Great Win, Bute…Now What?

If it’s true that you’re only as good as your last two fights, then Lucian Bute might be the best super middleweight in the world.

Yet he’s not in the Super Six World Boxing Classic – a tournament whose goal is to determine the king of the 168-pound division since the retirement of Joe Calzaghe.

Showtime erred in choosing to include Jermain Taylor, a fighter who had lost three of his last four fights – over Bute, the undefeated IBF Champion who packs a serious fan base in Canada. But, as is the case in boxing, name value usually trumps talent.

That is, until talent can no longer be denied.

On Saturday night, Bute put on a flawless performance in dispatching divisional gatekeeper Edison Miranda in three short rounds. Though Miranda looked much improved under the tutelage of new trainer Joe Goossen, he was no match for Bute. A short, crisp uppercut saw Miranda collapse on his face in the third round. He beat the count but wobbled enough to have the fight stopped on the spot.

In November, Bute put on an equally impressive performance, twice dropping iron-chinned Librado Andrade with power shots to the head and body. The body shot was enough to keep Andrade down for a full ten count.

Having scored two thunderous knockouts in his last two fights, Bute has made his presence felt at 168 pounds. But with the rest of the division’s talent contractually obligated to finish out the Super Six tournament, all of Bute’s competition would seem to be unavailable for the remainder of 2010.

At that point, two men will be eliminated from the Super Six, having failed to advance. That will give Bute two potential opponents but also two men who proved they didn’t belong in the same class as the others and therefore probably not in Bute’s either.

So Bute is forced to play the waiting game for now and fight lesser opponents in the interim. Some lesser – but not necessarily subpar opponents – include WBO Champion Robert Stieglitz, Jesse Brinkley and Sakio Bika.

Stieglitz is considered by most to be a stand-in champion. He is rarely, if ever, mentioned among the division’s elite but nevertheless holds a title he earned by stopping Karoly Balzsay – undefeated at the time – last summer. Stieglitz has two losses on his resume, both by knockout. In 2007, he was stopped by Alejandro Berrio, who Bute knocked out later that year to win the IBF title. In 2008, he was stopped by Andrade, who Bute has beaten twice, once in 2008 and once in 2009.

To say Stieglitz is not on the level of Bute would be a fair assessment; however, while he bides his time, Bute might consider picking up another of the division’s titles, as unification matches usually sell on that premise alone.

While Stieglitz is a titlist, Brinkley and Bika are contenders – quite literally. Both men made their biggest splash in the sport fighting on The Contender reality series. Brinkley finished fourth on the series in 2004, while Bika won the 2007 series after a thrilling fight against Jaidon Codrington.

Brinkley is coming off his best win as a professional over Curtis Stevens and is scheduled to face Bika in May, with the winner becoming the mandatory contender to Bute. Bute already defeated Bika by a wide unanimous decision in 2007, but it’s important to note that Bika narrowly missed competing in the Super Six as Taylor’s replacement. He and Allan Green were initially scheduled to fight to determine who got in, but Lou DiBella, who promotes both Taylor and Green, was able to convince Showtime and the other promoters to give his fighter the spot outright.

Heading into this weekend’s fights, there had been talk of Middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik moving up to super middleweight to face Bute; in fact, Bute’s fight with Miranda served as the undercard to Pavlik’s title defense against Sergio Martinez. Unfortunately for Pavlik, and perhaps for Bute as well, Pavlik was defeated by the natural junior middleweight. Stylistically, Bute appears to be a bigger version of Martinez.

Bute’s other options are outside shots and include top light heavyweights Chad Dawson and Bernard Hopkins. For now, Dawson seems content to remain at 175 pounds and establish his reputation there. He’s scheduled to face Jean Pascal in July and probably wouldn’t be available for another fight until November or December anyway.

And because Hopkins has been reticent about facing Dawson, his most obvious opponent since late 2008, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to believe he would face Bute next. Furthermore, Hopkins has been talking about a move to heavyweight to face WBA Champion David Haye, further distancing himself from light heavyweight and the divisions south.

Provided Bute can’t get a bigger name in a catchweight fight, his best course of action would seem to be to unify titles with Stieglitz and take care of his mandatory. By then, the ousted Super Six participants should be waiting.

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