Perhaps Lucian Bute ought to consider himself fortunate. The International Boxing Federation super middleweight champion, who defends his title on Friday against Jesse Brinkley at the Bell Centre in Montreal, wasn't invited to participate in Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic.
It was a head-scratching decision at the time, though it clearly has worked out quite well for Bute. Given the rate that fighters are being injured and dropping out of the six-man field, Bute might be in a cast now had he been offered and accepted a spot.
Bute has operated outside of the spotlight of the Super Six, but he's become arguably the most well-known and most talked about 168-pound fighter in the world, with the possible exception of Super Six favorite Andre Ward.
And whoever wins the tournament is going to have to deal with Bute, who is 26-0 and has made five successful defenses of his belt after winning it three years ago by stopping Alejandro Berrio in the 11th round.
His five consecutive successful defenses are more than the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard ever made of one belt and he's become so popular in Canada that a potential match with light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal is already being labeled the "Ali-Frazier of Canada."
That's extraordinarily high praise, because the March 8, 1971, fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden in New York was perhaps the most significant and hotly anticipated bout of all time.
In Montreal, Bute is nearly as revered as the city's hockey heroes. The fight with Brinkley already has sold more than 12,000 tickets, promoter Jean Bedard said, and could wind up with more than 14,000. Bedard said that Bute's pay-per-view shows in Canada are also big business.
"It says a lot about Bute and the impact he has had here that we can get these kinds of crowds without a very popular guy facing him," Bedard said. "Jesse Brinkley, the people here really don't know him. They don't know what he looks like, how he fights. [The expected large attendance and pay-per-view sales] is because of Bute and his personal charisma."
Bute learned to speak French not long after moving to Montreal in 2003, which didn't hurt his popularity among the natives, and he speaks English, as well. Bute, though, is an icon in Quebec largely because he can fight. He's unbeaten with 21 knockouts and is even being considered for the pound-for-pound Top 10.
He won a decision over Librado Andrade in Montreal on Oct. 24, 2008, that became shrouded in controversy when he appeared to have been knocked out in the final seconds of the fight but was saved by an apparent long count from referee Marlon B. Wright. Bute had clearly outboxed Andrade that night and when he made it to the final bell – with an assist, many claim, from the Montreal-based Wright – he took the deserved decision. He was clearly fatigued at the end of the fight and went down from exhaustion as much as from any blows, but he did manage to get to his feet.
When there was a rematch, Bute erased any questions, knocking out Andrade in the fourth. He followed that in April by stopping Edison Miranda in the third.
A win over Brinkley on Friday would set him up for a major bout in March and would make him a front-runner to meet the eventual Super Six winner.
Brinkley has a tough task ahead of him and concedes that if the bout is close, the decision is likely going to go to Bute.
But Brinkley, who has been regarded as little more than a charismatic journeyman while fashioning a 35-5 record, said he's a different man in the last three years. He said he had a revelation while in the midst of a loss to Robin Reid in London on March 30, 2007.
He came to believe during the fight that he was good enough to defeat Reid, a former world champion, but by the time he came to that realization in the middle of the bout, he was completely shot. He only trained half-heartedly and didn't have what it takes to mount a comeback. He lost a unanimous decision, his fourth defeat in five outings, but left the ring with a sense of purpose.
He needed to commit himself to the sport because he knew he could achieve more than he had in the sport.
"I didn't train really at all," Brinkley said of the fight with Reid. "I trained a little bit. I trained to a certain extent, but I didn't train like a world champion. I didn't work like a world-class athlete would. I was pretty much on my own. It was an embarrassment, looking back on it. And halfway through that fight, [trainer] Peter [Manfredo Sr.] said to me, 'Hey Jesse, come on. You can beat this guy.' And when I hear that, I'm thinking, 'Wow, these people believe in me and believe I can beat this guy,' but my body had nothing left. I didn't give myself a chance. I had no speed left. No power. I knew I had so much more left in me that could be pulled out.
"I just decided to give it one more shot and to train the way I should have been all along. I really decided to get in there and do the work and put the time in and do the things a professional, world-class athlete would do. And all of a sudden, the fights became easy."
He's reeled off nine in a row and finds himself preparing to fight one of the sport's fast-rising stars.
He's done the work, spending months in Providence, R.I., working with Manfredo, though he concedes it's difficult to come up with a plan for Bute.
"I believe in myself and I believe that I've done what it takes to put myself into position to win the fight," Brinkley said. "Now, I have to go out and do it. And let's be honest here: Lucian is a monster. The guy is very good. It's hard to come up with a game plan for him given that no one has figured him out yet."
It would be a massive upset if Brinkley were to become the first. If Bute wins, as expected, he's going to try to maneuver to be in position to face the Super Six winner when that event finally ends.
If Bute adds a couple of quality victories to his record in the interim, the road to glory for the Super Six winner will go through Montreal.