NOTTINGHAM, England -- Lucian Bute reads his press clippings. Has to, or else he wouldn't be here.
Bute, 32, is the undefeated (30-0), TV-friendly (HBO, Showtime and Epix love him) IBF super middleweight champion. He's a rock star, routinely drawing raucous crowds north of 15,000 to venues in Montreal and Quebec City.
So what in the name of Stephen Harper is Bute doing here, preparing to fight Carl Froch in Froch's own backyard?
It's because Bute reads his press clippings. The knock on Bute, if there is one, is that he has never traveled far from home, rarely fighting outside of Quebec (where Bute emigrated to in 2003) or his native Romania. By most accounts Bute has had only one incident of hometown helper, a cartoonish count from a referee in his 2008 fight with Librado Andrade that saved Bute from being knocked out. But for the last four years, critics have been making him eat it.
So Bute is here, deep in enemy territory, attempting to erase the one question mark on his resume when he defends his title against Froch (28-2) at Nottingham Arena (6 p.m. ET, Epix/EpixHD.com).
"We made [Froch] an offer to come to Montreal," Bute explained. "He turned it down. He wanted to fight at home. So we told his promoter make us an offer. [We said], 'We're going to go defend the belt in your place and we'll prove everybody wrong that I'm only fighting in [Canada].' I asked to go out to prove myself."
The training for this fight has been a little rocky. Last month, Bute developed blisters on his right big toe. The blisters eventually infected his foot that, according to Bute, was severe enough that had he not addressed it he may have lost his toe. That type of disruption could have justified Bute pulling out of the fight. Instead, he chose to soldier on.
"So far, everything has disappeared," said Bute's trainer, Stephan Larouche. "He has no more infection. We cannot even see it anymore. He's bouncing [on his feet] as he used to."
Then there's Froch, who was not the opponent Bute expected to be preparing for. For more than a year Bute was hyped as the next opponent for the winner of the Super Six tournament. But Andre Ward balked, leaving Bute scrambling for a new opponent. Enter Froch, the Super Six runner up and arguably the most marketable super middleweight in the world.
In a way, Bute has an opportunity to top Ward. In December, Ward beat Froch by decision. Bute, who has stopped six of his last seven opponents, has an opportunity to knock him out.
"It makes sense to think that way, but I don't want to make the mistake of thinking beyond Carl Froch," Bute said. "I'm here, I've been focusing on this guy right now, and people can make their own call on this. People are going to make their own evaluation, but now I would like to say I, yes, I want to compare myself [to Ward]. But at the same time, I'm just now focusing on Carl Froch."
A knockout may be the only way Bute can win. Hometown fighters have been known to get favorable decisions in Europe (see Dereck Chisora vs. Robert Helenius, Matthew Macklin vs. Felix Sturm) and the judges will have a deafening crowd of more than 10,000 echoing in their ears.
"If he has moments that last two to three seconds [of rounds] where he loses his concentration, as happens sometimes in Montreal, that could hurt him," said Larouche. "He's going to have to be sharper in his transition between coming forward and going on the defensive. He can't let Carl Froch think for even one second that he's feeling discouraged."
Still, Bute isn't lacking for motivation. Froch has been critical of Bute in recent weeks, calling him overrated, accusing him of hand picking his opponents and, like many others, invoking the '08 Andrade fight as proof that Bute is beatable.
"I have to admit, he's probably my toughest or highest quality opponent I have faced so far," Bute said. "He's strong. He's wild. He [has] never been disqualified. We've seen that in a lot of fights. He's always in it until the end, and accounting for these things, he brings strength, confidence and a lot of will to win. But I know who I am, I know what I did, and I know [how] I work. And let's see what's going to happen on Saturday."