By Hans Olson
“Boxing is about being hit rather more than it is about hitting, just as it is about feeling pain, if not devastating psychological paralysis, more than it is about winning.” – Joyce Carol Oates
Saturday evening in Nottingham, England, Lucian Bute lost the first fight of his professional career.
Carl Froch, who often defies the odds when they’re against him, destroyed the Romanian-Canadian hero in 5 action packed rounds, further staking his claim as this generation’s fiercest 168 lb. blood and guts pugilist.
Despite Bute’s shaky moment in his first meeting with Librado Andrade in October of 2008, he has often appeared invincible. The betting odds in his favor prior to the Froch fight furthered that notion.
Now with Saturday’s loss, how will Lucian Bute be viewed?
That remains to be seen–and his next move will likely be what defines him.
But what if, even in this shattering defeat, Bute could be defined by the events of Saturday night in a much different, brighter light?
He could–but unfortunately, this would seem inconceivable based on the immediate reaction of fight fans in cyberspace, fans who on every social networking site available have now written off Bute as a “bum.”
An “over-protected” fighter.
A “hype job.”
Lucian Bute is anything but those things.
In the wake of how Carl Froch handled Bute from pillar to post, however, it’s a reasonable reaction. Boxing is a results based sport, and fighters are viewed often only as good as their last fight.
Whether fair or not, it’s one of boxing’s cold realities.
Games of Chance
Driving through Montreal’s West Island en route to covering the Dierry Jean fight last weekend, I listened to Jonathan Goldstein’s Wiretap show on CBC Radio 1. That particular episode was about the role that chance plays in our lives.
“Sometimes, you take a chance and you go bust,” said Goldstein, leading into a story about author Phillip Roth.
“But other times when you least expect it, chance can throw you a bone.”
The story Goldstein spoke of centered on an essay Roth wrote in a 1994 reissue of his book, Portnoy’s Complaint.
In it, Roth told a tale of how one day he found on the table at a restaurant he frequented, a piece of paper with 19 random sentences the previous patron had left behind. He kept that paper, and tried to make some sort of sense between those sentences. After discovering over time there was no connection, he realized that it would be he himself who would have to make them connect. He did so by using each consecutive sentence as a first line to the 19 novels he would write over the next few decades.
“If anything, Roth’s story is a metaphor for the chancy random workings of the universe and the way in which it is our job to bring meaning to these chance occurrences,” said Goldstein.
Though not necessarily a “chance occurrence,” it indeed was a gamble for Lucian Bute to travel overseas to face Carl Froch in his hometown.
No matter how diligently he prepared, he had to have known he would meet certain unexpected things that only “chance occurrences” bring.
Nobody expected Froch to do what he did.
For Bute, going to Nottingham was a chance.
He went bust.
You too could also say it was a gamble for Carl Froch to fight a slick, undefeated southpaw with one-punch knockout power in his first bout back from a disappointing showing last December against Andre Ward in the Super Six final.
And in the ring, despite Froch having the advantage of being spurred on by a deafening volume of fan support, many assumed it would be Bute’s athletic superiority that would see him through. If Froch lost—especially in his own backyard—retirement was likely.
“If I didn’t win tonight, I would have been left questioning my future in the sport,” revealed Froch to the UK’s Daily Mail. “I may have even thought about announcing my retirement. But I’m so far from that after that performance because it was so clinical and devastating.”
Carl Froch’s proverbial gamble paid off.
Lucian Bute’s did not.
There is now a much greater gamble: Does Bute impose his contractual right for a rematch in Quebec with Froch later this year? A redemptive win could mean more in the long run, just as was proven when he defeated Librado Andrade in their November 2009 rematch.
“It’s my first loss, but it’s not the end of the world,” said Bute to the press in Nottingham. “I’ll be back. I need some rest right now, but I know I have the character to rebound.”
It is now Lucian Bute’s job to bring ultimate meaning to the Nottingham gamble: to finish the story.
But another loss against Froch—and one in front of his adoring fan-base in Quebec—would be a tragic ending, nothing short of disastrous.
Throughout his career, while Carl Froch has never been the fastest, or most skilled fighter in the super middleweight division (though his boxing ability is grossly underrated), his heart and desire have never been questioned. His iron chin held up against the best puncher at 168 lb. in Lucian Bute, something surprising even to Bute’s most ardent detractors.
The story of Saturday night is ultimately about Carl Froch–and although much in life comes down to luck and chance, Froch the fighter has never let fortuity determine his success.
At the Montreal presser back in March, Froch was bold when describing this reality to local media.
“I don’t believe in miracles. I don’t think winning a fight by climbing off the canvas and forcing a stoppage against a great fighter like Jermain Taylor is a miracle. It has nothing to do with luck, it has to do with preparation, will to win, heart desire strength, courage. Anything but luck. A real man makes his own luck.”
Maybe Lucian Bute wasn’t what some of us in the press made him out to be on Saturday night, but he’s certainly better than what those Sunday morning quarterbacks are now labeling him as. To say Bute isn’t an elite fighter isn’t only an insult to Bute, but it’s an insult to Carl Froch.
Perhaps the pain Lucian Bute felt last night will resonate into something better when he next sets foot in the squared circle.
Alternately, a “devastating psychological paralysis” resulting from the Froch beating could stunt the career of one of Quebec’s most beloved fighters of all time.
There’s a quote in Portnoy’s Complaint that reads, “You can no more make someone tell the truth than you can force someone to love you.”
Fans in Quebec (and the many who traveled across the ocean) may have beheld an awful truth on Saturday night, but believe me, Lucian Bute will still be loved no matter what happens next.
And to quote that old adage “sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good,” it could be said that Carl Froch and Lucian Bute are both of those things.
On Saturday night, however, Carl Froch was just better.