Even a die-hard fan of fisticuffs must search his memory to recall a blowout as unanticipated and surprising as what we witnessed last night when Carl Froch laid waste to Lucian Bute, battering him about the ring and finally stopping him after roughly thirteen minutes of target practice. Thomas Hearns’ blistering knockout of Pipino Cuevas? Evander Holyfield’s shocking stoppage of Mike Tyson? Hasim Rachman’s upset of Lennox Lewis? Manny Pacquiao’s surprise dismantling of Oscar de la Hoya? Comparisons abound, but this was something different because of the completely unexpected way the match unfolded.
Right from the opening bell the complexion of this contest defied all preconceptions. It was supposed to be Froch moving forward, stalking Bute, while the champion took his time, boxing smoothly, his southpaw stance and straighter punches creating tactical problems for the seemingly past-his-prime Froch. Instead it was Bute, with zero respect for the challenger’s power, pressuring the Briton, his hands low, his head high, gunning, it appeared, for an early knockout. To say Bute’s strategy backfired would be the understatement of the year.
The first round, in addition to presenting an unexpected course for the fight, saw both men connect with hard shots, but it was Bute who awkwardly initiated a clinch after taking a left hook. The champion would land a couple of hard lefts of his own before round’s end, but the tactics of the bout seemed to suit the challenger just fine while Bute’s power troubled Froch not at all. Of course punching power is always less effective when one sees the blows coming and Bute recklessly telegraphed his left-hand power shots instead of patiently setting them up with jabs and combinations. Worse, he often lunged with his punches, leaving himself off balance and vulnerable to any kind of counter attack.
In the second round Bute continued to stalk, leveling his left to Froch’s body, pressing forward, his chin completely unprotected as he elected to carry his right exceptionally low. Midway through the round a right hand counter froze Bute who again awkwardly embraced Froch to avoid further punishment. Despite this, Bute continued to press, backing Froch up while giving the challenger more opportunities to counter. Two more right hands shook Bute just before the bell.
By this point, a shift in tactics might have been a bright idea for Bute and his corner, but evidently no such thought occurred to the champion. It cost him big time in round three, the round which decided the fight. Bute, still stalking the challenger, landed two quick jabs and a glancing left behind them, possibly his best combination of the entire fight, and Froch responded by instantly launching a withering two-fisted attack that left Bute hanging on to his nemesis like a lovelorn teenager clutching her high school sweetheart, both arms around Froch’s torso, his head resting on Froch’s shoulder.
Taking shot after shot, the champion appeared lost, out of his element. Froch threw punches with impunity, at one point flagrantly aiming an uppercut, something simply not done in championship level boxing, and landing it cleanly. By this point Bute’s legs had turned to rubber which meant his power was all but gone, yet despite this he never stopped trying to load up his left uppercut. He also never stopped carrying his hands low. Froch continued to take target practice, landing a huge, flush right and then battering Bute from one side of the ring to the other before finally, mercifully, the bell ended the relentless assault.
It could not have been more evident that Bute desperately needed to implement Plan B, but this is difficult to do when your head is ringing and your legs are now composed of so much sponge cake. It’s additionally difficult when your opponent smells blood and is closing in for the kill.
Bute actually had a better round at the start of the fourth, but how demoralizing it must have been for him to land his money shot — a heavy left cross flush on Froch’s jaw — and see his opponent simply sneer in response. Froch then stalked Bute to the ropes and got home a huge right hand which snapped the champion’s head back and prompted another extended pounding with a final, booming right just as the bell sounded. Bute was in such trouble he was hanging on to the referee, as well as Froch, to keep his feet. At round’s end, the champion staggered back to his corner on extremely unsteady legs. Bute was finished.
The rest, as they say, was mere aftermath. Bute bled now from a cut above his left eye, but more to the point, he had no strength left, no snap on his punches, and no reply to Froch’s tactics. “The Cobra” had successfully turned Bute’s southpaw style into a liability, his right hand leads connecting with unerring accuracy. Froch advanced and once again landed a huge uppercut and then another flurry punctuated by a devastating right. Bute’s legs buckled, only the ropes kept him from toppling, and bedlam ensued as ringsiders assumed referee Earl Brown, who had signaled a knockdown and was giving Bute an eight count, had in fact stopped the fight. Various people entered the ring while the bout remained in progress, but it was obvious that matters had been well decided. Referee Brown waved his arms as a hurt and confused Bute gazed about the ring, his championship, along with his high reputation, gone for good.
No one foresaw this. Some had picked Froch to prevail, though a minority to be sure, but Froch vs Bute was universally regarded as an intriguing and competitive match. Virtually no one expected “The Cobra” to be able to batter Bute in the early going and gain complete control of the fight in less than three rounds. Did we underestimate Froch, or overestimate Bute? Likely a bit of both. Many based their assessments on the two men’s comparative performances against Glen Johnson; Froch struggled somewhat to subdue the veteran, while Bute dominated with ease. Others looked to Froch’s bout with Andre Ward and thought, wrongly of course, that they saw a stale and aging fighter.
In any case, Bute’s aggressive tactics played into Froch’s hands and his lack of respect for the challenger’s power sealed his fate. While Bute has a rematch clause, it would be sheer folly to take an immediate return. Bute needs one or two confidence-building tuneups before he even considers again entering a ring with Carl Froch in it. Not to mention a complete rethink about how to confront Nottingham’s revitalized Cobra.
— Michael Carbert