by Johnny Walker
Former middleweight titlist Felix Sturm saw his career thrown into a tailspin today as he lost a controversial decision in a fight billed as a “must-win” to Australian Sam Soliman at the ISS Arena in Dusseldorf, Germany.
The fight was entertaining and presented a contrast in styles, with the upright Sturm controlling the center of the ring, the quirky and awkward Australian circling him, often bent over at the waist with his arms dangling.
Sturm started out well, rattling off his trademark sharp left jab at will as Soliman tried to get inside. Sturm stung Soliman with a hard right hand near the end of round one.
Sturm took advantage of the gaps in Soliman’s defences in round two, as the Aussie became careless while trying to press the action and paid for it by Sturm nailing him first with a hard left jab, and then a hard right counter which dropped Soliman to the canvas. Soliman beat the count and hung on, staggering around the ring as Sturm tried to zero in and close the show, rocking the Aussie with a hard left hook before the bell.
Soliman showed his toughness and tried to rouse himself as round four began, but Sturm looked focused and continued to exploit the lapses in Soliman’s defenses. Sturm seemed to hurt Soliman every time he connected with some stinging right hands, again finishing off the round with a big right hand. Round four saw Sturm continue to hold the center of the ring, landing a nifty lead right hand and a counter left, along with some hard jabs which snapped Soliman’s head back.
If there was a specific turning point in the fight, it came in round five, as Soliman, having now shored up his defenses, began picking up the pace as he sensed Sturm tiring. Soliman was often wild and wide of the mark with his punches, but his mere activity stood in contrast to Sturm losing a bit of steam. Soliman began landing with a few combinations, and threw in a hard uppercut for good measure. Sturm picked up a cut in his left eye area that would bother him for the rest of the night, and the 39-year-old Aussie warrior definitely exited the round a much emboldened fighter.
The sixth round was hard to score: with Soliman now solidly in the fight, his corner was becoming very vocal, constantly shouting out intructions and encouragement to the point of distraction, yet no warning from referee was forthcoming. Soliman’s punches were often missing and he was countered neatly by Sturm after whiffing on a huge, roundhouse right hand. Yet again, the visuals were in favor of Soliman in what was an even round, as Sturm’s output, while the more accurate, was slowing, while the Aussie continued bashing away at whatever presented itself.
Round seven saw things continue to go the Australian’s way. Sturm nailed Soliman with a rat-a-tat-tat style with his left jab, trying to establish some control as the round started. Soliman, however, started roughing up Sturm in the clinches, and his workrate stalled Sturm’s attack. A Soliman flurry that began with a lead right hand near the end of the round may have ensured that judges saw this stanza going his way.
Sturm needed a boost as he came out in round eight, and sensing this, the partisan crowd in Dusseldorf chanted his name to try to provide it. Soliman tried to forestall any shift in momentum with some hard body shots and a hard right to Sturm’s head, but the German turned the tide with a hard right hand that temporarily stunned Soliman, following this up with two more of the same. As the round ended, Sturm seemed to have regained control of the match.
But give the Australian credit: he would not yield to Sturm when others might have faded. He came out for round nine energized once more, delivering some hard shots to the Sturm torso, not being thrown even when Strum landed a hard left up-jab. The round ended with both boxers firing away. Round ten began the same way, with Sturm at first getting the better of the action due to a hard left counter. A clash of heads seemingly caused a nick by Soliman’s left eye. This was the best round of the fight, as both men refused to yield and engaged in some blistering toe-to-toe action that had the German crowd on its feet and screaming.
Sturm seemed the more depleted the previous round’s heroics when round eleven began, and was wiping at the blood flowing from his eye cut as Soliman launched his attacks, scoring with a hard body shot but also throwing flurries that were largely picked off by Sturm’s gloves.
The final stanza started out with a hard right by Soliman followed by a good left hook by Sturm that rocked the Aussie. But as he had in many other rounds, Soliman began to outwork Sturm, flailing away with combinations that, while not always accurate, kept the German off balance, though Sturm did come through to score with a big right hand as the fight came to an end.
The judges’ final tallies were announced by American boxing personality Michael Buffer, as 116-111, 114-113 and 114-113. Then, after a dramatic pause, Buffer told the crowd the winner was from Deutschland, and the arena erupted in celebration.
But wait … the great Michael Buffer had gotten it wrong, and was then forced to embarrassingly correct himself — the winner was indeed from Australia, not Germany, and his name was Sam Soliman.
The crowd’s cheers turned to ugly and outraged booing and disbelief.
This writer also felt that Sturm, who floored Soliman (42-11, 17 KOs) and had him hurt several times in the fight, had surely done enough to win, and I scored the fight 115-113 for the German.
There were some ugly vibes going into this fight, as the two fighters’ camps argued over drug tests and weigh-ins. And there are no doubt more ugly vibes going out of the fight, as Sturm, a fighter previously accused of getting “gift” decisions in Germany on a few occasions, now seemingly can’t get a break there.
Since Sturm split with financially addled German promoter Universum and began to promote himself, he has seen his career begin to slide, with his last two fights (he lost his WBA title to another Australian, Daniel Geale, last time out) being very questionable losses.
No doubt, this loss leaves the formerly high-flying Sturm (37-4-2, 16 KOs) with much to ponder, as it leaves the chance for his desired rematch with Geale looking very remote.
Where, if anywhere, does Felix Sturm go from here?