by Cliff Rold
The winner got next, right?
It’s unofficial, but still impossible not to look at this weekend’s big Super Middleweight fight as a semi-final for December’s Super Six tournament final. If not a semi, it has the feel of a qualifying round, particularly for the defending titlist.
Lucian Bute, for various reasons, wasn’t included in the Super Six field. While the rest of the best in the world at 168 lbs. did battle, Bute sold tickets and looked increasingly beastly on an island. He won style points while the men who will made the Super Six final, Andre Ward and Carl Froch, piled up points against superior competition.
Unless he’s lost it since a loss to Froch in June, the rugged Johnson brings a depth of ring character and experience Bute has never seen. The Canadian draw has arrived at his measuring stick moment.
Let’s go to the report card.
Titles: IBF Super Middleweight (2007-Present, 8 Defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 167.4 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 167.4 lbs.
Hails from: Montreal, Quebec, Canada (Born in Romania)
Record: 29-0, 24 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #3 at Super Middleweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 9-0, 8 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 3 (Dingaan Thobela, Alejandro Berrio, William Joppy)
Previous Titles: Ring Magazine Light Heavyweight (2004-05); IBF Light Heavyweight (2004, 1 Defense)
Weight: 166.5 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 170.65 lbs.
Hails from: Miami, Florida (Born in Jamaica)
Record: 51-15-2, 35 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #5 at Super Middleweight
Record in Championship Fights: 3-7-1, 1 KO (including Ring Magazine title fights); 3-8-1, 1 KO (including interim title fights)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 4 (Clinton Woods, Roy Jones, Antonio Tarver, Montell Griffin)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 9 (Bernard Hopkins, Sven Ottke, Silvio Branco, Julio Gonzalez, Antonio Tarver, Clinton Woods, Chad Dawson, Tavoris Cloud, Carl Froch)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Bute B+; Johnson B
Pre-Fight: Power – Bute A; Johnson B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Bute B+; Johnson B+
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Bute B+; Johnson A
If this becomes a war, does Bute have the stuff to endure? Intangibles are the biggest question going into this affair. Bute has it all physically. He has height, speed, and can crack. However, there have been moments when he appeared stunned by men who aren’t huge punchers (notably a couple times, quickly but visibly, against Brian Magee earlier this year). It wasn’t that he was in danger of going down or anything; it was instead just a hint of being rocked that gave pause.
The going down and almost out thing has been seen once since Bute entered the title ranks: Librado Andrade, the first time, only time, Bute has been twelve rounds as a titlist. Andrade applied a steady pressure, hitting what he could find, chipping away even as he lost rounds. By the late going, Bute was clearly leading and more clearly fading. Bute survived, even avenged it later with a brutal knockout…
…but Johnson, a steady stalker, is a few rungs up the ladder from an Andrade. If any version of the Mexican toughie could have Bute on the verge, what can a still able if aged “Road Warrior” do? The question is tantalizing enough to make the answer worth finding out.
One thing Johnson will have to do is get close to Bute. That won’t be easy. Bute, since Andrade I, has controlled how much he gets hit with quick, smart footwork and a dangerous uppercut that dares men to cross into its range. Bute is a very smart fighter without fighting scared. He looks for the knockout, meaning he puts himself at risk.
Johnson, who had great success against southpaws Chad Dawson and Antonio Tarver in his first fights with both, showed enough game against Froch to indicate he can use Bute’s risk taking against him. Johnson can run hot and cold, and doesn’t have a ton of dimensions, but if he can find the rhythm for his smart, steady pressure approach, Bute is going to have his longest night in years.
One must wonder though, given a brutal recent slate of fights that included losses to Dawson, Tavoris Cloud, and Froch, along with a rough win over Yusaf Mack, if Johnson can be fresh enough to handle someone with Bute’s evident talent for twelve hard rounds. Bute will certainly be the fresher man, and one with a home field edge at the Pepsi Center in Quebec.
It’s hard not to root for Johnson. He’s as noble a warrior as boxing has and, even at 42, still as sure a bet for a good fight as anyone in the game. However, the romance of a fighter who was often robbed against top names is ebbed in recent years. There’s been no real controversy, or even debates, to be had since the first Dawson fight. He’s gone 4-3 since April 2008 and seems to have firmly settled into a gatekeeper to the stars role.
It’s still a hell of a gate. Fans really don’t know if Bute is as good as he looks yet, though the evidence weighs heavily in his favor. Johnson will give him a chance to tip the scale firmly as he completes the wait for the Super Six final. Johnson will make it memorable, but Bute will win more rounds and with enough panache to impress by the end. The pick is Bute by decision.
Report Card Picks 2011: 37-12
Cliff’s Notes…Along with Bute-Johnson, there are two other pick-worthy scraps on the weekend…Alfredo Angulo and James Kirkland clash at Jr. Middleweight and if this one goes the distance, it might be the biggest upset of the year. Angulo has a better chin and in a puncher’s affair, that counts. This could be over in the first, but the pick is for Kirkland to make round three before Angulo puts him out…In London, former 130 lb. titlist Ricky Burns moves to Lightweight to take on big punching Michael Katsidis. It’s a tough pick. Katsidis is essentially one handed; Burns isn’t a big puncher and is willing to scrap. The pick is Katsidis in a thriller, probably on a stoppage in the second half.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]