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The Super Middleweight Division Is Now Something Less Than That

BY George Kimball ON October 18, 2010
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MONTREAL --- How did Lucian Bute’s knockout of Jesse Brinkley affect the super-middleweight Big Picture?

It didn’t.

For pretty much the same reasons that HBO, much as it would loved to have kicked rival Showtime while it was down, elected to pass on televising Friday night’s fight at the Bell Centre, Bute wasn’t going to get much credit for beating up on Brinkley, whether he did it in nine rounds or nine seconds.

Even though he seemed to be sleepwalking through what turned out to be the first third of the fight, once Bute found a comfortable range he put the erstwhile Contender star away with comparative ease, knocking him down once with a pulverizing body shot (in the fifth round), and again with a short left (in the eighth) before leaving him for dead with one of those big lefts that have come to be recognized as Bute’s stock-in-trade: A lightning bolt delivered, improbably enough – given that the IBF champion is roughly half a head taller than his opponent – as a quasi-uppercut. By the time it connected face-first with its target, the punch had picked up enough steam that Brinkley said “it felt like it shattered my eyeball.

Thanks in part to Bute’s apparent indifference in the early going – instead of capitalizing on his significant reach advantage by using his jab, Bute looked like a man using his right hand to clear a path through the snow – Brinkley’s ham-and-egg approach probably appeared more effective than it actually was. Although even the locals gave Jesse his props – said Le Journal de Quebec: “L’Américain a démontré beaucoup de courage et du cœur en amenant le duel jusqu’au 9e round, in the end Brinkley, by his own description, demonstrated only “that I can take a beating, and of course we already knew that.

With Showtime’s World Championship Series in some disarray, Bute’s win probably set the IBF champion up for HBO’s next step in counter-programming. (Bute-Kelly Pavlik at the Bell sometime early next year). And while his latest conquest may not have set the undefeated (27-0) IBF champion apart from the Andre Ward-Arthur Abraham-Carl Froch nexus that remains from Showtime’s original Super Six, he clearly demonstrated that his name would not be misplaced in that company, which is more than you can say for the trio of also-rans with which embattled Showtime has had to resort to fill out the field.

Although thoroughly outclassed by Bute in suffering his first loss under trainer Peter Manfredo Sr., Brinkley has vowed to fight on. His future at 168 pounds might not be great, but at least he has one, which is more than you can say for Jermaine Taylor and Mikkel Kessler and Andre Dirrell, whose careers all became casualties to what began as an earnest and high-minded, if somewhat ambitious, process dreampt up by Showtime’s Ken Hershman.

(And say what you will about Brinkley’s limited talents; throw him in a round-robin with Allan Green and Glencoffe Johnson and Sakio Bika, who presently comprise the lower echelon of what might be called “Super Six: The Next Generation, and Jesse might win a fight or two.)

Actually, a day before Bute fought Brinkley, Showtime issued its latest communiqué re-defining the status of its limping super-middleweight venture. The most noteworthy development is that while Bika will now fight Ward in the second half of the network’s doubleheader (the tape-delay of Abraham-Froch from Helsinki is the other), that bout will not be tabulated as an official Super Six bout in the standings.

Rather, Ward is now deemed to have won by forfeit over Dirrell, who pulled out of their scheduled meeting with lingering neurological problems. Fair enough, but it’s also fair to ask at this point why by the same logic Green wasn’t awarded a forfeit victory over Kessler when the Dane did precisely the same thing. And for that matter, why Abraham didn’t just get a walkover when Froch withdrew from their scheduled fight in Monte Carlo earlier this month.

In any case, Ward basically gets to pocket an extra Showtime purse to compensate for the lost Dirrell payday and the network doesn’t run the risk of having Bika intrude into its four-man semifinal at the conclusion of Stage Three.

Ward-Bika, by the way, will officially be a WBA title fight. Anyone tempted to retroactively belittle the IBF for mandating Bute-Brinkley should bear that in mind before casting any stones.

Green-Johnson, now scheduled as part of the Nov. 6 Juan Manuel Lopez-Rafael Marquez undercard, will count as a Super Six fight, with a high probability that the winner will advance to join Ward, Abraham, and Froch in the semifinals. (And if this doesn’t piss you off, it should: Abraham, who has ended the careers of two original Super Six participants, one of them with a deliberate foul, is guaranteed millions more as a semifinalist.)

Another little sidelight worth considering, is that on the same night and in the same ring in which Bute mastered Brinkley, veteran Omar Sheika knocked down former IBF light-heavyweight champion Adrian Diaconu in the second, but then promptly lost the next eight rounds and announced his retirement. One couldn’t help but pondering that even in losing to an essentially useless fighter like Diaconu, Sheika showed enough to make him competitive with the likes of Green and Bika and Johnson – whom he actually beat at 168 ten years ago.

In fact, throw a net over the whole bunch of them and there’s not a lot to choose from, but as super-middleweights Brinkley and Sheika and Sika and Green and Johnson have one thing in common. They have all fought for super-middleweight titles, and between them their aggregate record in those championship fights is 0-8-1. (The lone blemish was Bika’s 2006 technical draw with Markus Beyer, occasioned when their fight was stopped by an accidental head butt.)

This doesn’t mean we don’t have some decent fights to look forward to, but when you consider that one of the above suspects is going to be part of Showtime’s Final Four and that Bute, moreover, is not, those who not long ago were describing the 168-pound division as “deep and “talent-laden may have been deluding themselves on both counts.

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