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The last two weeks have shown that although super middleweight isn't usually a glitzy division, it can still entertain and has been worth the second look. Despite Showtime's apparent sudden disinterest in the weight class, life has gone on as usual for most at 168 lbs. without big network support.
Super middleweight may not be the deepest or house the best talent in the sport top to bottom, but for a couple of years now, top guys have been facing top guys, and there's not a whole lot more one could ask of a particular set of fighters at or around the same weight.
Last weekend in Denmark, Mikkel Kessler rose from a knockdown in the 1st and rendered Allan Green a useless heap in the 4th, fighting for only the second time in two years, but creating plenty of buzz in the process.
This week, two of the best guys in the division met up to iron out details in terms of who deserves clear recognition as second best behind the divisional kingpin Andre Ward.
In attempting to make his 10th defense as the IBF super middleweight belt's caretaker, Lucian Bute was mauled into submission in 5 rounds (video) at Nottingham Arena by Showtime Super Six World Boxing Classic finalist Carl Froch, and in the latter's home town of Nottingham, no less.
Pre-fight discussions and prognostications generally didn't include the result we got, and for good reason; the top three most likely outcomes were probably Bute by decision, Froch by decision and Froch by stoppage, and probably in that that order too.
There wasn't much to critique in Froch's performance though, and the man fought a motivated and highly self-aware fight that was, for all intents and purposes, perfect.
The IBF belt-holder ducked and bobbed as he tentatively poked forward early in the 1st, while Froch appeared collected and patient, as if coiled to counter. Bute got a taste of Froch's inside game and was cuffed a bit, looking slightly ruffled as a result. Froch was unimpressed by Bute's southpaw angling and walked him into a left hook that had him holding on, then "The Cobra" Froch utilized his own unorthodox approach to make Bute miss long stabs from a distance.
What was predicted to be a significant speed advantage for Bute was largely nullified with solid footwork and good parrying by Froch in round 2, and a chopping left to his ear from the Montreal-based fighter had Froch grinning. As Bute attempted a surge forward, Froch caught him with two right hands, the first of which froze him long enough for a more damaging second to land flush. A clinch helped Lucian Bute right himself, but he still ate the more significant shots to the bell. A slow early sequence in round 3 looked like Bute using up nervous energy as he twitched and feinted about, often getting out-jabbed by Froch, though Bute managed to land a few downstairs. Froch then answered a shot flurry with his own much longer salvo, backing Bute to the ropes and smashing with both hands. His legs clearly affected, Bute pulled himself through with some holding and deft head movement, but a great left hook followed by more snapping shots from Froch aptly demonstrated his confidence at the end of the round.
Bute's face echoed Froch's dominance, as both eyes were at least a bit reddened, if not marked or abraded already in the 4th. Froch laid back for the first half of the round, and Bute, apparently aware of a need for urgency, actually worked his way forward steadily behind jabs and a few crosses here and there. Froch suddenly got busy though, and when he did, again he was the better man as even his glancing shots appeared to unnerve Bute. A handful of hooks and a cracking right snatched Bute's legs away, and he barely survived the round that ended with him almost sitting on the ropes.
Smelling blood, Froch wasted no time before going on the attack as Bute's left eye began to weep crimson a bit between his attempts and clinching his way to safety. Froch backed Bute to the ropes though, and after taking a short step back, he landed about a half-dozen bludgeoning strikes that snapped Bute's head around, prompting referee Earl Brown to halt the action at 1:05 of the 5th.
Froch's 29-2 (21 KO) record doesn't sparkle the same way the coveted undefeated records of guys like Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Andre Ward do, with those two at 43-0 (26 KO) and 25-0 (13 KO) respectively. But that's what happens when you're fighting not only the best in your division consistently, but some of the best fighters in the world consistently. It's not to say Mayweather and Ward haven't had difficult opponents put in front of them, it's just that they haven't all been lined up single file and pitched at them one after another as Froch's last eight opponents have been. When that happens, losses are unavoidable.
Lucian Bute is an excellent example of why undefeated records often aren't the best thing for a fighter long-term. Since winning the belt, Bute had only shown fairly brief moments of weakness against Librado Andrade before facing Froch. Those moments almost cost him that fight and his undefeated record though, and in hindsight it may have hinted at a grander issue with Bute: a lack of punch resistance. It's tough to get confirmation on that when more often than not the best available opponents weren't fit to demand answers about his character and durability. Now 30-1 (24 KO), already the "exposed" and "sucks" talk has set in, when hours ago the man was a guy that had bounced back from his most difficult moment appearing to harness punching power he hadn't really shown before against worthwhile opposition.
To this point, Bute had, for the most part, gotten in with those available and not in some way involved with the Super Six, so it's not his fault that he wasn't tested for the type of intelligent pressure Froch applied and the manner of traps he set. But the true test comes now. Bute has an opportunity to prove he does indeed deserve to be put on a world class platform, and that can compete there.
Clinching aside -- and a fighter shouldn't be faulted a ton for clinching when hurt -- Bute didn't run or completely disengage, and even tried to get something going with spear-like shots at some points, so this loss shouldn't totally derail him. And he'll still sell in Montreal. Lucian Bute will return.
Carl Froch continues on his quest to... to just be a badass, perhaps? A raucous crowd in Nottingham suggests he'll have a nice fallback should he decide to take an interim bout, and boy is he due for one. The five month holiday seems to have done him good though, and may have been just enough of a recharge to get him back on the machine. Bouts against the Andre Ward vs. Chad Dawson winner, a rehash of his first very good tangle with Mikkel Kessler, or even a slightly less risky bout against someone like Sakio Bika are or should be on the table
But whatever he decides, few should complain about it.
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