Carl Froch and trainer Rob McCracken solved the Lucian Bute puzzle on Saturday. The key piece was distance. Froch stayed on the outside, moving beautifully along the ropes; Bute was unable to corral him into range. Froch then launched aggressive attacks featuring his patented odd-angled shots and herky-jerky movements. Froch landed at will with his slinging right hand, left hook and, perhaps most impressive of all, his short right uppercut. In the early rounds, after a three or four-punch flurry, he would retreat out of range.
In my fight preview, I noted that Bute was a pocket fighter, but I wondered what would happen if there wasn't a pocket. Essentially, Froch and McCracken answered that question, demonstrating how vulnerable Bute could be if the Canadian couldn't control distance. Bute couldn't find Froch with his long counters because he didn't know from where Froch would be attacking. Bute's patented uppercut would leave him too exposed and he barely threw the punch. In just a few rounds, Froch neutralized one of the best weapons in boxing. Similarly, Bute couldn't find range to throw or connect with his right hook. The only thing Bute landed of note were some of his short lead and counter left hands (and he actually connected with some good ones). But there weren't enough of them to thwart Froch's attack.
Froch isn't merely a cruel brawler; he executed a brilliant fight plan. He fought in brief bursts or rushes and avoided Bute's weapons as best he could, remaining out of harm's way when he wasn't throwing punches. In the third and fourth rounds, there were a series of moments that illustrated Froch's high ring IQ. As he started to have success with Bute along the ropes, he backed away and made sure he didn't smother himself. He then unloaded with perfectly-placed right hands to the head and short uppercuts. He didn't overreact to having his opponent hurt; his dispatching of Bute was almost clinical. In addition, he didn't stay along the ropes for too long. He did his damage and again backed away, respecting Bute's power.
For Bute, it was just an awful night. After the fight, he remained classy and dismissed his training camp toe injury as an excuse for his lackluster performance. Maybe his toe was fine, but he certainly didn't move well at all. He was afraid to chase Froch on the outside – perhaps his mobility was too limited, or maybe he was worrying about catching something on the way in. Also, he couldn't evade Froch when he was stuck along the ropes. I've seen Bute exhibit excellent footwork before; on Saturday, he looked like a different fighter to me.
Bute made the strategic mistake of allowing Froch to dictate the pace and style of the fight. Bute planned to beat Froch by counterpunching. However, this strategy enabled Froch to launch his unconventional attacks under minimal duress. Bute's refusal to apply pressure was a bad miscalculation. As Andre Ward and Mikkel Kessler demonstrated, you can beat Froch with pressure and/or volume. But Bute remained in the center of the ring, content for Froch to initiate at his own pace. His countering ability was not precise enough to thwart Froch's aggression.
There are certain boxers who don't respond well to unconventional fighters. They are well schooled from their amateur days and can easily defeat standard punchers who throw from regular angles. However, when you think about how fighters like Vernon Forrest struggled with the wild shots of Ricardo Mayorga or Chad Dawson was flummoxed by the rushes of Jean Pascal or Juan Manuel Lopez couldn't evade the looping right hands of Orlando Salido, these unconventional sluggers have a massive advantage over certain types of fighters. Bute had never seen anyone like Froch before. He brought in 11 sparring partners during training camp but who can really resemble the slinging punches of Froch at super middleweight? Bute seemed to run out of ideas and he lacked the creativity to make adjustments as the fight progressed.
Bute had massive weapons but predictable punch patterns. Froch and McCracken did a brilliant job of taking away two of his best punches by making sure there was never conventional distance. It was up to Bute and his trainer Stephan Larouche to make the necessary adjustments, and they never did. Froch's performance was thrilling but it wasn't a fluke. Both fighter and trainer demonstrated that they were world-class talents.
I wouldn't count Bute out in the future. He had some punishing losses in the amateurs (one in particular was a knockout by Gennady Golovkin) and was practically brain fried, barely surviving, in his first fight against Librado Andrade. He has come back from those showings. He never got into the fight on Saturday but if he does decide to take his rematch against Froch, he could certainly have success with some strategic adjustments. The main question revolves around his psychological mindset. Does he want to keep fighting? Is he still committed to being a top boxer? If he can answer yes to those questions, I expect him to remain a factor in the super middleweight division.
Additionally, don't discount the travel and time differences associated with the fight. Froch looked lifeless in the Super Six finals against Andre Ward, where he was lucky to win three rounds. Bute had fought in Romania before, but against a weak fighter. Jet lag, different cultural customs and the hostile environment have contributed to bettering many-a-fighter before, and will do so again in the future. If the rematch does occur, don't automatically assume that the same result of first fight happens in the second. The Bell Centre, in Montreal, is one of the toughest buildings in the world for an opponent to pick up a win. Bute's rabid following and the Eastern Time Zone’s disadvantageous time difference for Froch could produce an entirely different result.
Credit should be given to Bute for traveling to Nottingham to make a voluntary defense of his title. Results like this weekend's are a big reason why more fighters don't make the same choice that he did. In short, he was outgunned and out-thought, but only a real fighter goes into hostile territory for a voluntary title defense.
Finally, the best image of the night – and, for me, the defining image of boxing to this point in 2012 – was Eddie Hearn racing into the ring to embrace Froch. The promoter joyfully wrapped his arms around Froch while the fighter stood on the ropes receiving the rapturous applause of his fans. The joy on both of their faces is what makes boxing so compelling. In one moment, a mid-30s underdog and boxing nomad gets the belated professional validation from his hometown fans. At the same time, a promoter who was accused of being an interloper in the sport, a trust-fund brat, a mere rich man's son, realized that he played a pivotal role in an unforgettable chapter in British boxing history. It was Hearn who bet big on Froch, a fighter who had been decried as average and dismissed by the British boxing powers many years ago. In that moment, all prior invectives had been erased; their legacies had forever changed. What remained was pure bliss.
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