Had Carl Froch prevailed in last December's Super Six final against Andre Ward, Saturday's bout with Lucian Bute would have been the rarest of birds -- a three-belt unification. But that would've been just icing on the cake, for Bute-Froch is one of the top fights that can be made at 168. Not only that, Bute, the defending IBF titlist, will fight in Froch's hometown of Nottingham, where Froch is 13-0 (9 KO). Should Bute lose, he is promised a rematch in Canada. Despite the location, Bute is a 9-5 favorite.
Will he need to exercise that clause? Their respective CompuBox histories provide the following clues:
A Common Opponent: Glen Johnson fought both men within a five-month period, losing a majority decision to Froch in June 2011 and a near-shutout points loss to Bute last November. Like the judges' scorecards, the CompuBox stats showed Bute prevailed by a wider margin, but that Froch better neutralized a key part of Johnson's game.
Volume has been crucial to Johnson's late-career success. Against Bute, "The Road Warrior" unleashed 83.8 punches per round -- 34.9 percent above the 54.4 super middleweight average -- but curiously, 62.6 of them (74.7 percent) were jabs, meaning Johnson had trouble getting inside Bute's reach. Meanwhile, Froch's 77.2-punch average -- and 44.1 jabs per round -- limited Johnson to just 52.1 per round, his second lowest output in his last eight CompuBox-tracked fights (his lowest was 46.8 against Allan Green).
In raw numbers, however, Bute performed better. Averaging 60.9 per round, Bute out-landed Johnson 203-165 overall, 87-63 in jabs and 116-102 in power punches while Froch prevailed 196-181 in total connects and 134-114 in landed power punches but trailed 67-62 in jab connects despite throwing 143 more (497-354). Bute was also more accurate against Johnson as he landed 27.8 percent overall to Froch's 21.2 percent and enjoyed a plus-11.4 overall (27.8-16.4) to a minus-7.8 for Froch (21.2-29.0). Interestingly, Johnson landed a higher percentage of power punches against both as he led 40.2 percent to 36.7 against Bute and 42.1 percent to 31.2 against Froch.
More power, but more caution: In the last couple of years Bute has become one of boxing's supreme one-punch KO artists, the most graphic example of which came in the rematch against Librado Andrade. The finishing blows are often set up by his above-average power punch accuracy. Only once -- against Johnson (36.7) -- has Bute dipped below the 38 percent super middleweight average. Bute landed 42.4 percent of his power shots against Jean-Paul Mendy, 53.1 percent against Brian Magee and 43.0 percent against Jesse Brinkley. Against Fernando Zuniga and the two fights against Andrade, Bute landed a combined 45.5 percent of his power shots.
But as of late, Bute has become more cautious in his punch selection, opting for more jabs. Against Zuniga and Andrade, 54 percent of his 50 punches per round were power shots but in his last four 59.5 percent of his 50.7 punches per round were jabs. That caution may prove disastrous against Froch, for in Nottingham Bute must win his rounds decisively, and a big part of that is boldness in his punch distribution. That may happen anyway, because while both are around the same height, Froch owns a three-inch reach advantage.
Playing Defense: Both men are above average on defense, with Bute being even more so. The average super middleweight is struck by 31.4 percent of overall punches, 22.7 percent of jabs and 38 percent of power shots. Consider the defensive numbers each had in recent fights, and one can see Bute is better in this regard:
Bute (vs. Johnson) -- 16.4 percent overall, 8.4 percent jabs, 40.2 percent power
Bute (vs. Mendy) -- 16.4 percent overall, 7.1 percent jabs, 28.5 percent power
Bute (vs. Magee) -- 29.6 percent overall, 21.9 percent jabs, 36.8 percent power
Bute (vs. Brinkley) -- 13.6 percent overall, 11.3 percent jabs, 18.3 percent power
Froch (vs. Ward) -- 42.4 percent overall, 42.5 percent jabs, 42.4 percent power
Froch (vs. Johnson) -- 29 percent overall, 18.9 percent jabs, 42.1 percent power
Froch (vs. Abraham) -- 23.1 percent overall, 24.2 percent jabs, 21.3 percent power
Froch (vs. Kessler) -- 28.3 percent overall, 25.9 percent jabs, 31.2 percent power
Froch (vs. Dirrell) -- 36.2 percent overall, 27.8 percent jabs, 43.9 percent power
Prediction: Froch's higher volume, (Bute’s last six opponents avg’d just 54 punches per round- Froch averages 67 per round), boisterous home crowd and much higher level of recent competition will serve him well. Froch has fought champions in six of his last seven fights. Froch's busy jab will further inhibit Bute's offense, which will help him win enough close rounds to capture a razor-thin decision. Froch-Bute II anyone?