By Johnny Walker
At the Messehalle in Leipzig, Germany, this afternoon, heavyweight hopeful Manuel “Diamond Boy” Charr took on Russian veteran Denis Bakhtov, and provided some unintentional humor for the crowd, who nevertheless booed Charr repeatedly during and after the match. On the same card, WBO super middleweight champion Robert Stieglitz took on Isaac Ekpo of Nigeria in a title defense.
Charr (25-1, 15 KOs), who has a very theatrical sense of himself, entered the ring as if he is heavyweight champion of the world (even though he has recently lost to WBC champ Vitali Klitschko), bolstered with a live pop-rap act enthusiastically hailing the “Diamond Boy.”
Charr is at the very least already a legend in his own mind, and provides some comic relief in the heavyweight division.
Grizzled veteran Bakhtov (36-9) is quite a step down from David Haye, who Charr had recently been scheduled to fight until Haye dumped him for a big-money showdown with fellow Brit Tyson Fury. In this fight, Charr seemed determined to prove his utter superiority, and as the much bigger man gave Bakhtov problems as his heavier punches thudded hard against the Russian’s face and body.
Nevertheless, the determined challenger started well, taking the first round with some nice combinations and body shots as Charr seemed content to pose. A couple of big shots landed by Charr near the end of the round signaled his intentions for the rest of the fight, however. In the next frame, Bakhtov again started off well, trying to stay busy, but by the end of the round was discouraged by some good work from Charr with the left hand, as he landed stinging jabs and some hard hooks.
A big right hand landed by Charr as the second round ended seemed to take some of the starch out of his opponent, and round three saw Charr get comfy, his shots having greater weight and impact behind them. An uppercut and a left-right combination landed by the Diamond Boy again slowed the Russian, and Charr then chose to do some Muhammad Ali-style dancing, much to the crowd’s annoyance, as they whistled and booed his moves. Bakhtov backed their opinion by landing a hard left as the round ended.
Charr continued showboating in round four, and his stinging combinations began to hurt the challenger, whose eyes (especially the right) began to swell shut. Bakhtov rallied in round five after taking more punishment from Charr, and actually troubled the Diamond Boy by trapping him in the corner with some hard combination punching, perhaps enough to see him take the round.
Unfortunately, that was it, as 15 seconds into round six and looking worse for the wear, Bakhtov, claiming a broken right hand, called it a night, leaving Charr with a TKO win and another title to add to his bewildering collection of minor championship belts that look far more impressive than reality would suggest they actually are.
The theatrical Charr then tried to challenge Vitali Klitschko to a rematch in an interview, but was drowned out by boos from the crowd. The Diamond Boy then left the arena with his biggest fan: himself.
In the co-headliner, WBO super middleweight champion Robert Stieglitz of Germany (45-3) took on Nigeria’s Isaac Ekpo (22-1).
Steiglitz was the aggressor right from the start of this one, as Ekpo tried to fight on the counter and invite the champion in. But Stieglitz overwhelmed the Nigerian with his activity and aggression all fight long and Ekpo simply couldn’t muster much in the way of consistent offence.
With his hands held high and tight, Stieglitz stayed focused as he attacked the Nigerian with determination, but was unable to put him away, as Ekpo stayed on the back foot and took little in the way of risks. The rounds had a sameness as they rolled by, with Stieglitz at times getting the crowd chanting, as they did in round two, with some hard shots that kept Ekpo on the retreat. This pattern would repeat itself with no final resolution until the bell rang to end the fight.
Stieglitz continually rocked Ekpo: in round four he launched a hard combination of punches topped off by a crashing right to Ekpo’s head. Stieglitz would slowly edge his way forward, usually but not always avoiding some desperate overhand rights winged at him by the challenger, but American referee Eddie Cotton refused the idea of a phone booth fight and would quickly break the fighters apart. Still, it seemed a matter of time until the champion and Arthur Abraham conqueror won by stoppage.
At some point, this fact also occurred to Ekpo, who then decided to fight purely to survive instead of to win.
Unable to really break down the tight high guard of the champion, Ekpo continually backpedalled, hoping to score a lucky shot with the occasional wildly thrown looping right hand. But Stieglitz wasn’t about to be caught cold, and by the end of round seven, Ekpo was fighting open-mouthed and exhausted, continually kept off-balance by the rapid-fire left jabs pumped in his face by the champion.
Stieglitz gave it one more giant effort in round nine: he even dropped his hands to launch a huge flurry that roused the Leipzig crowd, with Ekpo signaling that he was OK, a sure sign that he’d been hurt.
Still, a frustrated Stieglitz couldn’t finish the Nigerian off.
From there to the finish, the champion brought his hands back up and was content to give a boxing lesson to Ekpo, who was now in total survival mode.
When it was over, the judges correctly scored it wide for the champion, 118-110 (twice) and 119-109.
Ekpo later tried to say the judges had done him a disservice, but in truth, this time they had it just right. A rematch with “King” Arthur Abraham may be in Stieglitz’s immediate future.