- Joe Tessitore, Boxing
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You ever read about those guys in Las Vegas who set the football point spreads? The moment the Sunday NFL games are over, they could tell you the exact line on next week's games. Their brains seemingly have been replaced by some gridiron slide rule. But it's the NFL, a precise system of parity, where even the average fan can tell you home field is worth a field goal.
Trying to figure out who is favored, why and by how much in boxing doesn't quite work that way. Take this week's "Friday Night Fights" (10 p.m. ESPN2) main event for example.
Sakio Bika has fought on the road for two world titles in the past 13 months in two different countries. In that same span, Lucian Bute has fought three overmatched opponents in his hometown.
Last October, Bika fought very hard and determined against undefeated Joe Calzaghe. It was in the champ's backyard in front of 22,000 Welsh fans. They watched Calzaghe frustrated in losing late rounds to Bika before holding on to a decision win.
Meanwhile, Bute's three blowout wins came against opponents with 16 combined losses.
Bika, 28, was a 2000 Olympian. He is athletic, fast, hard training. He's in tremendous physical condition. He can punch and loves to brawl.
Bute is a boxer who missed out on the Olympics. He has shown he can stick and move skillfully, but he showed it against journeymen.
Bika is clearly the story, right?
Wrong. It's all about Bute.
Ring magazine ranks him as the sixth-best super middleweight in the world. It rates Bika No. 10. Bute (pronounced Boo-TAY) is the reason the ESPN boxing circus is heading to Montreal.
Bute (19-0, 16 KOs) turned pro in Montreal in 2003. He is originally from Romania, but signed on with Montreal-based promoters. It was a smart move.
This past January, while the NHL's Canadiens were at Toronto, the city's off-the-ice warrior packed nearly 10,000 into the Bell Centre.
Les Habs better watch themselves. Many think Bute, 27, has a much better chance of winning a world title before Le Tricolore hoists Lord Stanley's cup for the 25th time.
Still, isn't Bika the better bet?
"I did my homework as I always do. I watched video of Bika," Lucian said. "I've got quality sparring. I've got good guys that have prepared me for that kind of challenge. As always, I'm in good shape."
I'm sure WBC champ Marcus Beyer was in good shape too, but he was stunned by Bika's aggression early on in their 2006 title fight. The champ eventually was cut by a clash of heads; when the fight was forced to the scorecards it was a technical draw.
Bika (22-2-2, 14 KOs) is traveling a long way for this IBF eliminator. Sydney, Australia is home for the Cameroon native. He won't be scared of the setting. Fighting Bute in front of his fans is nothing for the man who played with African scorpions growing up as a kid. Bute's people know Bika can sting.
Bute's trainer Stephane Larouche said, "Bika is for sure his toughest test as a pro. Bika is a surprising fighter; he throws punches from weird angles. He's a dirty guy inside and he's an awkward fighter. It could become a frustrating fight, but Lucian is aware of it."
The southpaw Bute is taller by 1-½ inches. And Bute owns the most important statistical difference: He's undefeated.
"Undefeated" has a way of overcoming recent title shot past performances. "Undefeated" has a way of leapfrogging those "on paper" theories as to which fighter has the advantage. "Undefeated", plus fighting in your hometown, has a way of equaling "still undefeated." And that is why Bute is the story.
Joe Tessitore is the blow-by-blow announcer for ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."
51mEthan Sherwood Strauss