The two things all boxing fans crave are knockouts and upsets. They are the two things that keep fans coming back for more. Many great fighters have been upset during their ring careers and yet have managed to bounce back and regain their lost laurels. Then there are those fighters who never recover fully from being knocked out. Roy Jones Jr. was never the same after being kayoed two fights in a row by Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson. Sonny Liston was never as imposing or frightening again after Muhammad Ali knocked him out in two consecutive fights. Willie de Witt retired shortly after suffering a career-defining brutal kayo loss to Bert Cooper.
The jury is still out on whether or not the former IBF super middleweight world champion Lucian Bute can rebound from the savage one-sided beat down he received at the hands of Brit Carl Froch. There is no doubt that Romanian native Bute, now a Canadian citizen, was one of the most protected fighters in the world. This seems to be a tried and true formula for Quebec-based fighters. Their records are built up by facing minimally skilled club fighters, and older fighters whose skills have depleted. This is nothing less than a recipe for disaster. Protected fighters often lose in spectacular fashion the first time they face a quality fighter.
Bute came very close to losing to a less than spectacular fighter named Librado Andrade earlier in his career. An exhausted Bute hit the canvas in the twelfth and final round and needed the help of Canadian referee Marlon Wright to narrowly avoid a knockout defeat. Has Bute beaten some quality fighters? Yes. He has defeated Sakio Bika, Edison Miranda, Jean-Paul Mendy, William Joppy and Glen Johnson, who was on the downside of his career at the time.
Although Bute has beaten some quality fighters over the course of his career, facing Froch was just too big a jump up in quality of opposition for the ex-pat Romanian pugilist. One thing is certain. For reasons as yet unknown, Bute was a huge favorite going into his fight with Froch, even though the match was held in the challenger’s backyard of Nottingham, England. Froch had a much better record having faced and soundly thrashed the best super middleweights in the world.
Froch’s only loss was very questionable. Danish super middle Mikkel Kessler fought Froch in his native Denmark and received an obvious hometown decision in a fight Froch should have won by unanimous decision. I once asked Angelo Dundee how does a fighter who has been the victim of a hometown decision ever come back after being robbed of a sure victory? He said, “Champions always came back.” By defeating Bute and winning his third super middleweight world title, Froch has proved beyond any possible doubt, that he is indeed a champion for the ages.
Froch’s only real loss came in the Showtime Super Six Super Middleweight Tournament final against the incomparable Andre Ward. Froch seemed stiff and tired in the ring that night. Ward beat Froch in lopsided fashion, capturing every round but never had Froch in any real trouble during the fight.
The caliber of fighters, which Froch faced and beat during the tournament, cemented his claim to the International Boxing Hall of Fame once his career is over. In an era where fighters are protected as much as possible by their management teams, Froch sought out and soundly beat Arthur Abraham, Glen Johnson, Andre Dirrell, Jermain Taylor, Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute. Froch’s resume is impressive to say the least. Froch’s savage kayo of Bute showed the world that he does in fact have a lot left in his tank.
Bute is now on the comeback trail. He is attempting to rebuild his self-confidence as well as the public’s confidence in him as a world-class fighter. It remains to be seen if he can do it. Jack Dempsey’s famous manager, Jack “Doc” Kearns once said, “You learn nothing in victory. You learn everything in defeat.” Bute’s fans and management team are fervently hoping that he has learned his lessons and rebounds from his defeat in his very next fight.
Bute will need to be a beast in his next fight and own the ring. He will have to impose his will upon his opponent, hurt him early and make an emphatic statement by knocking him out in brutal fashion. If Bute should somehow lose, then you can bet the house boxing insiders will be recommending retirement as his best option.
Bute will also have to fight a smart fight and not take too many needless risks. If he rushes in and gets caught early and goes down, his confidence as well as his fans will readily desert him. The rule of thumb in boxing when a champion or top-rated fighter loses is to start their comeback off with an easy fight against an easy, handpicked opponent, in order to begin the job of rebuilding their fragile self-confidence.
Team Bute has chosen November 3rd as the date for their former champion’s return to boxing. By fight time, Bute will have had six months to agonize over his first pro loss, come to terms with it and then prepare himself for his next foe, hard-hitting Russian slugger Denis Grachev.
Grachev is a San Diego-based light-heavyweight, with a pro record of 12-0, with 8 knockouts and one draw. Yes, Grachev has shown that he can punch. However, he has not yet faced a recognizable opponent or anyone that would be considered much above a club fighter. For Grachev, Bute is a tremendous step up in talent, which is why he was chosen as Bute’s comeback fight.
There is no doubt that Grachev will rehydrate after the weigh-in back up to the light-heavyweight level. So will Bute. Grachev is rated as the thirteenth best light-heavyweight in the world, which means absolutely nothing. Of the 12 fighters he has faced professionally, 6 of them have more losses than wins. Three of them have records such as 11 wins and 10 losses. Only three fighters on Grachev’s resume have substantially more wins than losses. In other words, Grachev has faced mostly bums.
Grachev is 30 years of age, two years younger than the much more experienced Bute. The fact that he has 8 KO’s in 12 fights against below average competition is less than impressive. It also tells us that he likes to take chances in the ring by constantly gunning for a knockout. Against fighters with losing records, going for a kayo is not much of a risk. Against Bute, the risk of getting starched with a solid counter shot is far greater.
Most knockout fighters leave themselves wide open to counter shots. It is a risk sluggers must take when always trying for knockout victories. That is definitely a flaw that Bute can exploit against the possibly over eager Grachev. Bute also has another big advantage in that he is a southpaw. Grachev has yet to face a southpaw in the pro ranks and that is always a big obstacle for any young pro to overcome. He will have to make adjustments during the fight and there is no doubt that Bute will try to catch him before he has had a chance to sufficiently warm up. Remember, it only takes one punch to end a fight, especially if your opponent is not yet into the fight.
Grachev’s lack of experience will definitely hurt him against Bute. Grachev does not know how it feels to be banged by a big time puncher like Bute. Will Grachev know how to clinch the first time Bute rocks him with a power shot? If he hopes to go the distance clinching is a tactic he had better perfect in a hurry.
Grachev’s first and most immediate goal will be to gain enough time to find his rhythm in the ring. This will require him to fight at a distance in the first few rounds. Of course, that is not how Grachev fights, unfortunately. The other problem he will face is that Bute loves to fight inside as well, even though he will have a decided advantage in reach entering the fight. No doubt Bute will jump on him immediately hoping to end the bout in the first round.
If Grachev loses, well it would not really tarnish his young career as there is no shame in losing to a former world champion still in his prime. If Bute were to somehow lose his shot at redemption, then a lot of fighters in his division would lose their healthy respect for his punching ability and eagerly line up to fight him. What can Bute do to ensure victory? He first must be in tiptop shape physically and especially mentally come fight night. He should use his reach advantage to test the waters early. Bute would be smart to throw bombs from a distance, which would negate the chance of getting caught with a hard counter shot in return.
Bute will try to hurt Grachev early and then finish him off quickly. Because Bute’s confidence has taken a terrible beating, the longer Grachev lasts into the fight, the more Bute will start to doubt his own abilities. Can Bute pull this off and make his comeback a successful one? Well, if he ever hopes to face Froch again in the hope of regaining his beloved IBF super middleweight title, he better stretch Grachev early. That’s the funny thing about knockouts. As quickly as suffering one can steal your confidence, scoring one can restore it even faster.