- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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Lucian Bute had long been used to fighting, and winning, in front of friendly hometown crowds at the Bell Centre in his adopted hometown of Montreal and Quebec City's Pepsi Coliseum as he defended his super middleweight title time and again.
He successfully defended his 168-pound crown nine times, with each fight coming in either Montreal or Quebec City except for one, which took place in his birth country of Romania, where he was greeted with a hero's welcome.
When Bute finally ventured out of his comfort zone -- at his insistence, because he was tired of being criticized for fighting only at home and wanted to prove he could win on enemy turf -- for his 10th title defense on May 26, things did not go well.
That's when Bute traveled to Carl Froch's hometown of Nottingham, England, and got wiped out. In winning a piece of the super middleweight title for the third time, Froch dominated the fight and stopped Bute in the fifth round as his hometown crowd at the Capital FM Arena went wild.
Bute was beaten, had lost his title and been stripped of his perfect record. That was six months ago, and now Bute will try to pick up the pieces as he aims for a rematch with Froch in March.
"It's not easy after your first loss, but I've accepted it," Bute said. "I understand it. I'm looking forward, not going backward."
He will try to shake off the loss to Froch -- and set up that rematch -- by beating Denis Grachev in a scheduled 12-round bout at a catchweight of 170 pounds on Saturday (WealthTV, 7 p.m. ET) at the Bell Centre.
If Bute takes care of his business and Froch successfully defends the title against Philadelphia's Yusaf Mack on Nov. 17 in Nottingham, the deal is already done for the rematch to take place either March 16 or March 23 at the Bell Centre.
So while a rematch with Froch looms, Grachev stands in Bute's way -- as do, perhaps, the memories of his harrowing knockout loss.
"I know I can do way better than the Froch fight," Bute said. "I don't want to add pressure on myself. I just want to be like Lucian Bute used to be -- throw punches and win fights. If I don't do well against Grachev, there won't be any talk at all for a rematch with Froch.
"I did not use my primary weapons of speed and my jab at all during the fight. I fought Carl Froch's fight instead of dictating the pace and forcing him to fight my fight. It was a bad night for me in Nottingham. A nightmare, really. I lost my IBF belt, my perfect record and I suffered a hard loss."
Bute went to Nottingham as the favorite. He was undefeated and had been rolling through his defenses, while Froch (29-2, 21 KOs) was coming off a one-sided loss to Andre Ward in their unification fight in the final of the Super Six World Boxing Classic in December.
So the loss, especially by knockout, came as a big surprise to Bute and his team.
"There is no hiding the fact that the result on May 26 was hard on everyone," InterBox's Jean Bedard, Bute's promoter, said. "But even in defeat, in the locker room after the fight and the days following the loss, I still felt Lucian had the fire in his belly to come back stronger and demand his rematch with Froch. Lucian was in my office the morning after his return from [a vacation in] Romania to reaffirm his intentions. He looked me straight in the eyes and asked me to set the plan [for the rematch]."
Although Bute could have demanded the rematch with Froch immediately because he had a rematch clause in his contract, the camps decided that it made more economic sense for each man to take an interim bout, giving Bute a chance to rebound from the loss in a money-making hometown fight and Froch the opportunity for a similar score by defending the title in Nottingham against a good but relatively non-threatening opponent, Mack (31-4-2, 17 KOs).
"We decided together that in the interest of effectively promoting the rematch, Lucian and Carl would fight in separate events [first]," Bedard said of his deal with Matchroom Sport promoter Eddie Hearn, who guides Froch's career.
Bute, however, still has to come through against Grachev (12-0-1, 8 KOs), 30, a native of Russia who lives in San Diego.
Grachev made a bit of a name for himself in April when he scored an upset by knocking out red-hot light heavyweight contender Ismayl Sillakh in the eighth round in the main event of an ESPN2 "Friday Night Fights" card.
"This fight will be against a strong guy who hits hard," said Stephan Larouche, Bute's trainer. "It will not be easy, but I want to control the action in the middle of the ring. Defeat is not an option."
Said Grachev: "Bute can't touch me. I'm gonna punch him hard, and you will see the damage."
Bute, 32, who is a southpaw, is aware of Grachev's big win against Sillakh and gives him credit for it, but also said he is ready for the fight.
"I respect Denis Grachev," Bute said. "He's a good puncher, heavy-handed with power in both hands, aggressive, good chin. He's a good athlete. [But] my homework is done. I had a hard time. I went down, but I'll get up.
"Some people may think I'm finished, but I can assure them that Lucian Bute is not finished and I'll prove it Saturday. I'll be back, better than ever."
Lucian Bute calls Denis Grachev heavy-handed, athletic and strong-chinned, but it's clear Saturday's bout in Montreal is merely a prelude to Bute getting another crack at nemesis Carl Froch.