by David P. Greisman
Barring the occasional opponent whose primary motivation is to pick up a paycheck, every fighter steps into the ring intent on winning. Every fighter, then, has something to prove — that he’s better than the man standing against him.
But sometimes there’s more to a fight than that basic premise. Sometimes the conflict isn’t just against an outward force, but an inward one, too.
That Carl Froch and Lucian Bute both came to a small ring in Nottingham, England, with similar motivations wouldn’t be readily apparent by the most cursory of glances at their respective records. Froch was coming off a loss, the second of his career. Bute, meanwhile, was undefeated. Yet a more careful examination of their records revealed a pair of greater truths.
Each needed to prove that he was better than his recent performances.
Each needed to prove that he belonged.
Froch need not have felt any shame in his last loss, a unanimous decision defeat against the best boxer in the super middleweight division, Andre Ward. Froch found himself outclassed, in against a style with which his did not mesh. As the maxim goes, styles make fights. Ward’s style negated Froch, rendered him ineffective and made him look limited despite the evidence to the contrary.
For three years, Froch faced nothing but top opposition, out-pointing Jean Pascal before people knew how much that meant; coming back from behind to stop Jermain Taylor back when that still meant something; winning an ugly and controversial split decision against an undefeated, talented prospect in Andre Dirrell; standing toe to toe with Mikkel Kessler in a competitive loss; out-boxing Arthur Abraham to show another facet of his fight game; winning a decision over a former champion and still-capable veteran in Glen Johnson; and then meeting Ward.
The Ward fight came at the end of Showtime’s “Super Six” tournament, the culmination of two years of competition. From its beginning, the “Super Six” was about putting the best in with the best. From Dirrell to Kessler, Abraham to Johnson, and finally the finale, Froch faced more of the best than any of the rest.
The Ward defeat put him in a firm second place in the tournament. It also dropped him, in the rankings of many observers, to third place in the division.
It dropped him behind Lucian Bute.
Bute, despite his lofty ranking, was there partially by default, partially on potential. He had not been invited to the “Super Six,” and so he was left with the leftovers, fighting lower-tier opponents, often in the truest definition of keep-busy bouts. He scored knockouts and stoppages over Librado Andrade in their 2009 rematch, over Edison Miranda and Jesse Brinkley in 2010, over Brian Magee and Jean-Paul Mendy in 2011, and he then dominated Glen Johnson by decision to wrap up last year.
He looked good. But no one knew just how good he was — or wasn’t.
Bute had been waiting more than two years to face the winner of the “Super Six.” Showtime had signed him to a three-fight contract with the intention of pairing him against the eventual victor.
Ward won, but Bute couldn’t get a fight with him. There was Ward’s injured hand, and then there were Ward’s demands. Ward said he wanted the right fight at the right price. He called into question the quality of Bute’s opposition. He insisted that Bute beat somebody else.
Bute had remained in his adopted home country of Canada, fighting in front of packed crowds of adoring fans in Montreal and Quebec City with one jaunt to his native Romania. He’d earned millions and could stay at home against similarly lower-quality opposition and earn millions more.
Instead, he signed to face Froch, a potential two-fight deal that would see the first bout in Froch’s home in Nottingham and the rematch back in Canada.
If he wasn’t yet to prove himself against the top super middleweight, then he could at least face Froch, the next best opponent, and someone still better than anyone else he’d faced.
Bute didn’t know just how much better Froch was.
Froch has long looked beatable, appearing to be stylistically simple with little to figure out beyond a man who comes forward to hit and be hit. Those appearances deceive, however. Froch is not just a tough but crude and limited slugger, but rather a skilled, smart fighter whose toughness helps him overcome any disadvantages in athleticism.
Bute was thought to be the better boxer. His faster hands landed as counter shots, particularly left crosses, in the opening two rounds against Froch. Yet good boxers often need good movement, too. Though Bute backed away from some of Froch’s attacks, his legs looked slower, heavier than normal.
It might have been that Bute had suffered a foot infection during training camp that had spread before being treated. Or it might have been that Bute’s intended strategy was one of activity, of staying in front of Froch and making him work — except Bute didn’t actually throw much, credited with just 60 total punches thrown over the first two rounds, according to CompuBox. Only 15 of those landed.
What limited success Bute had emboldened him to come forward. That instead served to give Froch an advantage. Deficiencies in hand speed can be made up for with good timing and an easy target. Bute would be in front of him.
Froch — who was credited with throwing 85 total punches over the first two rounds, landing 24 — nearly matched that output in the third, sending out 82 shots and landing with increased accuracy, hitting Bute 38 times in three minutes. The preceding round had come to a close with Froch landing a good right hand followed by a left. This round began with Bute landing a couple single shots in the first minute, then Froch changing the next two minutes with one punch.
Bute had just landed a left hand when Froch retaliated with a flurry, a number of punches bouncing off Bute’s gloves, but one big right hand making its way through. Bute retreated to the ropes, and Froch obliged with offense, pouring on the punishment. Bute’s defense consisted of covering up. That strategy was about as effective as an umbrella with a hole in it — you still get wet.
Bute still got hit, and when he got hit, he got hurt, trying to hold on, then returning to the ropes, ducking and weaving away from some shots but doing nothing to stop Froch’s onslaught. With little coming back at him, Froch was able to time and place his own punches better, looping left hooks, right hands and uppercuts at a dazed, slowed Bute.
There had been questions about Bute’s chin ever since October 2008, in his first fight with Librado Andrade, when Andrade mounted a late rally that left Bute reeling around the ring, out on his feet and essentially saved by the final bell.
Other great fighters have overcome shaky beards, most notably Wladimir Klitschko, who found a strategy that left him less vulnerable, gave him more confidence and made him more effective.
Bute had found his own success in the three and a half years since the first Andrade fight. Yet just as many have wondered what would happen to Klitschko were he to face a foe who could overcome the heavyweight champion’s physical advantages, Bute was now finding out that Froch not only had the power to hurt him, but the ability to deliver that power again and again.
Froch landed 36 of 67 power punches in that third round, a 54 percent connect rate. Bute’s average was better, at 64 percent, yet that accounted for just 7 landed shots out of 11 thrown.
That statistical pattern continued in the fourth, though not immediately. Bute came out with his composure regained, boxing at center ring, then trading combinations with Froch at close quarters about halfway through the round. Then with 20 seconds left, Froch landed a right hand, followed by another, and Bute staggered against the ropes, once again just trying to survive. Again, he made it out of the round, this time taking a total of 25 of 40 power punches from Froch, a 62 percent connect rate. Bute landed 50 percent, but that reflected just 8 out of 16.
Bute would land nothing in the fifth.
Froch’s wide punches were neither fast nor pretty. They didn’t need to be. Just like a well-placed, well-timed jab can blind an opponent for the hard cross that’s to come, Froch’s sloppy flurries set Bute up for the crushing, accurate blows that came crashing through.
Bute was becoming a heavy bag that swung only one way — backward. Froch easily forced him to the ropes, a right hand knocking Bute’s head back, a left hook and a right cross and one more hook sending Bute reclining against a middle rope and bringing the referee jumping in.
Froch ran across the ring and jumped on the ropes. His promoter, Eddie Hearn, ran in the ring and picked him up. Bute staggered sideways, the referee still counting, the fight still not done.
Bute’s trainer walked casually across the ring, a white towel draped over his left shoulder. It was over.
In reality, it had been over since two rounds before.
Barring the occasional draw or no contest, every fight ends with a winner and a loser. Yet there were some people in the immediate aftermath of this bout who felt that Bute had been exposed, that he had never been as good as his ranking, that he’d been listed as second among super middleweights based partially by default and partially by what people thought he could do.
He’d never had a chance to prove himself.
Carl Froch was better than anyone Lucian Bute had ever faced before. Froch proved himself better than Bute, too — on this night, at least.
That is the other truth to boxing’s most basic premise: Superiority doesn’t just depend on who you fight, but how and when and sometimes even where you fight him.
Bute now has the option of facing Froch in a rematch in Canada, of proving that he truly does belong — or once again being proven wrong.
The 10 Count
1. No, Carl Froch should not have been disqualified in his technical knockout victory over Lucian Bute — and thankfully, he wasn’t — for the same reason that Carlos Molina shouldn’t have been disqualified after he was knocked down against James Kirkland in March (which, unfortunately, he was)
Molina’s knockdown came at the exact moment that the 10th round ended. The timekeeper rang the bell — and apparently the Texas commission inspector working Molina’s corner thought the round was over and didn’t stop the fighter’s corner man from climbing the steps and stepping into the ring.
This past weekend, referee Earl Brown jumped between Froch and Bute as Froch wailed away at Bute on the ropes. Froch’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, jumped into the ring to run up to his fighter and celebrate. The only problem? The fight wasn’t quite over yet.
You couldn’t blame Hearn for thinking the fight was over — Brown jumped between the fighters with his arms up over his head, a motion we tend to see when a referee is stopping a bout. Bute, meanwhile, was out on his feet and held up solely by the ropes.
But Brown had ruled it a technical knockdown and was issuing a count to Bute, stopping the bout as he was waving Bute forward and only once Bute’s trainer came across the ring and tapped Brown on the shoulder.
There’s the letter of the law and there’s the spirit of the law. A disqualification shouldn’t come because of the confusion over an official’s incorrect action.
2. July 9, 2011: Erislandy Lara loses a majority decision to Paul Williams in a fight that nearly everyone but those judges saw Lara winning easily.
Feb. 18, 2012: Williams, in his first fight back, wins a Showtime bout against Nobuhiro Ishida.
April 20, 2012: Lara, in his first fight back, wins a Showtime bout against Ronald Hearns.
Sept. 15, 2012: Williams will face “Canelo” Alvarez on pay-per-view.
It doesn’t sound right that Golden Boy would reward Williams, a Goossen-Tutor fighter, with a bigger payday before rewarding Lara, who is in Golden Boy’s stable.
Then again, none of the effort that went into protesting other Golden Boy fighters’ losses ever went into trying to counter the Lara robbery loss.
Then again, Williams still has more name recognition in the United States than Lara does.
And then again, Golden Boy would be wise to keep Alvarez as far away from Lara as possible…
3. Ever wonder what happened to those three judges from the Williams-Lara fight who were suspended by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board following last year’s travesty? George Willis of the New York Post found out:
All three judges remain suspended. Hilton Whitaker III went to a pair of judging seminars in January, passed a couple of tests but still hasn’t gotten any assignments since. Al Bennett failed the tests, blaming a lack of proper preparation due to his being angry about the suspension. There was no information provided about Donald Givens.
I’m still curious about a couple of other big questions: Aaron Davis, the head of the athletic control board, described the judges’ scorecards as “subpar performances” and says he wants to hold the judges “accountable for their actions.”
Davis had the judges come in following the fight to analyze their scoring of each round. While the commissioner has said his office had “not found any evidence of bias, fraud, corruption or incapacity on the part of any of the judges,” we still don’t know why exactly the judges scored the bout the way they did. Davis hasn’t said, and neither did the judges — at least, not in Willis’ article.
Do they stand by their scores still? If so, why? If not, why not?
4. Let me get this straight: We spent so much of Episode 1 of “24/7: Pacquiao-Bradley” learning about how Manny Pacquiao has cut out all of his distractions outside of training camp — gambling, drinking, cockfighting, etc. — only for Episode 2 to show us that his latest distraction is inside his training camp?
In case you missed it, strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza has apparently been fired by clients Amir Khan and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., both of whom are, like Pacquiao, trained by Freddie Roach. Toward the end of this past week’s episode, Roach said he’ll suggest to Pacquiao that he, too, should can Ariza.
Manny Pacquiao now has a game show in the Philippines — with the dramatic turns his life takes, he might as well have a reality show, too.
5. Was there any sight more fitting on Episode 2 of “24/7 Pacquiao-Bradley” than that of Bradley jokingly hitting a double-end bag repeatedly with his head?
It’s a shame, by the way, that Bradley likely won’t be on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” ahead of the June 9 pay-per-view. While it’s become a tradition for Pacquiao to appear on the late-night show, Bradley’s shown that he’s an engaging, interesting and potentially marketable personality.
This much is guaranteed: There’s no way he’d be anywhere near as boring as Floyd Mayweather was last year on “Conan.”
6. A year ago, Roy Jones went to Russia and got knocked out by Denis Lebedev. Next month, Jones will go to Poland to face Dawid Kostecki. And to think Jones long ago refused to go to Germany to face Dariusz Michaelczewski.
This is what happens when the HBO money is gone…
Russia. Poland. The Iron Curtain is gone, but Jones’ glass jaw ain’t…
7. I’m not sure if a proverbial can of worms has been opened, but I’m left squeamish at the potential consequences of the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s granting of a therapeutic use exemption to Chael Sonnen, the mixed martial artist who was caught in California nearly two years ago with a testosterone ratio of 16.9:1.
The average ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone for a man is 1:1. The threshold allowed by some drug tests is 4:1. Nevada allows 6:1.
Sonnen has claimed a medical need. Still, anyone being granted a therapeutic use exemption should be limited in what their supposedly medical use of testosterone brings their levels up to.
I can’t understand why the drug-testing threshold is so high anyway.
I worry about what happened in Major League Baseball after the league started allowing for therapeutic use exemptions for medical stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin — a change in the rules that came after amphetamines were officially placed on the banned substance list.
The New York Times reported that the number of players claiming to have attention deficit disorder — and therefore allowed to have these medicines — nearly quadrupled from 28 in 2006 to 103 in 2007.
As the Times article noted, those 103 exemptions were out of 1,354 Major League Baseball players, while the number of exemptions granted by the U.S. Anti Doping Agency was just 27 — and that was out of 10,000 athletes.
I believe it’s important to look into the veracity of the conditions that led to the supposed need for therapeutic-use exemptions.
And I know it could be impossible to prove in many cases, but there should be skepticism over whether these athletes with low testosterone levels have such conditions because of prior banned substance use.
8. Both Amir Khan and Victor Ortiz have moved on in the wake of their respective rematches with Lamont Peterson and Andre Berto being called off due to Peterson and Berto testing positive for banned substances — Peterson for synthetic testosterone, Berto for nandrolone.
Khan will meet 140-pound beltholder Danny Garcia on July 14, eight weeks after Peterson-Khan II was to have taken place. Ortiz will face 140-pound prospect Josesito Lopez in what will be a welterweight bout on June 23, the original date for Ortiz-Berto II.
These are serviceable substitutions for the formerly anticipated originals. Both are fights deserving of being on television, though one hopes that HBO and Showtime are paying less than the networks originally would have.
It will also be interesting to find out when — and how — Peterson and Berto will seek to return. Each will have explaining to do before whichever athletic commission sanctions their proposed next bouts.
I’ve liked the grilling that we’ve had from some athletic commission members following positive tests for mixed martial artists, questioning that comes with the fighters under oath. I haven’t liked the seeming fawning about the athletes that some commission members have then done after their hearings.
It’s also ridiculous that a fighter who had marijuana in his system (Nick Diaz) got a longer suspension than one who had a highly elevated testosterone level (Alistair Overeem).
9. So, the working theories involving Berto’s and Peterson’s positive tests for banned substances are that Berto took something unintentionally, while Peterson was seeking medical treatment for hypogonadism.
In other words, the difference between their cases is that one claims tainted supplements, while the other claims he was supplementing his taint…
10. R.I.P. Johnny Tapia, 1967-2012. Some fights just can’t be won. His was a long battle we all wished he’d overcome long ago. My thoughts and prayers go to his loved ones, who stood with him through all this and sadly still couldn’t save him from himself.
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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