dreamscapes. The time we saw Bute in most dire straits was against a more primitive version of Froch, against Librado Andrade the first time. Andrade, like Froch, was a strong puncher with an undentable chin and a relentless makeup. Andrade was so slow that Froch is the Silver Age Flash by comparison, and Andrade’s ring intelligence was so rudimentary as to make Froch look like homo floresiensis to Andrade’s homo habilis. Andrade’s stamina, determination and imperviousness to Bute had Bute unconcious but victorious in the 12th round. Bute has stepped up his competition somewhat — the Johnson win was big, however listless Johnson looked in that bout — but he’s never come close to the kind of competition Froch presents.
A win for Bute cements perception: He is an ultra-talented fighter, one of the 10 best in the world based purely on his abilities, but who will have proven against Froch that it’s no illusion. A win for Froch once more subverts perception: He is a basic-looking fighter who somehow finds a way to win against superior physical and technical specimens.
This fight comes down to whose nightmare is most likely to come to life. All things being even, and they are quite even, Bute is the one who suffered a foot injury in training camp, and Bute is the one who is fighting on Froch’s home soil of Nottingham. Bute has manned up big time to take this fight, departing from Quebec for glory when easy money awaits him back home, althoug he has an insurance policy of a rematch on his turf if he loses. Maybe that rematch clause will pay off for him the second time, and he showed in the Andrade rematch that he knows how to make adjustments from fight to fight. But for now, I’m going with Froch in a thriller, one that might go all 12 rounds or might end early, but that starts with the men trading rounds throughout before Froch’s cast-iron will and rock-hard punching take over. I think Bute might get knocked out, but give me Froch by close decision.