When Lucian Bute left the comfort of Montreal's Bell Centre and ventured to Nottingham to defend his IBF super middleweight title against Carl Froch, the fight figured to be a highly competitive bout against two of the world's best 168-pound boxers.
In getting stopped inside of five rounds and losing his title to Froch, Bute's run of nine title defenses, to many, had been exposed as the product of bludgeoning underwhelming title challengers. Well, now Bute will officially get the chance to refute his detractors.
Bute (31-1, 24 KO) won a close, grueling fight over Denis Grachev via scores of 115-113, 118-110 and 116-112. Grachev (12-1-1, 8 KO), understandably, seemed disappointed after the fight, and the score of 118-110 seemed ridiculous as several rounds were hotly contested.
Now, Bute winning isn't unreasonable, but a case can be made for Grachev, and regardless of how one scored the fight, it was certainly close.
Bute started the bout with nervous energy, darting in and out as he looked to land his straight left hand and trademark counter left uppercut. Grachev, whose punching has become markedly more controlled and precise, was surprisingly on his back foot early in the fight.
This, however, would quickly change. Despite a clash of heads in Round 2. Bute boxed well early, but Grachev soon began to impose himself as he repeatedly backed Bute up against the ropes, throwing to both the head and body. While several of his punches did not land flush, he did connect with hard, straight right hands throughout the fight.
Bute did better later in the fight, especially during the championship rounds. If Grachev appeared more active, Bute landed the harder single shots, though his inability to consistently find adequate punching range or unload with eye-catching combinations was alarming.
The 12th round might have been Bute's best as he landed clean shots, controlled the center of the ring and made Grachev miss somewhat wildly. While Bute stunned Grachev a few times throughout the fight (usually with uppercuts), Grachev also had Bute hurt and in retreat in the fifth round.
So, how does this performance bode for Bute's rematch against Carl Froch?
Well, let's just say that it doesn't inspire an abundance of confidence. Grachev is a tough, solid fighter, but Bute allowed himself to be backed up against the ropes almost at will, and he certainly was hittable. It seemed plausible that Bute would outbox Grachev, but this proved far more difficult than most fans and pundits might have expected.
If Bute can't stay off the ropes, control range with his jab and press forward with effective offense, Froch will steamroll him again. Granted, Bute did just go 12 hard rounds against a good opponent, but how will he fare against Froch, a man who punches harder and is more naturally gifted than Grachev?
Grachev performed well and should find himself in another notable fight soon. As for Bute, he technically did his part and still has to be considered a very good fighter. That said, if Froch destroys Yusaf Mack, how much excitement will there be for Froch-Bute II?
In the chief supporting bout, Allan Green, who was coming off of a devastating fourth-round KO loss to Mikkel Kessler, stopped Renan St. Juste after seven rounds. St. Juste (23-4-1, 15 KO), who didn't answer the bell for Round 8, did register a knockdown of Green (32-4, 22 KO) in Round 4 but was unable to score a stoppage.
Other than suffering a knockdown, Green repeatedly backed St. Juste up and scored well with his jab and a variety of combinations. The sixth stanza was particularly wild as Green pinned St. Juste on the ropes, only to be hurt in return before rallying strong to close the round.
This is a decent bounce-back win for Green, though his punch resistance still seems somewhat suspect. Where Green goes from here appears uncertain, and he might have to settle for being an "opponent" and hope to score an upset victory if he expects to get back into the title mix. At this stage, every bout Green contests is a crossroads fight.
Also of note on the undercard was the sensational one-punch knockout Canadian prospect Mikael Zewski scored over Cesar Chavez. Zewski (17-0, 13 KO), who first signed with Golden Boy Promotions only to end up with promotional rival Top Rank, is managed by Cameron Dunkin and appears to be Canada's top boxing prospect.
Against Chavez (20-3, 9 KO), Zewski controlled range with his jab, ending the brief encounter by scoring with a left hook in retreat, which was followed by a devastating counter right uppercut that appeared to break Chavez's nose and floored him for the count. What was particularly impressive about the knockout blow was Zewski's footwork and leverage; he is certainly a prospect worth following.