Bute's career on line against Johnson

GRANT LAFLECHE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:15 PM ET

There is an old adage that claims the only way to truly know a man is to fight him.

In the heat of combat, a person is revealed for who they really are. Coward or Warrior. Villain or Hero. Commoner or King.

Legendary boxing trainer Teddy Atlas made the point more simply. The boxing ring, he says, is the Chamber of Truth.

If these more poetic axioms of the savage beauty of boxing are true, then Lucian Bute and Glen Johnson know each other as well as two men can. And whatever truths are left to be discovered will be found a Quebec City ring Saturday night.

Their friendship was forged two years ago over 96 rounds of sparring in preparation for two of the biggest fights of their careers. Each pushing the other to a place where reactive violence is as natural as breathing.

On Saturday night at the Pepsi Coliseum, that friendship will matter little. What will matter is who best learned their lessons when the fight for Bute's IBF super middleweight championship begins.

"We've got mutual respect for each other," says Bute. "I really cheered for him when the fought Allan Green and also when he fought Carl Froch. But with this, my career is on the line. It has nothing to do with respect or friendship. If I have to fight I'm going to give it my all.

"There are no friends in the ring. We're going to be friends after the bout."

On paper, the Montreal-based, Romanian-born champion has every advantage by his sport's cold, if sometimes cruel, arithmetic.

Bute will defend his title before Quebec fight fans who adore him and roar each time his crippling body punches toppled another challenger. At 31, he is young and in his prime. Johnson is 42, the distant twilight of most fighter's careers, where the pugilistic values of heart and courage -- both qualities Johnson has in abundance -- can get crushed against the hard reality of youth and strength.

Johnson, known as the Road Warrior for his penchant of traveling to fight anyone, anywhere, isn't just older. He has more mileage.

The Jamaican-born, former light heavyweight champion has fought 68 times professionally, winning 51, losing 15 and drawing twice. Bute is unbeaten, having dispatched all 29 of his professional foes.

And this is where the calculation could crumble.

Bute is younger, taller, with lightning fists that deliver a thunder bolt of an upper-cut. But one of the truths of his career is that, with few exceptions, Bute has faced inferior boxers. The top fighters in the division, including Johnson, have been busy locked in the Super Six World Boxing Classic, a high-profile tournament designed to crown a king. Oddly excluded from the tournament, Bute has been barreling though the B-list.

Johnson has faced a legion of fighters from the good to the legendary.

Bernard Hopkins. Roy Jones Jr. Antonio Tarver, twice. "Bad" Chad Dawson. He has not always won, but each opponent learned what resides in Johnson's heart.

His last attempt at a title was against Englishman and WBC super middleweight champion Carl Froch, who beat Johnson over a hard-fought 12 rounds. Froch said hitting Johnson was akin to punching an oak, and the pressure did not stop until the final bell.

"I was very disappointed in what I was doing," Johnson says of the Froch fight. "It was a close fight and it was an exciting fight and I know I have plenty more in me than what I showed him."

This is why Bute says his career is on the line.

Johnson is regarded as his most serious test. If he wins, Bute becomes a legitimate threat to the likes of Froch. If he loses, he takes a step back toward the ranks of the ordinary.

"Glen Johnson has seen almost everything in boxing. He's always there and always in great condition," Bute says. "I can say by far he is the best opponent with the best credibility. His resume speaks for itself, so for me it's a major step up."

The fight is a curious echo of the last major title bout in Quebec -- the May light heavy weight showdown in Montreal between the 28-year-old champion Jean Pascal of Laval, Que., and 46-year-old American Bernard Hopkins. Although he possessed nearly every possible physical advantage, Pascal was out-foxed and out-boxed by Hopkins, who became the oldest boxing champion in history.

Hopkins' victory was built on guile as much as punches. On a keen grasp of the younger man's mind as much as where to place his fists.

Whether Johnson can emulate Hopkins may well depend on what he learned about Bute in those 96 rounds of sparring.

"He's a great fighter. He has a lot talents, a lot skills," Johnson says of Bute. "He ranks amongst the best guys. But this is not sparring. This is fighting. It's a whole different level of fighting."


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