Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lucian Bute's Belated Pursuit of Greatness

I was concerned. It seemed as if Lucian Bute would represent yet another data point of a modern boxer who refused to face other elite talents or challenge himself to the best of his abilities. I had a significant amount of evidence that led me to this consideration. Bute, already 32, had made 10 title defenses against ho-hum opposition. He had earned good purses and generated significant fanfare in his home province of Quebec without the need of a compelling dance partner to fill the Bell Centre or the Pepsi Coliseum. Sure, Bute had been shut out of Showtime's Super Six but he hadn't gone out of his way to face any of those challengers prior to the tournament, when most of them were more than available for U.S. premium cable money. All one had to do was to look at sanctioning body champs like Felix Sturm or Chris John to see how a long title reign could be possible with few fights of significance; the blueprint was set.

Thus, last week's announcement of Bute-Froch, which will take place in Carl Froch's hometown of Nottingham, England, was more than a little bit surprising to me. Earlier negotiations between the fighters had centered on a two-fight series. Reportedly, the first fight was to occur in Canada. However, Showtime had balked on the prospect of televising Bute-Froch (the network's reasoning wasn't easily apparent to me) and there was real concern that without upfront U.S. network support, the matchup wouldn't materialize.

Although Froch was recently deposed by Andre Ward in the Super Six Finals, he will present Bute with his toughest challenge to date. Bute will have to sink or swim without sizable crowd support or a friendly local referee (the number of times that Marlon Wright has been assigned to ref Bute's fights has been nothing short of stunning).

Bute's last few years have represented a shadow championship reign. While the rest of the top super middleweights battled each other across two continents, Bute enjoyed a paid vacation free of real competition. He defeated second and third-tier fighters and lived off of the largesse of Time Warner and CBS.

Fortunately, Bute used this downtime productively. Far removed from the fighter who almost lost to Librado Andrade, Bute is now a more well-rounded talent. In his days as a young champion, he had two weapons of note – his left uppercut, a punch of singular ferocity and beauty, and his straight left hand. His arsenal now includes an outstanding jab and a solid right hook. In addition, he has perfected other aspects of his game, such as his ability to use angles to engage his opponents, his commitment to body punching and his improvement in defense and footwork.

In Bute's last fight, he toyed with Glen Johnson, the rugged veteran who almost always makes competitive fights. Johnson wasn't able to land anything of significance. Bute wisely avoided Johnson's right hand and exhibited his excellent counterpunching ability. Bute made Johnson look shopworn or just plain old. Light on his feet, Bute navigated around the plodding Johnson with ease, engaging when he wanted to and displaying his full arsenal of punches.

Against Froch, Bute won't have such an immobile opponent. Froch's awkward movements and unconventional throwing angles will present challenges for Bute, who enjoys fighting in the pocket. In addition, Andre Ward's masterful game plan against Froch won't be of much use to Bute. Ward crowded Froch at every opportunity and waged a fierce infighting battle; Bute likes space to throw his power shots and he's at his best counterpunching or leading exchanges from mid-range.

However this fight plays out, Bute has effectively changed the narrative of his career. With this move, he has broadcasted to the boxing world that he is open for business against all comers. Bute's decision to fight Froch also highlights a healthy ambition and desire to be the best. Prior to this point, it was uncertain from Bute's slate of opponents what his ultimate goal was in boxing. If he wanted to be an elite fighter, he certainly wasn't facing the type of boxers who could propel him towards that status.

The Froch fight is the first step in the path for Bute to grow beyond a regional attraction. There are no more tournaments. He is not tied to any network beyond one additional commitment to Showtime. He has amassed enough clout and drawing power where he can dictate to his team whom he wants to fight. Unlike so many fighters who are beholden to networks and are at the mercy of the maneuverings of their managers/promoters, Bute gets to call his own shots.

Bute's next two years will make or break his career. To this point, he's been a hero to Canadian and Romanian fans but merely a pleasant diversion for others in the boxing world. He's a fun fighter to watch, although he's not yet essential. With a good run, all of this changes.

Should he beat Froch, he has the prospect of two enormous fights: an all-Quebec showdown against Jean Pascal, which would be the biggest boxing event on Canadian soil since Leonard-Duran I, and a massive fight against Andre Ward, with the winner becoming the clear number-one boxer in the super middleweight division. The fight against Froch doesn't have the same type of cache as do those listed above, but it is an essential step if Bute desires to ascend to a higher echelon within the sport.

Bute's time is now. He has clearly bettered himself during his long incubation period against the underbelly of the IBF's Top-15 rankings. He has a rabid hometown following and is one of the few North American fighters who can consistently sell out arenas. The final piece of the puzzle is now in place: his willingness to face the best in the division.

Perhaps Bute doesn't have the ability to defeat Ward and maybe he gets squeezed in a hometown decision against Froch. Regardless of these potential outcomes, Bute has undertaken the necessary preconditions to achieve greatness. Whether or not he is successful in these fights, at least he has provided himself with the opportunity to make a more lasting impact within the sport, a proposition which would have seemed highly unlikely just a few months ago.

Contact Saturday Night Boxing at
Follow Saturday Night Boxing on Facebook:
and on Twitter: @snboxing (

No comments:

Post a Comment