Pugilist: Make or break for fearless Froch
If one boxer deserves a monumental victory in front of his home town crowd, it's Nottingham's Carl Froch.
In an age where convincing two marquee fighters in any one weight division to agree to a high-stakes bout where either man could realistically win - or lose - is the biggest challenge, the 34-year-old has taken the opposite route in his quest to build a memorable legacy at super-middleweight.
Up to May 26 2012, Froch has done just that. His string of compelling ring wars will no doubt be recalled vividly and held in high regard by many a boxing purist for years to come, his name a shoo-in for any British top 10 — perhaps even a world top 20 — at 168lbs.
But to think the former two-times WBC champion is content with that, however, is naive.
Froch is one of the sport's most self-conscious men, never satisfied with his accomplishments, always wanting more, always eager to one-up himself and his last fight.
In fact, his perpetual air of discontent is precisely what has driven him to far greater heights than he arguably would ever have reached as an easy-going slugger, floating blindly on a trail blazed by an over-protective promoter.
It is this intrepid ambition which has seen Froch rise from humble beginnings at East London's York Hall to sacrifice a 26-0 record in order to accept the terms of the best available opponents from Scandinavia to the United States.
Now the roles are reversed. Froch will play host to Lucian Bute, a man who until now has only taken on three fights outside his birthplace Romania or his current residence in Canada — all three taking place in the USA, and all before 2005.
After winning over the nation with his willingness to give the boxing public the sort of action they actually want to see, whether in victory or defeat, a third world crown in his own back yard would make for a fantastic moment, one which would give the Sports Personality of the Year award an outside chance of NOT landing in the lap of an Olympian this year. (Or maybe not...)
But it's not that simple. It never is.
Bute is undefeated after 30 fights, and will be making his 10th defence of the IBF belt. More importantly, the 32-year-old has looked extremely impressive during his championship tenure.
His one and only blip, a win via a ridiculous piece of home-town refereeing which provided him with a reprieve against Mexican Librado Andrade in 2008, was avenged in brutal fashion the following year with a fourth-round stoppage. Though truth be told, Bute dominated the first fight before being caught cold in the final round.
Bute's fluid movement, confident swagger and ability to control the flow of the contest stands a good chance of provoking flashbacks of Froch's last fight, the loss of his second WBC title to Andre Ward.
Though the Englishman's relentless pressing proved a potentially good answer to the questions raised by Ward's majestic rhythm, the 'Son of God' unleashed his hidden weapon — a cracking display of back-foot counter-punching — to remain on top of the fight, even from the inside.
It may well come down to what Bute can do when he is allowed zero room to manoeuvre, no time to collect his thoughts, by an unremitting challenger before a rabid Nottingham crowd, miles out of his comfort zone.
Fighting Froch in England will be the gauge of how true a champion 'Le Tombeur' really is. He now finds himself in the 'Carl Froch' position of doing things the hard way, quenching the competitor's natural thirst to prove themselves in scenarios of adversity.
It is worth remembering, however, that playing the role of home hope carries its own pressures, its own expectations, and its own consequences in defeat.
Though Froch has done battle at the Trent/Capital FM Arena 13 times and won them all, things have changed since his split decision title retention against Andre Dirrell in 2009.
His undefeated streak now being a thing of the past is nothing but superficial, especially watching Froch's determination against Ward, Arthur Abraham and Glen Johnson. It is not what has happened in the past that may frighten the usually-unflappable fighter; it is what may happen in the future.
Come the final bell on Saturday, Carl Froch will have competed against every worthy fighter of his era at super-middleweight. And if Bute adds a third L to his record, his impressive career standings will nonetheless have him as coming up short against the two 168'ers in the pound-for-pound top 10.
The Pugilist wonders whether a proud warrior like Froch will be able to live with being an also-ran; a B-student who can defeat some of the best, but never the very best. The proverbial glass ceiling has hit many a boxer harder than any opponent ever could.
It's something Froch has to shut out of his mind, if only for an hour on Saturday night. And if he is able to locate the unbreakable Bute's Achilles heel, the rewards will be the richest he has ever enjoyed; better than both WBC reigns combined.
One thing is for sure: whatever his methods of keeping focused on the task at hand, they cannot be as unique as the champion's own ways of adapting to the pressure. Ahem.
No easy way out, indeed.