By Jake Donovan
The ring return of Lucian Bute this weekend was originally designed as a lead-in to a tentatively scheduled March ’13 rematch with his lone conqueror Carl Froch.
Plans remain in place for their sequel to happen. One of the lingering questions, however, is what exactly will be at stake.
Bute (30-1, 24KO) faces Denis Grachev on Saturday evening at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada. The bout will be his first since his one-sided knockout loss to Froch in May, which ended his 2 ½ year reign as super middleweight titlist. Their showdown earlier this year took place in Froch’s hometown of Nottingham (UK) as part of a two-fight deal, with the sequel to take place in Canada.
Froch’s brutal destruction of Bute ruined any chances of an immediate rematch, with both fighters opting for interim fights before once again facing each other. Two weeks after Bute’s showdown with the unbeaten Grachev (12-0-1, 8KO) in Montreal, Froch makes the first defense of his third reign as champ against Yusaf Mack in Nottingham.
Wins by both will set up a second fight between the two, but it could wind up as a non-title fight. Standing in the way of Froch’s reign extending beyond November 17 – assuming he gets past Mack – the level of cooperation from his mandatory challenger.
Adonis Stevenson earned a crack at the title after scoring a 12th round stoppage of Donovan George in their final elimination bout on October 12. The bout was Stevenson’s second sanctioned eliminator in 2012, defeating Jesus Gonzalez for the #2 ranking earlier this year.
The showdown with George came with the understanding that the winner would be next in line for a title shot. Froch and his team were well aware of this possibility when first signing for a two-fight series with Bute, but believed to have an acceptable contingency plan in place.
“We have a contract with Lucian Bute and InterBox and we will honor it," Eddie Hearn, Froch’s promoter, told TVA Sports in Canada earlier in the day, when pressed on the issue. “If both boxers win their upcoming fights, they will fight next March in Montreal.”
In order for Froch to still have his title by then, he will either need to squeeze in a title defense against Stevenson, or file for a waiver with the IBF.
“We have tremendous respect for the IBF and we have an excellent relationship with them,” Hearn said. “That is why we will ask for an exemption (after his fight with Mack). “If the IBF refuses, we will drop the belt and Carl will still fight Lucian. He is 35 years old… We want to fill the Bell Centre, and for that it must be a rematch against Bute.”
The IBF’s office in New Jersey was closed due to extreme weather conditions from Hurricane Sandy raging through the Northeast U.S. region and therefore was unavailable for comment. However, the concern might not be their response, as a waiver for exemption is considered a non-starter for Stevenson and his team.
“It's nothing personal, everyone has to protect their interests. We have no bitterness towards Froch and Bute,” GYM Promotions President Yvon Michel told TVA Sports. “However, I am convinced that both will not want to sign (to face Stevenson). We oppose the exemption.”
While a fight with Froch or Bute would prove far more lucrative, Stevenson’s team firmly believes the fighter has earned the right for his next bout to be for a major title. Such will remain the plan, no matter the opponent or circumstances – barring a major change of heart in the next couple of weeks.
“Adonis – as the mandatory challenger – would then fight for the vacant title against the highest ranked (super middleweight) by the IBF,” insisted Michel.
Stevenson’s mind is elsewhere these days, mourning the losses of head trainer Emanuel Steward as well as his grandmother, who died earlier last week. His win over George came without Steward in his corner, as the Hall of Fame trainer was still hospitalized at the time.
In the event of a vacancy, Stevenson’s camp would go down the list of IBF-ranked super middleweights in facing the highest rated available contender sometime in early 2013. The next leading candidate at the moment is unbeaten super middleweight Edwin Rodriguez, who is coming off of a one-sided 8th round knockout over Jason Estrada in late September in his first HBO headliner.
None of that will take place until both Bute and Froch get their upcoming bouts in the books, both of which will air live in the United States.
Bute’s showdown with Grachev serves as Saturday night’s main event on Wealth TV, whose last boxing telecast was Stevenson’s win over George. Froch’s title defense against Mack headlines an independent pay-per-view in a special Saturday matinee edition.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox