by Cliff Rold
Halloween will be a few days behind him by the time he steps into the ring on Saturday night at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be without scares. Back home in the arena where he has been king, former IBF Super Middleweight titlist Lucian Bute (30-1, 24 KO) will be warmly received but it would be normal for his fans to feel what the fighter will certainly have to experience.
Denis Grachev (12-0-1, 8 KO) will be looking to treat himself with the trick of victory against a fighter under scrutiny. In its own way, Bute enters an even more dangerous domain than he did in May against former WBC champion Carl Froch.
Froch was a test of legitimacy.
Grachev is a test for relevance.
Without a win on Saturday, relevance will be in short supply for Bute. While there may remain a contract demanding a Super Middleweight rematch with Froch next year, and this fight will technically take place at Light Heavyweight, the attractiveness of such an affair can evaporate in a moment.
Or a sustained barrage.
Coming off his first defeat, Bute finds himself between a hard place and a Froch.
It shouldn’t be forgotten to applaud it.
Bute didn’t pick a killer to prepare for Froch II against, but he didn’t pick a soft touch either. Grachev appears the less talented and refined of the two set to dance this weekend. He’s coming off a huge win over someone who could have said the same.
In fact, he’s pulled such upsets twice.
Grachev, a former kickboxing and Muay Thai champion, turned to pro boxing in 2007, knocked out previously undefeated Vladine Biosse in 2011. In March of this year, he faced a Light Heavyweight considered hotly on the rise in the division. Grachev, coming off the floor in the third, chipped away steadily and stayed within his game. In the eighth round, it was enough to force a stoppage of Ismayl Sillakh.
Bute, a seasoned pro even with the shadow of defeat hanging over him, is a big step up for Grachev. He’s also a tricky step for the Romanian-born southpaw to dare. Many fighters in Bute’s position would have gone much softer. There’s always someone with a name and some dust on their lapels ready to play the rehab rotation.
He went with someone hungry, betting talent beats desire. It’s probably a safe bet but there’s enough gamble to make it a fight.
Bute, despite a nine-defense reign as a titlist, suddenly finds himself with a ton of questions. After the Froch loss, a fight where he was beaten pillar to post for most of five rounds, his chin comes with a question mark. He’s faced some solid punchers and done okay, guys like Alejandro Berrio and Sakio Bika, but his struggles stand out.
Astute fight fans have dug into the archives to remind their brethren of a stoppage loss to current Middleweight hopeful Gennady Golovkin in their amateur days. Those who never quite got over the controversial end of his first fight to Librado Andrade, a fight with a long count and an out on his feet Bute at the bell, raise their voices again.
Those voices always ignore that Bute beat the count anyways but we digress.
Bute did a good job putting Andrade behind him, mostly by knocking Andrade out in a rematch but also with a decisive win over Glen Johnson. It didn’t mean he was universally embraced.
Bute, even with impressive performances, was still wondered about because his level of competition hadn’t been elite. He was criticized for not taking part in the Super Six tournament, even if there was never certainty about whether he was even given the option, but at its end he was the other man left standing.
A showdown with Andre Ward, the winner of the tournament, looked like a hell of an idea. Ward wasn’t into it and so Bute looked to Froch, traveling over the pond to do it. The risk now results in the reward of the cold feeling of a back against the wall.
Fighters rarely rebound from consecutive losses in this era. For someone like Bute, someone who appeared so close to getting a chance to be the best in his division, the fall can be particularly harsh.
Even if he wins this weekend, Bute still has a nail biter in his future.
Froch, opting to stay active while he waits for Bute, has picked Yusaf Mack (31-4-2, 17 KO) for November 17. Like Bute against Grachev, Froch should win. In his case, Froch has a guy with talent and a big punch who has come close to spoiling against big names in the past only to reliably fall short. Those can be dangerous foes.
Sometimes, the punch they wait a lifetime to land, it lands. That would be no bag of goodies for Bute.
For now, all Bute can do is handle his end of the deal and then dream of ways to make sure that, given a second chance, he finds a way to get before he gets got against Froch. Grachev is the ghoul around the corner.
Bute should win. But what if he doesn’t?
Cliff’s Notes… Never having had the chance so many did to meet Emanuel Steward, no attempt at eulogy is made here. It is enough to say the loss is deeply felt in boxing circles and to remind that one measure of a man is often how many genuine tears are shed at their passing. Steward clearly touched his world deeply. Rest in peace.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]