It's official. I really dig Carl Froch.
I've seen him fight a few times in a few years -- in both wins and losses -- and he's always reminded me a little bit of another slick U.K. super middleweight elitist, one Joe Calzaghe.
I got on the Calzaghe bandwagon just before his career-erupting defeat of Jeff Lacy and rode it through wins over Mikkel Kessler and Bernard Hopkins, so seeing another guy from that part of the world climbing the 168-pound ladder automatically warrants my extra attention.
Full disclosure...I was the idiot who thought a faded Roy Jones Jr. would beat him.
That notwithstanding, one of the things I always admired about Calzaghe, other than the fact that he shares a March 23 birthday with my son, was the smooth- talking assassin persona he unfailingly displayed before fights -- regardless of their opponent, significance or stage.
The dude talked the talk, and -- be it in Cardiff for Kessler, Las Vegas for Hopkins or New York for the swan song battering of Jones -- he walked the walk.
Now, heading into what's arguably his own career's most vital night -- on home turf against an unbeaten belt-holder amid a sea of down-the-line money shots -- Froch strides in with the same cocky assuredness of that very Welshman who never did get beat.
Even though, only five months ago...he lost 24 of 36 rounds on the cards to Andre Ward.
"I'm switched on. I'm ready," Froch said. "And I'm not licking my wounds. I'm not sulking. I'm not feeling sorry for myself because I lost my last fight. I'm really not.
"I'm taking confidence from that loss. I know where I went wrong and I know what I need to do to put it right. And I can beat Lucian Bute. I'm going to be a three-time world champion.
"That's the kind of stuff legends are made of."
While I concede the "legends" talk is a mite premature -- at least until Froch convincingly reverses course with Ward; not to mention Kessler, who outpointed him in 2010 -- you've got to like the bravado shown by a guy who not only reads the script...but believes the words.
And it's not just Froch who legitimately sees -- in spite of his 30 straight wins, 24 KOs and nine title defenses -- that the jury on Bute remains out, particularly when compared to the Saturday challenger's superior quality of opposition and history of leaving the comfort zone.
"You know I've been there with Pascal, Jermain Taylor, Andre Dirrell, who is a great fighter; Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham," Froch said. "I don't need to reel them off, but very top-level, elite-level fighters. You can't look at Bute's resume and say the same. He hasn't."
"And that doesn't mean he's not a great fighter and he's not good enough to do that and go in there and beat them. But what it does mean is we don't know. We just don't know."
The trip to Froch's Nottingham backyard marks the first time Bute has fought in the U.K. and just the second time he's landed outside Canada since 2005. The champion has reportedly tried to prepare for the environment -- a la NFL teams -- by pumping crowd noise into the gym.
Not surprisingly, Froch -- who's fought in the U.S., Denmark and Finland and is 13-0 at home with nine KOs -- is unconvinced.
"It's not just the noise. It's the feelings, the vibrations. You can feel the noise. You can't just hear it. It's deafening in the arena," he said. "I mean, I know he's fighting in front of 17,000 or whatever it is in the Bell Centre (in Montreal), but it's a very reserved crowd that sort of sits there and behaves and doesn't make much noise.
"The atmosphere in the Nottingham arena, he's not going to be ready for that. And you know playing the tapes and making noise; it may or may not help him."
In fact, Froch claims Bute only accepted the Nottingham site with the caveat that a subsequent rematch be moved to his own home base in Montreal, where he's fought 21 times.
Meanwhile, Bute insists that it was Froch -- after visiting three countries in four fights since last fighting in Nottingham in 2009 -- who turned down an offer to come to Quebec, prompting him to make the sacrifice to keep the fight alive.
Froch is ranked fifth at 168 by the IBF -- trailing No. 2 Adonis Stevenson, No. 3 Edwin Rodriguez and No. 4 Abraham, whom he shut out on two cards and won 11 rounds from on the other when they fought for the vacant WBC title 18 months ago.
The No. 1 position is blank.
"Maybe he was right saying that he was away from home for a while," Bute said. "He wanted to fight at home. So we just told his promoter make us an offer. We're going to go defend the belt in your place and we'll prove everybody wrong that I'm only fighting in Montreal.
"So I asked to go out to prove myself. Maybe he's saying that to convince himself, or to explain to himself why I did agree in coming to set an event."
This week's title-fight schedule:
SATURDAY IBF super middleweight title -- Nottingham, United Kingdom Lucian Bute (champion) vs. Carl Froch (No. 5 contender) Bute (30-0, 24 KO): Tenth title defense; First fight in United Kingdom Froch (28-2, 20 KO): Eighth title fight (5-2); Two reigns as WBC champ (three defenses) Fitzbitz says: "Bute is an unknown quantity to many, while Froch has unquestionably been in with the best -- courtesy of Showtime. That exposure will be a payoff here, especially with the hometown crowd, and perhaps judges, as a tiebreaker." Froch by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder -- no interim, diamond, silver, etc. For example, fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Last week's picks: 1-1 Overall picks record: 400-137 (74.4 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who's written professionally since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @fitzbitz