In no other sport can an athlete's reputation rise and fall like in boxing. One day you could be Lucian Bute, unbeaten super middleweight champion with a stiff jab, a jaw-rattling uppercut and premium networks fighting over you. The next you could be Lucian Bute, a chinny, overrated former titleholder with networks running away from you.
You remember Bute, right? Last May, the 32-year-old was one of the brightest stars in boxing. By June, he had fallen back to the pack, courtesy of a fifth-round knockout loss -- OK, a
Forget that. To many -- including Froch, who after the fight suggested the fallen champion retire -- Bute was done.
"Some people may think I'm finished," Bute said. "But I can assure them that Lucian Bute is not finished, and I'll prove it."
The rehabilitation of Lucian Bute -- sure, let's call it that -- begins on Saturday, when Bute (30-1) takes on Denis Grachev (12-0-1) at the Bell Centre in Montreal (7 p.m., WealthTV/WealthTV.com). Since the Froch fight, there have been no sweeping changes. His longtime trainer, Stephane Larouche, remains in his corner. His style will, by and large, remain the same. The only vow Bute has made has been to be more like the Bute of old.
"I know I can do [much] better than in 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. I want to throw punches and win fights."
For his comeback fight -- yep, let's keep pushing it -- Bute isn't taking a soft touch. Grachev is unheralded, but dangerous. He has won eight of his 13 fights by knockout. Most recently, Grachev knocked out unbeaten prospect Ismayl Sillakh. Privately, HBO executives have talked about Grachev as a possible opponent for Andre Ward in 2013.
He's no stiff. What he is, however, is an aggressive, come-forward power puncher, like Froch, who Bute hopes to face in a tentatively scheduled rematch in March.
"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. If I don't do well against Grachev, there won't be any talk at all for a rematch with Froch."
Here's the thing about Bute-Froch II: It's still a good fight. Was Bute as good as advertised before the Froch fight? Probably not. In hindsight, a relatively lackluster performance against Glen Johnson probably should have been a warning sign that Bute was leveling off. But did he deserve to have his career buried after it? No to that, too. The reality is he fought an energized Froch on his home turf in a fight Froch knew he had to win to keep his career going.
Can Froch do it again in Canada? Maybe. Or maybe he runs into the Bute who had stopped eight of his last nine opponents and gets knocked out. Who knows? By the end of 2013, Bute could be on top of the world. Again.