Boxing: Froch must find his old self to better Bute

 

Carl Froch's opponent Lucian Bute is unbeaten, smart and seems to be aware that it is rare for a foreign world champion to accept terms for a fight in Britain and then suffer a loss.

The odd exceptions to the established boxing order tend to happen only when the plucky British champion fights out of his skin or the faded champion has been picked at the perfect time for stuffing. However, Bute is at his peak, nine defences into a reign and younger than Froch.

"I guess that means I will have to have a real fight," Froch insisted. "It's always me in fights like this, always me going in against a good fighter, a champion. I would not have it any other way." Froch is not joking and tonight's fight in Nottingham for Bute's IBF super-middleweight title is the eight consecutive in a unique, if draining, sequence of truly remarkable encounters.

The sold-out signs will be hanging from the doors in Nottingham tonight as Froch's fans, who have been on the road for his last four fights stretching back to 2009, swarm to his assistance, knowing that Bute has taken precautions against the bellowing faithful. Bute has been training in Canada with hostile crowd sounds piped through speakers in his gym and, according to camp insiders, a short passage of Froch's partner Rachael Cordingley letting loose a beautiful, foul-mouthed burst of abuse. "I'm ready for everything now," Bute confirmed through a translator.

Tonight at about midnight Froch will enter the ring second, watched as he walks through his horde by a silent Bute, for the most important fight of his career and a night that will design his imprint on a business that has too often overlooked him. Froch's fearless credentials are the envy of champions young and old but he has struggled to turn performances into profile; his last seven fights have been shown by four different broadcasters.

Froch knows that it will not be easy and, no matter how many times he listens to his entourage talk about Bute's hand-picked ascent of boxing's greasy pole, he will know that 10 world title fights, 30 unbeaten fights and the pressure of winning have made Bute a quality man. "I see flaws and I also see good things. It will be a great fight," promised Froch.

I believe that the only way Froch wins tonight will require a dormant version of the Nottingham idol to surface and roll back the years. It will take a performance of aggression and skill in equal measure, just like the glory nights against Jean Pascal in 2008 or Arthur Abraham in 2010. Both Pascal and Abraham were better fighters than Bute but, then again, Froch was fresher in those two breathless fights. Froch claims he is not suffering in anyway from his severe sequence of seven fights, which all went into the 12th and final round: "I don't take a lot of head shots. I'm still fresh."

Bute can be beaten; he can be put under pressure and made to tire, which is what Froch once did with ease in fights. In 2008 Bute survived a harrowing last round to hear the bell and retain his title against tough Librado Andrade: Bute was out on his feet and saved only by his favourite referee. Froch has taken inspiration from that night but is aware that he will have to push his body to get into that position.

It will be about timing and whether Bute's bold raid has been perfectly timed or whether Froch can find that magic he has shown so often in great fights, just not in his last two. The odds suggest Bute has made the right choice but writing off Froch is a hazard too far and I expect a fairy-tale ending to delight his bleary-eyed fanatics.

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