Froch puts Bute on back burner

In May, Carl Froch came roaring back from a one-sided decision loss to Andre Ward in December in their unification fight in the final of the Super Six World Boxing Classic. On a magical night in his hometown of Nottingham, England, Froch scored a thrilling, upset fifth-round knockout of Lucian Bute to claim a super middleweight world title for the third time, taking Bute's undefeated record along with the belt.

Although the Ward loss won't be forgotten, Froch was back on top as his fans celebrated his victory over Bute into the wee hours.

But now Froch must put that memorable win behind him as he prepares for his first defense, against Yusaf Mack of Philadelphia, knowing that a rematch with Bute is likely on deck for March in Bute's hometown of Montreal.

Bute (31-1, 24 KOs) struggled to survive an interim bout on Nov. 3, although he closed strong for a unanimous decision victory against the determined Denis Grachev. Now it's Froch's turn to take care of his interim opponent when he meets Mack on Saturday (Integrated Sports PPV, 3 p.m., $29.95) at the Capital FM Arena in Nottingham, the same arena where Froch took out Bute.

Besides Bute, Froch also has designs on potential rematches with Ward and former titleholder Mikkel Kessler, both of whom outpointed him during the Super Six tournament.

Froch knows that those fights will be further out of reach if he loses to Mack.

"At this level, and as a world champion, there's no second in a fight that you can let your guard down, and you have to be at 100 percent," Froch said. "I have prepared as hard for this fight as I did for the previous eight world title fights, for my British title fights, for my Commonwealth title fights and for my debut back in 2002.

"If I come unstuck in this fight, then everything I have achieved over the last few years will go to waste. People ask me about Lucian Bute, Andre Ward and Mikkel Kessler fights, so I answer their questions. It's only natural for them to ask; they are fights people want to see. But believe me, I only have Yusaf Mack on my mind."

The pay-per-view will also feature undercard bouts, including British light heavyweight contender Tony Bellew (18-1, 12 KOs), coming off a ninth-round knockout of Edison Miranda in September, facing Roberto Bolonti (30-1, 19 KOs) of Argentina in a scheduled 12-round bout.

Mack (31-4, 17 KOs), 32, has done what he can to aggravate Froch (29-2, 21 KOs), 35, going so far as to call him "a fake Joe Calzaghe" during an interview on the British boxing television program "Ringside."

The reference was to the former longtime super middleweight champion from Wales and likely future Hall of Famer, whom Froch always wanted to fight but never got the chance.

The comment annoyed Froch, who said that Mack would "face his wrath" when they meet in the ring.

"I was just letting him know that he said too much when my back was turned, and it might be inside his mind that I'm a bit wound up," said Froch, a heavy betting favorite in the British betting parlors. "I just wanted him to know he talked a load of rubbish on 'Ringside' about Joe Calzaghe, but he probably spoke without thinking, so I put him right on that."

Mack is experienced and has fought at light heavyweight since 2008, so he is dropping down one weight class for the opportunity against Froch.

"He's a natural light heavyweight who is dropping down, so he's a puncher but also a nice boxer and a mover, too," Froch said. "You don't get world title shots for no reason. He can more than handle himself in the ring, and I know that I have to be completely focused on the fight, as this guy is dangerous and he wants to shock the world of boxing by taking my belt in my hometown.

"So I've got to give this guy respect and take him very seriously because this is his world title fight and his big opportunity to come over here and cause an upset."

Froch's respect for Mack is admirable, but for all of Mack's experience, he hasn't fared well when he has stepped up in competition.

All four of his losses have come by knockout against his best opponents, including two of them at super middleweight.

Former super middleweight titlist Alejandro Berrio, a big puncher, stopped him in the sixth round of a 2006 title eliminator. In 2007, longtime super middleweight contender Librado Andrade knocked him out in the seventh round, dropping Mack three times.

In 2010, it was former light heavyweight champion Glen Johnson who stopped him in the sixth round of a title elimination fight. And in Mack's one world title fight, light heavyweight titlist Tavoris Cloud knocked him out in the eighth round in 2011.

Mack won two bouts in a row after losing to Cloud before being selected by Froch's team.

"I have to put on a good performance, be strong, sharp and confident, put my work together and put educated pressure on him because he could be dangerous," Froch said. "He's not a big and tall light heavyweight, so he could be better at super middleweight, so I'm not taking anything for granted and I am making sure that I do my work right, and that will be enough to defend my title in style."

Mack really has nothing to lose and everything to gain against Froch.

"I got under his skin with the Calzaghe comment and I hope that's to my advantage on the night," said Mack, who counted former cruiserweight titlist and fellow Philly fighter Steve Cunningham as one of his sparring partners. "On Saturday, I'm going to prove that I'm ready for this fight. I've lived in the gym and I've given myself the chance to show that I am the fighter I can be. I really believe I'm going to be taking the belt home.

"I haven't come to fight the crowd. I'll block them out on Saturday and I have nothing to prove to them. Froch has the pressure to impress them, not me. He's said he's going to knock me out, so the pressure is on him to do that. And when I'm still standing there after the sixth round, when people think I'm going to tire, what's he going to do? I don't fade and he can't beat me."

Froch, however, is predicting a knockout victory.

"He will have seen what I did to Lucian Bute," Froch said. "He knows that if I get into a rhythm and get my shots off, it's good night. So he'll be at me from the start, wanting to make an impression to get me on the back foot, and I'll be doing the same. It's going to be a ferocious pace and great to watch.

"I'm not one for picking a round, but I think that it's going to be a knockout night for me again in front of my home fans. Yusaf Mack has never been in an atmosphere like a sold-out Carl Froch show in Nottingham. The viewers are in for a real treat. When my fans get behind me, my punches are that much harder, and he'll be in real trouble on the night."