- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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Super middleweight titlist Lucian Bute was not invited to be part of Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic, the six-man tournament that is down to the semifinals, but he has followed it closely.
"I have followed the Super Six from the beginning," Bute said. "I'm a big fan of boxing and, especially since it is my weight class, I have watched every fight. I study all the fights. I study all the guys who have been in there. I can't wait for the Super Six to finish, so I can fight the guys who are available and out there."
While the fighters in the tournament have been matched tough from the outset of the tournament, Bute remained on the outside though unscathed while facing lesser opponents. The popular Montreal fighter was, by far, the best of the 168-pounders not involved in the Super Six. Some believe he is the No. 1 super middleweight in the world.
In November, with an eye on what to do with the eventual winner of the tournament, Showtime signed Bute, who had previously appeared on the network, to a multi-fight contract. The idea is for him to eventually face the Super Six winner, perhaps at the end of the year, but more likely in early 2012.
So while Andre Ward and Arthur Abraham square off in one semifinal on May 14 and Carl Froch and Glen Johnson meet in the other one, likely on May 21, Bute (27-0, 22 KOs) was not simply going to sit on the sidelines waiting for the tournament winner.
While he waits for that inevitable summit meeting, he will fight for the first time under his Showtime deal when he meets unheralded fellow southpaw Brian Magee at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Saturday night (Showtime, 10 ET/PT). Showtime will open the telecast with a replay of last Saturday's pay-per-view main event featuring junior middleweight titlist Miguel Cotto's 12th-round TKO of former titleholder Ricardo Mayorga.
With most of the best 168-pounders involved in the Super Six, the pool of quality contenders for Bute, 31, to pick from was slim, leaving Magee (34-3-1, 24 KOs), 35, of Northern Ireland to get the call.
"Magee is an experienced boxer," Bute said. "He has a good right hook, he's aggressive, he will never quit and he can punch. I can't underestimate him and I have to be well-prepared. I respect him as a fighter, but I fully expect to rain on his St. Patrick's Day parade."
Even though Magee has not lost since Froch stopped him in the 11th round in 2006, most view Magee as an opponent for Bute, the heavy favorite, to simply stay busy against.
Bute, however, insisted that he is not looking past him to the Super Six winner, or to a possible fight with former titleholder Mikkel Kessler this summer or fall. (Kessler, who is expected ringside Saturday night, was an original member of the Super Six but dropped out after Group Stage 2 because of an eye injury.)
"I feel like Brian Magee was the best opponent out there for me at this time and I'm taking this fight very seriously," said Bute, who will be making his seventh title defense. "I'm really concentrated on Brian Magee. I really haven't had time to think of anyone else. I'm just focused on Saturday. After then, I will worry about whichever opponent is going to come after my performance on Saturday.
"I don't really have too much time to worry about my next opponents. Once I sign a contract, I concentrate on my opponent and prepare two months in advance. I plan to win every minute of every round. If the knockout comes, it comes. But that's not what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to win fights and so far I've been successful and that's what I will do again on Saturday night. Once I defend my title with Brian Magee then definitely I would like to fight Mikkel Kessler. Why not? Him or anyone else in the Super Six is who I'm going to fight next."
Magee, a pro since 1999, has never fought for a major world title. But he has persevered and now has his opportunity.
He said he intends to make the most of it.
"I've had to work very hard to get here and do a lot of things to get this shot," Magee said. "I feel like I deserve it and I'm so happy to be here. It's great to be fighting the best in the division on such a massive stage. This is where you want to be as a boxer. This is a dream fight.
"I always seem to be the underdog but I've always come through. These Super Six fighters are the best fighters in the world. This division has the hardest fighters of any division in boxing. I'm going to have to box. I'm going to have to fight. When you fight a guy like Bute you have to be ready for anything. Any time you fight for a world title it's going to be a hard fight. Lucian's on such a high, signing a big contract with Showtime he'll be out to prove himself."
If Bute wins, he will be looking for an eventual fight with the Super Six winner. But what will Magee do if he pulls off the upset?
"A pint of Guinness, of course," he said. "I'm looking forward to the St. Patty's Day parade in Montreal on Sunday."
Big British show
Promoter Frank Warren has rescheduled the light heavyweight title bout between Jürgen Brähmer and Nathan Cleverly for May 21 at the O2 Arena in London and added a highly anticipated all-British battle as the co-feature of the show (on Sky Box Office pay-per-view in Britain) when James DeGale, the British super middleweight champion, meets George Groves, the Commonwealth champion.
Germany's Brahmer (36-2, 29 KOs), who will be making his third title defense, was supposed to meet interim titlist Cleverly (21-0, 10 KOs), one of Great Britain's rising talents, on April 2 but it was pushed back. Meanwhile, Warren spent weeks trying to finalize DeGale-Groves.
DeGale (10-0, 8 KOs) and Groves (12-0, 10 KOs) were amateur rivals. Groves won their amateur meeting, but DeGale went on to capture Olympic gold in 2008 and their inevitable professional showdown has been the talk of British boxing.
Warren is particularly excited about the DeGale-Groves fight.
"The super middleweight division has always had a special place in the hearts of the British public," Warren said. "I promoted some great champions in Joe Calzaghe, Chris Eubank, Steve Collins and Nigel Benn, but I believe DeGale can be better than all of them. This fight against Groves will be an absolute war though, and it's a massive test. Not only are the British and Commonwealth titles on the line, but pride is as well, and that makes this is a very special occasion."
Hopkins-Solomon a crossroads battle
It's a crossroads bout on this week's "Friday Night Fights" (ESPN2, 9 ET) as welterweight Demetrius Hopkins (30-1-1, 11 KOs) faces Brad Solomon (16-0, 7 KOs), a prospect looking to take the next step, in a scheduled 10-rounder at the Seminole Hard Rock resort in Hollywood, Fla.
Hopkins, a former title challenger with a lot of experience, thinks Solomon is too green for him to handle.
"I've been preparing for this fight for about two months," Hopkins, 30, said. "Brad Solomon is a beginner and he's still got a lot to learn. He hasn't fought top fighters like me. He hasn't been in there with wolves. It's going to be a rude awakening."
Solomon, a three-time National Golden Gloves winner, is confident.
"I've put in a lot of hard work in the gym and everyone will see how that will pay off for me," he said. "Demetrius says he's ready and in shape. That's the kind of fight I like. I like someone who will fight back. I will be like Ken Griffey Jr. and I'm going to knock the stitches off the ball. HBO, here I come."
In the co-feature, 2004 Cuban Olympic gold medalist Yan Barthelemy (11-2, 4 KOs) will face late substitute Francis Ruiz (9-3, 4 KOs), who took the place of Chris Avalos (18-1, 15 KOs), who withdrew last week, citing a hand injury. Also on the card, but not slated for television, heavyweight Cedric Boswell (33-1, 26 KOs) will face former heavyweight titleholder Oliver McCall (55-10, 37 KOs), who took the fight on short notice when Alonzo Butler pulled out.
Guillermo Rigondeaux (7-0, 5 KOs), the two-time Cuban Olympic gold medalist, makes the first defense of his interim junior featherweight belt against Ireland's Willie Casey (11-0, 7 KOs) on Saturday in Dublin. Rigondeaux claimed the belt with a split-decision victory against Ricardo Cordoba in November on the Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito undercard.
Although Rigondeaux-Casey will not be televised in the United States, it will be available live on Irish network RTE's website (www.rte.ie/live) at 6 p.m. ET.
Gary Hyde, Rigondeaux's Irish manager, is excited to have the fight in his home country, even if he does not manage the Irish fighter involved in the bout.
"Rigondeaux defending his world title in Ireland is a dream come true for me," Hyde said. "Casey is a true warrior and I'm sure that he will turn in the fight of his life to try and dethrone the greatest amateur boxer of all time. But he hasn't fought anybody close to having Guillermo's brilliance and he'll realize that right after the opening bell. In my lifetime, I have great memories of Irish fighters in world title fights -- some won and others didn't -- but Casey will not have the luck of Irish this fight."
•Cruiserweight Tom Zbikowski (2-0, 2 KOs), the 25-year-old Baltimore Ravens safety who plans to box during the NFL lockout, has been added to Top Rank's March 26 card at the Adrian Phillips Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J. He fought once in 2006 before coming back to boxing because of the labor dispute in pro football to score a first-round knockout of Richard Bryant on the Showtime PPV undercard of Miguel Cotto's junior middleweight title defense against Ricardo Mayorga. "Right now, boxing is my No. 1 sport," Zbikowski said. His fight won't be televised. HBO will carry the top two bouts on the card, Yuriorkis Gamboa's featherweight title defense against Jorge Solis and featherweight contender Mikey Garcia facing Matt Remillard.
•Junior welterweight contender Marcos Maidana is from Argentina, but he is training in Mexico City for his fight against Mexican legend Erik Morales. They meet April 9 (HBO PPV, $44.95) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in the main event of Golden Boy's "Action Heroes" card. Maidana, who is coming off a loss in a dramatic slugfest with titleholder Amir Khan in December, went to Mexico to train with Nacho Beristain, but Beristain wound up refusing to train him because his star fighter, lightweight champ Juan Manuel Marquez, did not want him to. So Maidana (29-2, 27 KOs) stayed in Mexico anyway and linked up with Rudy Perez, who is best known for his work with another Mexican legend, Marco Antonio Barrera. Perez trained Barrera to beat Morales (51-6, 35 KOs) in two of their three epic fights. "I am not training in Mexico to spite Morales in any way," Maidana said. "I feel comfortable with the Mexican people. I feel accepted by them and if I knock Morales out, like I know I can, it is my hope that the Mexican fans will adopt me as their own. I have been told many times that I have a Mexican fighting style and I hope to develop that more as I train in Mexico."
•Middleweight contender Matthew Macklin of England was added this week to the undercard of junior welterweight titlist Amir Khan's defense against Paul McCloskey on April 16 in Manchester. Golden Boy made the move because Winky Wright suffered a hand injury and withdrew from his fight with Macklin (28-2, 19 KOs), which was supposed to take place April 9 on the HBO PPV undercard of the Erik Morales-Marcos Maidana fight in Las Vegas. Macklin will face Khoren Gevor (31-5, 16 KOs) of Germany. Gevor has twice fought German countrymen for middleweight titles, getting stopped in the 12th round by Arthur Abraham in 2007 and losing a decision to Felix Sturm in 2009. In his last fight in July, Gevor moved up to challenge Dimitri Sartison for a super middleweight belt, but lost a decision.
•There are a couple of notable Top Rank fights on the schedule: Junior flyweight titlist Roman Gonzalez (27, 23 KOs) of Nicaragua, a former strawweight titleholder before moving up in weight, makes his first title defense against Mexico's Manuel Vargas (29-7-1, 14 KOs) on "Top Rank Live" on Saturday night (Fox Deportes, 10 ET) in Puebla, Mexico. Top Rank also wrapped up the April 16 Showtime opener when former junior lightweight titlist Roman "Rocky" Martinez (24-1-1, 15 KOs), fighting for the first time since losing his title in Scotland to Ricky Burns in a September barnburner, meets fellow Puerto Rican Luis Cruz (17-0, 14 KOs). Featherweight titlist Juan Manuel Lopez (30-0, 27 KOs) defends against Orlando Salido (34-11-2, 22 KOs) in the main event.
•Junior middleweight contender Vanes Martirosyan (28-0, 17 KOs), out of action since last June, when he beat Joe Greene on HBO at Yankee Stadium on the Miguel Cotto-Yuri Foreman undercard, returns Saturday night. He was out because various fights fell through, but he will make his return at the Bell Centre in Montreal on the untelevised undercard of super middleweight titlist Lucian Bute's defense against Brian Magee. Martirosyan faces Mexico's Bladimir Hernandez (18-4, 16 KOs). "I can't wait until I get back into the ring on Saturday night in Montreal," Martirosyan said. "I am looking to make a big statement." Also on the undercard, Ontario light heavyweight Colin "Fish" McFadden, 20, a four-time Canadian amateur champion, makes his pro debut. McFadden, who was 69-7 as an amateur, is managed by Cameron Dunkin and promoted by Top Rank. He wound up with that team on the recommendation of pal Steve Molitor, a junior featherweight titlist managed by Dunkin and promoted by Top Rank.
•Coming off last week's split decision victory against Manuel Leyva in a welterweight bout, former lightweight and junior lightweight titlist Joel Casamayor (38-5-1, 22 KOs) hopes to land a bigger fight. Ideally, the 39-year-old he would like to fight somebody in the top 10 at junior welterweight or lightweight. "I know I can compete at the top level," said Casamayor, who is 2-2 in his last four bouts. "I just beat Leyva, who had only been beaten once in 18 fights. My only losses in the past five years are to Juan Manuel Marquez and Robert Guerrero, who many consider to be the best in the lightweight division. My track record shows that I'll fight anyone, anytime, so I want to let everyone know that I'm not going anywhere. My goal is to keep winning, and eventually get another title shot at lightweight or junior welterweight."
"This fight is exactly what boxing needs right now, two young fighters in their primes going head-to-head." -- welterweight titlist Andre Berto on the announcement of his defense against Victor Ortiz on April 16 (HBO) at the MGM Grand Theater at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn.
"I'm tired of people saying that I have no heart or no balls. At the end of the day, I'm not scared of getting in the ring or challenging anyone. On April 16, I'm taking the title home." -- Ortiz, whose heart has been questioned after he quit against Marcos Maidana in 2009, on his fight with Berto.
While the Super Six semifinals shape up to Andre Ward vs. Arthur Abraham and Carl Froch vs. Glen Johnson, Lucian Bute awaits the final winner by biding his time with a fight against Brian Magee.