By Thomas Gerbasi
Patience and hope. It’s what IBF super middleweight champion Lucian Bute runs on these days.
Patience, as he waits for the conclusion of the seemingly never-ending Super Six tournament on December 17th, when Andre Ward meets Carl Froch in the finals in Atlantic City.
Hope, as it’s clear that for all his talent and his over four year reign with the IBF belt, he won’t truly be seen as the undisputed top 168-pounder in the world if he doesn’t meet and beat the Ward-Froch winner.
In between, danger lurks everywhere, as one misstep will crush all that work, all that running alongside the Super Six train while keeping his own schedule busy. And to his credit, the 31-year old southpaw has been a fighting champion, worthy of any and all praise thrown in his direction.
No, Librado Andrade, Edison Miranda, Jesse Brinkley, Brian Magee, and Jean Paul Mendy do not stack up with the Super Six likes of Ward, Froch, Arthur Abraham, and Mikkel Kessler, but Bute did to his challengers what a champion is supposed to do with those in his way – he dispatched them with efficiency and finality, knocking out each of the aforementioned foes.
The wins have made Bute’s case as the top dog at 168-pounds, something that won’t be confirmed in the eyes of the public until he hands a defeat to Ward or Froch, but in the meantime, he will continue to fight, and this Saturday at the Pepsi Coliseum in the Romanian’s adopted home province of Quebec, he will meet not only his greatest challenge, but one that could propel his career even further, as he will battle late Super Six entrant Glen Johnson.
“I have a good feeling,” said Bute of the bout on a recent media teleconference. “It’s like I’m getting involved in the Super Six. Glen Johnson has so much credibility that I’m kind of finally part of the Super Six.”
And it’s odd that a win over a 42-year old on the tail-end of a great career would do so much for a boxer 11 years younger, but such is the aura and timeless quality of “The Road Warrior,” a man whose perseverance, style, and class has made him a sentimental favorite every time he steps through the ropes.
“Glen Johnson has seen almost everything in boxing,” said Bute. “He’s always there and he’s always in great condition. He’s faced all the great boxers – (Roy) Jones, (Antonio) Tarver, (Chad) Dawson twice, he even fought (Bernard) Hopkins in the beginning and he looked good even if he lost it. I can say by far that he is the best opponent with the best credibility. His resume speaks for itself, so for me it’s a major step up.”
And with a 2010 stoppage of Allan Green and a gutsy and competitive effort against Carl Froch in June, Johnson has shown that he still has gas in the tank for what probably will be his last challenge for a world title. That reality will likely add even more incentive for the challenger, and despite the two being friends and former sparring partners, with so much on the line, don’t expect too many pleasantries between them on fight night.
“I have a lot of respect for Lucian, but you’re fighting for your career, you’re fighting for everything here,” said Johnson. “I’m going to go out there and give it my all and resume our friendship later. But I’ve got to go out there and do what I need to do to win the fight.”
“We’ve got mutual respect for each other, also, our team respects his team,” adds Bute. “I really cheered for him when he fought Allan Green and also when he fought Carl Froch. But with this my career is on the line. It has nothing to do with respect or the friendship. If I have to fight I’m going to give it my all. There are no friends in the ring; we’re going to be friends after the bout. They can’t take away what I’ve been working for.”
If you can’t get excited about this bout and have your respect level rise for both fighters after hearing comments like that, then you’re just not a fight fan. When it comes to going into the ring, doing your job and fighting, there aren’t two better representatives than Bute and Johnson. And as gentlemen and ambassadors for the much maligned sport, again, there are none finer.
Frankly, that’s the great thing about the super middleweight division over the years. The fighters fight. Sure, Sven Ottke and Joe Calzaghe (in the early years of his title reign) were criticized for not coming to the United States for lucrative bouts, and even Europe’s fearsome foursome of Chris Eubank, Michael Watson, Steve Collins, and Nigel Benn, never made it to US shores, but why would they? The arenas were packed and the money was great for them where they were, and they never sat on their titles for a year at a time. They fought. And the tradition remains intact, especially for guys like Bute. It’s almost as if the 168-pound division has been thrown in a time warp and is separate from the rest of the fight world.
Yet while Bute is keeping himself busy with his third fight of the year, Johnson is the biggest name he was able to get into the ring, as talks for bouts with Kelly Pavlik and Mikkel Kessler fell apart, putting an ominous cloud over what may happen if Bute gets by Johnson and he his team come to the negotiating table with Ward or Froch.
“As you know, we made several offers (to Pavlik and Kessler),” said Bute. “I don’t know why they turned it down. It’s hard for me to say why. What I know is I have no control on their decision. Unfortunately, they would have been great fights, but at the end of the day I’m very happy that we ended up with Glen Johnson. I believe that he will make things very interesting.”
He will – Glen Johnson always does. But what will really be interesting is what transpires for Mr. Lucian Bute in 2012. With the Super Six coming to a close, the only fight at 168 that needs to be made is an obvious one. And unlike some fighters in other divisions who will only stick around for a fight or two before moving elsewhere, Bute is not about to leave his sandbox just yet.
“There are lots of fights available to me at 168 and I’ve got some good business in that category,” he said, throwing down a gauntlet to whoever wants to pick it up. Bute’s not naming names, but we know who he’s referring to, so expect him to step up and toe the line against Ward or Froch next year. He’s been patient, he’s been hoping, but by the same token, he’s not going to sit around and wait. And if the big fight can’t be made, he’ll keep on fighting the little ones until the world crowns him the king.
“I’ve been looking to fight everybody,” he said. “I want to fight anybody. I was always looking to fight the best fighters in the world. If they’re not available then this is not my problem.”