Immediately following Lucian Bute’s shocking defeat to Carl Froch, the ex-champion showed commendable class and dignity. He congratulated the man who had just battered him in his first professional loss and as the official result was announced to the pro-Froch crowd, he stood in ring center and applauded his conqueror. Days later he began to issue public statements, both through the internet and on television in his native country of Romania and he again demonstrated exceptional sportsmanship.
“On Saturday night, Carl Froch was better than me,” he stated with no qualifying justifications, no remarking upon exceptional circumstances or physical injuries. How often have we heard boxers proffer lame excuses for a poor performance or unexpected outcome? David Haye will never live down, nor should he, his sore toe story after dropping a lopsided decision to Wladimir Klitschko in 2011. In the past fighters have variously blamed poor officiating, dirty tactics, “over training,” or outside-the-ring distractions for disappointing performances. Not Bute.
“A real athlete has to have class, to be able to congratulate his opponent when he loses,” said Bute. “I was favoured to win the fight. Most people thought I was going to win fairly easily. I believed that too, but you saw what happened. It was a very clear victory by Froch!”
Bute’s admirable sportsmanship aside, his public comments are fascinating for what they reveal about the fight and his perspective on it. It was clear from the opening bell that Bute lacked respect for Froch’s power and it would appear Bute still does not fully appreciate the key reason for why Froch was able to take charge of the match and dominate him. Simply put, Bute completely underestimated “The Cobra.”
“After the first round, I was confident,” says Bute. “I told my trainer that Carl was slow and cannot hurt me. … I could see what he was doing, but still couldn’t react or do something. … I had all the time in the world to move in the ring because Carl was slow, but I cannot understand why I didn’t get out of the way of his punches.”
Froch was far from slow. But in truth he simply seized the opportunities Bute gave him. Slow or fast really doesn’t enter into it. It was about timing: Bute’s was completely off, while Froch’s was spot on. Bute came out of his corner in the opening round as if he could take control of the bout with ease, as if the man in front of him was no threat at all. When Froch took advantage of Bute’s sloppy defense, poor timing and lack of mobility, Bute appeared shocked, stunned, and unable to assert himself.
These are tell-tale signs of a lack of mental preparation and this in turn likely stems from the unexamined assumption within Bute’s camp that Froch was finished as a world-class talent, that his performance in the Ward fight showed a fighter who was slow, ring-worn and ripe for the picking. Keep in mind that the decision to defend against Froch constituted a very deliberate gamble as Bute and his people could have instead fought Andre Dirrell on Showtime for substantially more money. The move to take on Froch was an attempt by Bute’s people to raise his stock and put him in a better bargaining position for future fights. But this gamble was predicated on an analysis of Froch which we now know was woefully off the mark.
“I studied Carl Froch a lot,” says Bute. “I knew what shots he would throw and how he would fight. Unfortunately, I couldn’t implement my gameplan.”
That may be due to the fact that the “gameplan” was based on a perception of the challenger which took him far too lightly. How else to explain Bute’s complete disregard for defense, his stalking Froch in the opening round as if Bute were George Foreman and Froch was Ken Lakusta?
Bute makes it clear he has no intention of retiring and that he will seek a rematch with Froch. But before he gets back in the ring with “The Cobra,” he had better do some serious soul-searching about both his own abilities and those of his adversary. He will need to acknowledge to himself that he was simply unprepared from a mental standpoint to deal with a primed and inspired opponent determined to win that night at all costs. Bute must understand that his estimation of his own speed and power may be somewhat inaccurate and that, quite possibly, too many fights in front of warm, appreciative crowds in Quebec City and Montreal has played a part in this misconception. If Bute intends to compete with Froch and the best fighters in his division, he will have to re-evaluate himself, his team, and all aspects of his training and preparation.
It’s back to the drawing board for Lucian Bute. And whether he realizes it or not, some big changes are in order. Here’s hoping this is understood before any plans for a rematch with Froch are finalized. — Robert Portis