Friday November 4th, 2011

In the third round of his 2010 super middleweight title bout with Lucian Bute, Edison Miranda decided to showboat. After catching a left hook to the body, the rugged Miranda stopped, tapped his rippled abs with his glove and invited Bute to keep punching. Seconds later Miranda ate a thudding three-punch combination to the head. He paused again, put his hands on his hips and waved Bute in again. Bute smiled, kept his hands up and did: His next punch, a jaw rattling uppercut, put Miranda down and ended the fight.

This is the brilliance of Bute, one of the most diverse fighters in the sport. He punches with power to the head and to the body. He is dangerous with both hands. He has the ability to outbox or outslug an opponent and is arguably the best in the division at both.

"He is a very big super middleweight," said former light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver. "He could be a solid cruiserweight. I'm 6-foot-2 and standing next to him, he's every bit 6-foot-3. He's the strongest fighter at super middleweight, with serious knockout power. He's got an arsenal of punches, most of which come from a blind shot with a lot of power. If landed correctly, it's a good night. He has a real knack for throwing in an awkward position. The shots come out of nowhere. People get hit with it, they drop."

On Saturday, Bute (29-0) will get a chance to showcase those skills again when he defends his IBF title against Glen Johnson (51-15-2) at the Pepsi Coliseum in Quebec City (Showtime, 9 p.m.). Johnson is many things. Hard to find isn't one of them. The steel-jawed Johnson has carved out a 18-year professional career fighting in the middle of the ring. Against Bute, a longtime friend and former sparring partner, that strategy doesn't figure to change much.

"With Glen Johnson, what you have in front of you is what you get," Bute said. "He's an aggressive fighter. He sets everything up with a nice jab, he's got a really dangerous right hand and he likes to put on the pressure. He wears his opponent down and if he puts that pressure on me all night it's going to be a long night."

It will be a show, just not the one Showtime envisioned when the network inked Bute to a three-fight deal in 2010, in part to keep him away from HBO, in part to position Bute as the challenger to the winner of the Super Six tournament. A soft touch title defense against Brian Magee was supposed to be followed by a marketable, name opponent that would build momentum toward a showdown with the tournament winner in early 2012. But Mikkel Kessler passed and Kelly Pavlik priced himself out, leaving Bute scrambling for a television-friendly opponent. Enter the 42-year old Johnson, who has plenty of big fight experience, including a majority decision defeat recently in the Super Six semifinals to Carl Froch.

"He's got credibility," Bute said. "He's been in with all the best guys in the world. Nobody can say anything about Glen Johnson. Nobody can blame him about being an opponent. He's been in with the best guys and he's been beating almost everybody. We sparred together and I know one thing, this fight is going to be hard. It's not a mismatch at all. It's going to be a hard, tough fight."

Hard, but successful, Showtime hopes. Despite the difficulties finding an appealing opponent, the network still plans on matching Bute and the winner of next month's final between Andre Ward and Carl Froch sometime next year. That fight would generate much needed exposure for Bute, who despite his rock star status in Canada -- more than 15,000 fans are expected to file into the arena on Saturday -- has a fraction of the following in the U.S. Johnson, a known commodity in the U.S. from his fights with Americans like Tarver, Roy Jones and Chad Dawson, can create a buzz. Ward or Froch can change a status.

"It remains to be seen how good he really is," Tarver said. "On the surface, he looks really good. The way he has been fighting, it reminds me a little of the way Joe Calzaghe once dominated the division. But Bute has not fought the type of opposition others have. He has not fought the Wards, the Frochs or any of the other guys in the Super Six. Johnson will be a good test. Then we will see if his talent measures up."

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