In a break from tradition, Lucian Bute leaves the familiar confines of Quebec to make his 10th title defense in Carl Froch's hometown of Nottingham, England. For Froch, a past participant of the Super Six World Boxing Classic, this home engagement marks his first fight in England in 31 months. Read below for the keys to the fight. My official prediction will be at the end of the piece.
1. How's the foot, Lucian?
Training camp injuries are nothing new in boxing. However, what appears strange in the buildup to this fight was the decision from Bute's camp to inform the media that their fighter had a foot infection. Bute had to stop training while he waited for the infection to heal. This information leads me to believe that the injury was serious enough for Bute (or his team) to strongly consider calling off the fight. To me, there is no other plausible reason why Bute's condition was released to the press. In normal circumstances, a training camp injury would be kept under wraps as much as possible – so there would be no advantage given to an opponent. The public disclosure of this injury strikes me as bizarre.
Bute is not a big mover in the ring but he does use a lot of subtle lateral movement to set up his power shots. In addition, he likes to create angles to land his uppercut and his right hook. If his mobility is affected in any way, he will become a less threatening fighter for Froch.
In addition, with the interruption of his training camp because of this injury, Bute may not be in top shape. It's possible that the remainder of training camp focused on shedding pounds, instead of using the time to make crucial adjustments and tweaks. Even a few days of lost training can make a significant difference in getting a fighter in prime condition – physically and psychologically.
2. What's the fight plan, Carl?
Froch has two legitimate ways to try and beat Bute. He could crowd Bute with pressure or he could use the ring to box. In the past, Froch has been successful with both styles. Against Jermain Taylor and Andre Dirrell, he pressed the action and eventually won (KO and split decision, respectively). Facing Glen Johnson and Arthur Abraham, he boxed beautifully from the outside. He picked his spots, threw quick combinations and got out of the pocket.
Froch's trainer, Rob McCracken, has an interesting choice to make. On one hand, it's tempting to crowd Bute, who likes room to operate to land his uppercut and right hook. Bute is most effective with his uppercut when he throws it from the outside. In addition, his right hook, although much improved, can get a little wide. Perhaps Froch can neutralize these weapons in close quarters.
McCracken could also test Bute's mobility by having Froch move around the ring. If Bute's not 100% healthy, Froch's lateral and awkward movements would be difficult for Bute to contain. Also, Bute likes to set up in the pocket. If there isn't a pocket, how will he be able to adjust?
I personally think that McCracken/Froch will utilize movement as much as they can. This strategy will challenge Bute and allow Froch the opportunity to create more space to land his wide right hand and left hook.
3. The Eraser.
All the fancy planning and strategy in the world won't matter if Bute can land his left uppercut, one of the most devastating weapons in boxing. The punch, thrown as a lead or as the final punch in combinations, is just pulverizing. Bute uses it to both the head and body. If he can land enough of his uppercuts, or even the right one, Froch won't make it to the final bell.
In actuality, Bute has developed three weapons which can end fights. In addition to his uppercut, his straight left hand and right hook should concern Froch. Bute's straight left sometimes doesn't look like much. He doesn't seem to throw it with full effort, but it has pinpoint accuracy and surprising power. His right hook has been his biggest area of improvement. As he has become more confident with the punch, he has increasingly featured it in his arsenal; he will often lead exchanges with it.
Froch doesn't have pure knockout power. His right hand (I won't call anything that Froch throws straight) ended the Taylor bout, but that's really the only high-profile fighter that Froch has been able to knock out. He has sneaky power, often the result of landing shots from odd angles, but it's not enough to end fights. If this match becomes a shootout, he loses.
4. Location, Location, Location.
Bute has never had a title fight outside of his home province of Quebec or his birth country of Romania, while Froch has had championship bouts in four countries – the U.S., England, Finland and Denmark. Home in Nottingham, Froch will have a raucous, supportive crowd and Bute has never been on enemy turf in his career. In addition, the noise and energy of the crowd could help with the scoring of the contest. It wouldn't be the first time that judges have given close rounds to the home fighter. That's practically a governing rule in the sport, however misguided it may be.
5. Who are the judges?
A solid cadre of experienced and accurate judges has been selected for this title fight. Benoit Roussel has been one of the most active judges in Quebec. This will be his seventh time scoring a Bute fight; however, Roussel is not necessarily a homer. He accurately scored Dawson-Diaconu, giving the visiting American the wide decision over the Canadian-based fighter. Roussel isn't well known on the international scene but his cards have been excellent.
Steve Weisfeld, from New Jersey, is one of the busiest boxing officials on the east coast. In addition, he has travelled throughout the world for championship fights. He may be the best boxing judge out of New Jersey. He is regarded as fair and neutral.
Howard Foster is a familiar judge in the U.K., where he is seemingly in action every other week. He also has been selected for many of Sauerland's cards in Germany. I didn't like his recent card in the Hope-Proksa fight, where he scored the bout for the aggressive, British-born fighter, instead of rewarding the one who landed the more damaging power shots. Nevertheless, he has turned in a number of excellent cards over the years and I haven't been able to detect a specific bias or predilection in his decisions.
Until I heard about the foot injury, I was ready to select Bute to win the fight. Having once had an infection in my foot, I know that the condition can be very serious and recovery often necessitates restrictions on weight-bearing and athletic activity. I'm concerned that Bute won't be coming into the fight in top condition. He also may not be fully confident in his movements or his training.
I might be making too big of a deal out of the infection; I realize this. Perhaps Bute's injury was just a relatively minor setback and InterBox (Bute's promoter) decided to release the information about Bute's condition out of the kindness of their hearts. However, my gut tells me otherwise.
I think that the fight will feature a lot of close rounds, with Bute having success landing his straight left hand and right hook. Froch will have his moments as well, where he frustrates Bute with his herky-jerky movements and timely right hands. I don't see this as a fight with vast momentum swings; more likely, there will be many rounds that could be awarded to either fighter. Overall, there may not be a ton of cleanly landed shots by either combatant.
Ultimately, I think that the crowd and perhaps a small late-round rally will be enough to give Froch the edge in the eyes of two judges. He may win on the scorecards, but not definitively or authoritatively. I expect that we'll see a rematch in Canada later this year.
Carl Froch wins via split decision.
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