MONTREAL -- Lucian Bute says he's ready for a rematch with Englishman Carl Froch.
The former IBF champion from Montreal was looking for a clear and decisive win in his comeback from a first-career defeat, and while others saw it as a close battle, the ringside judges gave him a 12-round unanimous decision over aggressive Russian Denis Grachev on Saturday night.
"I'm very happy with my performance against a very tough opponent," said Bute (31-1), who won Grachev's minor NABF light heavywight title. "I took some shots, but he was very aggressive.
"It was a good experience for me."
The win should set up a rematch in Montreal in March with Froch, who has a tune-up bout Nov. 17 against Yusaf Mack in Sheffield, England. That was where Bute's career was put in doubt last May with a crushing fifth-round loss to Froch.
Most observers at ringside saw Bute's bout with Grachev (12-1-1) as a tight call, and some had the Russian winning on points.
But Judge John McKaie of New York had it 115-113, while local judges Jack Woodburn had it 116-112 and Claude Paquette a whopping 118-110. The Canadian Press had it 115-114 for Bute, with one round scored even.
Naturally, each fighter felt he won easily.
"The judges were unfair," said Grachev, now based in San Diego. "Maybe I lost three or four rounds."
Bute's trainer Stephan Larouche felt his man perhaps lost four of the 12 rounds.
The heavy-hitting Russian, who made his name with an eighth-round TKO win over contender Ismayl Sillakh, was certainly the busier boxer and looked to land more punches overall. Bute fought cautiously, mostly firing punches one at a time.
It was only in the 12th that Bute was totally dominant, as he stood in the centre of the ring daring Grachev to hit his chin while firing off lefts.
There was question of whether Bute could take a hard shot to the chin after it failed him against Froch, but he was never in serious trouble even if he was backed against the ropes several times.
"In the fifth he got me with a good right, but I wasn't in difficulty," the 32-year-old said. "Against Froch, when I was up against the ropes I didn't react, but this time I reacted right away each time and made him pay. I didn't just stand there."
Larouche said it was tough for Bute to look good against an awkward opponent who can take a punch and keep attacking. He rated his fighter's performance at seven out of 10, which was good under the circumstances.
"It was a big night for him," Larouche said. "With what happened in May, he was coming back a long way and the (hard-punching) opponent was difficult when you consider the loss in May."
The defeat had cost him the IBF super-middleweight title he had successfully defended nine times since he won it in 2007.
Bute also got to bask in the adulation of a hometown crowd. The Bell Centre attendance of 10,122 was down somewhat from his normal draw, but better than was predicted earlier in the week.
They roared as he entered the ring and chanted his name throughout the fight.
A knock on the Romanian-born fighter is that he almost always fights at home, and his loss to Froch during a rare visit to hostile territory seemed to confirm that.
The rematch would be on home ground.
"Ever since I lost I wanted a rematch," said Bute. "I'll be happy to get back in the ring with him."
The undercard saw a spectacular eight-round victory by former WBC flyweight champion Rodrigo Guerrero (18-4-1) of Mexico over crowd favourite Sebastien Gauthier (22-4).
The two traded blows in near non-stop action until the St. Jerome, Que., fighter sagged defenceless in a corner and the scheduled 10-round bout was stopped by the referee.
Former super-middleweight contender Allan Green (32-4) was knocked down in the fourth by Renan St. Juste (23-4-1) of Repentigny, Que., but won every other round before winning when his scheduled 10-round light heavyweight bout was stopped by the referee. St. Juste had one eye closed and was bleeding heavily from the nose.
Light middleweight Mikael Zewski (17-0), a Trois-Rivieres, Que., native who fights for U.S. promoter Top Rank, ended his eight-rounder with Cesar Chavez (20-3) with a left-right uppercut combination for a knockout 37 seconds into the first round.
Light heavyweight Francy N'Tetu (8-0) of Chicoutimi, Que., stopped Schiller Hippolite (5-1) of Montreal from making faces in the ring by knocking him down in the third en route to a split decision win.
There were boos for what looked like a hometown decision for Michael Gadbois (8-0) of St. Hyacinthe, Que., over Mexican veteran Pedro Navarrete (28-17-3), who looked to land more and better shots over four rounds.
Big Bogdan Dinu (8-0) of Romania stopped Eric Martel (7-3) of Quebec City in the fourth and final round of their heavyweight contest.
And Sebastien Bouchard (4-0) of Quebec City eked past Glissandy Mejia (3-1) of Terrebonne, Que., in a welterweight battle.