In an even matchup, the boxer with the greater natural ability is usually the one whose hand is raised at the end of the night. However, that isn’t always the case, especially when Carl Froch is one of the participants.
Sometimes tenacity trumps talent. Froch, who handed Lucian Bute his first professional defeat by way of fifth-round stoppage on Saturday, is living proof of that saying. The 34-year-old Englishman is also a prime example of how taking the hard road can forge a superior fighter.
Hardcore fans anticipated the Saturday’s super middleweight showdown from the moment it was announced that Bute would put his unblemished 30-0 record and IBF title on the line in Froch’s hometown of Nottingham, England.
They loved the matchup because it pitted one of the sport’s most talented titleholders against one of the more battle-tested veterans in the game. It was hard for fans to predict the winner, but the slight majority – as well as the odds makers – had to go with Bute.
Apart from a near disastrous final round in his first bout against Librado Andrade in 2008, the Romanian southpaw had barely lost a round while racking up title defenses in his adopted home of Quebec, Canada, which included a near shutout of former light heavyweight champ Glen Johnson and a highlight-reel body shot KO of Andrade in their rematch.
When comparing Bute and Froch, boxing writers and armchair analysts had to give the undefeated southpaw the clear edge in speed, power, technique and overall athleticism.
If they were tennis or basketball players, Froch wouldn’t have been given much of a chance to prevail. However, THE RING’s Nos. 1- and 2-rated super middleweights signed to engage in a prize fight on May 26, and Froch made it a fight from the opening bell.
He didn’t look pretty doing so, especially early in the fight when his forward rushes looked downright clumsy in comparison to Bute’s usual fluid, panther-like movement. However, Froch got his message across, even as Bute reddened his nose with sharp jabs and accurate lefts: I’m coming for you and nothing you throw my way will stop me.
It’s that mentality that helped Froch – along with an iron chin and underrated ring smarts – twice win the WBC title and make it to the finals of the Super Six World Boxing Classic tournament, which he lost via unanimous decision to Andre Ward last December.
However, it isn’t just an attitude with Froch (29-2, 21 knockouts). He’s earned the right to feel unbeatable (especially on his home turf). Six of the seven fighters Froch has faced since winning his first world title against Jean Pascal (which includes Bute, Ward, Johnson, Arthur Abraham, Mikkel Kessler and Jermain Taylor) were in THE RING’s 168-pound rankings. Andre Dirrell, who he narrowly outpointed in the first round of the Super Six, was rated after their fight, which was Froch’s last time fighting at home until Saturday’s bout against Bute.
Froch didn’t always win. Ward and Kessler outpointed him. He didn’t always dominate. He had to dig deep against Pascal and Johnson; he had to scrape by against Dirrell. But he always came to fight.
And that’s what he did against Bute. Froch let his hands go every time he was in range. He intensified his attack whenever he backed Bute to the ropes and the defending titleholder cracked under that pressure.
Bute (30-1, 24 KOs) wasn’t used to Froch’s brand of relentless defiance. How could he be? He hadn’t faced the caliber of opposition Froch had.
Some of the fighters Bute beat during his near-five-year title run were RING-ranked contenders, including Sakio Bika, Andrade, and Johnson. But the others – the unproven Mendy, an ancient William Joppy, a shopworn Edison Miranda, and the gutsy but limited likes of Fulgencio Zuniga, Jesse Brinkley and Brian Magee – were not.
Those were solid fighters but they weren’t able to get in Bute’s chest and stay there as Froch did in the third round of their fight. Bute was confident at the start of that round but he was holding on for dear life by the end of it. Bute got more of the same in the next round.
Froch landed 25 of 40 punches (62 percent) in the fourth and sent Bute staggering back to his corner with a mouse under left eye at the end of the round. The veteran lived up to his nickname, The Cobra, by striking his wounded prey at the start of the fifth. Bute seemed lost as he was again forced to the ropes. He was helpless midway through the round.
Referee Earl Brown jumped between the two fighters to issue Bute a 10-count after an unclear technical knockdown ruling due to the fact that the soon-to-former beltholder, who had his head snapped and legs buckled by Froch’s furious assault, needed the ropes to stay on his feet.
Froch’s elated promoter had already joined him in the ring before the bout had been officially stopped, but it was soon over when Bute’s corner did the right thing by entering the ring themselves in order to put a halt to the punishment.
Bute has the contractual right to force an immediate rematch in Quebec, but Froch doubts Bute’s handlers will enact that option.
“That was one hell of a beating,” Froch said during his post-fight interview.
Froch didn’t seem interested in avenging his loss to Ward, who he described as a difficult stylist who made for ugly fights (though he did credit the American for giving him the motivation to rebound in sensational fashion).
A rematch with Kessler would be welcomed by fans as their first bout was the best fight of the Super Six tournament. However, Kessler’s last bout (a fourth-round KO of Allan Green) was at light heavyweight and the popular Dane may opt to stay in the 175-pound division where the WBC has granted him a No. 1 rating.
So Froch’s immediate future is unclear for the moment, which is OK because he’s earned the right to savor the Bute victory.
One thing is certain. Whenever Froch returns, regardless of who he faces, he will enter the ring with the respect and admiration of the boxing world.
Photos / Scott Heavey-Getty Images Sport