This Saturday in Nottingham, local idol Carl Froch comes home after three years on the road for what will be arguably the hardest fight of a truly remarkable career. In the opposite corner will be the IBF super-middleweight champion, the Romanian-Canadian Lucian Bute, who is unbeaten in 30 fights, two years younger and a lot fresher than the British boxer.
Bute has fought the same number of fights as Froch but there the similarities end. Statistics, especially in the boxing business, can be manipulated so easily by careful matchmaking.
Froch, 34, has won and lost world titles in a torrid sequence of seven fights, starting with a world title win against Jean Pascal late in 2008, that have both enhanced his standing and, arguably, shortened his career.
He disagrees, which is understandable and expected.
"I said from the start that I was not prepared to be like other British world champions and take the easy route," Froch has said. "I will be a proper world champion and fight the best because that is the only way."
It is a nice idea, but an inspection of any world champion's record inevitably reveals the occasional easy fight and, let's not be shy, the odd stinker thrown in for good measure. It is the way the boxing business works and it is the way the business will continue to work long after Froch has walked off into the Nottinghamshire sunset.
Muhammad Ali perfected the accepted pattern of good fight, easy fight, mismatch, great fight back in the Sixties and Seventies, when he went on a lucrative tour of boxing's backwaters. The pattern was in place before and it has continued since; Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe found a perfect blend of marketable but easily winnable fights during their careers and both made a lot of money and are now considered to be boxing royalty.
Bute is no different and has mixed difficult defences of his title with easy nights during his reign as champion, which started in 2007. Froch first won a world title in 2008 and since that wild night in Nottingham he has fought six times and completed a total of 84 rounds against the very best fighters at his weight. In the same period Bute has fought five times and gone 38 rounds; he has often barely broken a sweat while overcoming overmatched, hand-picked men.
If this fight was happening in 2010, when Froch fought two classics on the road, losing and winning in Denmark and Finland, Froch would start as a massive favourite. However, those two fights and two draining 12-round fights in America in 2011 have chipped away at Froch's resistance and skills and even raised doubts about his willingness to take the necessary risks. In 2010 Froch was a brutal and fearless warrior but hard fights exact an invisible toll that is only measurable from a distance. Froch now looks like a different fighter.
One of the arguments from the boxer and the men he pays is that Froch can only "get up" for big fights, which seems to be shorthand for Froch can only "get up" when there is a decent lump of cash available – which is understandable. However, all quality fights need to be made with an eye on the future, an eye on a massive fight somewhere that attracts fans and helps substantially at the bank.
Froch has, correctly, received praise in the right fight circles for his sequence of fights but he has fallen way short at both the box office and the bank compared to Amir Khan or predecessors like Calzaghe and Hatton.
Froch's sequence of fights is the best I have ever seen by a British boxer – but pleasing me is simple. I would rather see Froch in an easier fight, with a domestic showdown on the horizon, than up against it on Saturday, against cold-eyed Bute.Reuse content