POWER SHOTS: News and Views on the Heavyweight Division
by Johnny Walker
If you listen to “old school” American boxing scribes, the heavyweight division is dead and has been for years, there’s just no reason to watch it, the Klitschkos are boring, and did you know that the Klitschkos are boring?, blah blah blah.
Much of that is of course utter sour grapes bunk, but admittedly, after a very good year for the big boys in 2011, 2012 so far hasn’t been quite as riveting.
Some of the problem is due to matchmaking. Bernd Boente, the dandified manager of the world champion Klitschko brothers, has grown more conservative in his choices for the brothers lately, with names like Jean Marc Mormeck (Wlad) and Manuel Charr (Vitali) failing to stir the hearts of even diehard fans of the division. And mandatory opponents like Tony Thompson (Wlad again) haven’t done much better.
That is not to say, however, that there hasn’t been excitement: Vitali’s tilt with Dereck “Del Boy” Chisora provided in-and-out-of-the-ring action and suspense, and Chisora’s grudge match with unretiring UK compatriot David Haye lived up to the hype. Marco Huck’s slugfest with Alexander Povetkin was sloppy but also edge-of-the-seat riveting, as was Tomasz Adamek’s gutsy win over Travis Walker.
And for knockout of the year in any division, you’d be hard pressed to top Shane Cameron’s one-punch destruction of American veteran Monte Barrett.
And the year is far from over. Wladimir seems set to finally meet a worthy challenge in the form of tough Polish giant Mariusz Wach in November, and European champion on the rise Kubrat Pulev is getting ready to square off with another giant, Russian Alexander Ustinov, in a week’s time.
An old American name even gets in on all the Euro-action next weekend when Hasim Rahman gives it one more try against Povetkin, who has a lot to prove after many felt he got an undeserved win against Huck.
But mainly, the mojo of the division remains in the UK and continental Europe, with younger Americans like Seth Mitchell and Deontay Wilder still having much to prove before they can be taken seriously as contenders for the major titles.
RAHMAN RILED UP
Hasim Rahman has been in a foul mood since he travelled to Hamburg, Germany, for the initial presser promoting his upcoming mandatory challenge on September 29 to WBA “regular” heavyweight champion Alexander Povetkin.
Rahman, a former WBC world heavyweight champion, found that his image was left off of the promotional posters for the fight, which instead featured Povetkin and European champion Kubrat Pulev. And to make matters worse, Povetkin’s camp joked that Rahman was just too fat to fit on the posters, with a belly “sagging to his knees.”
“They’ve been basically writing Hasim off since the start of the promotion,” says Greg Cohen, Rahman’s promoter.
“Hasim isn’t even on the posters for this event. They’ve been making jokes and having fun. But while they were doing that, Hasim has been getting himself into fantastic shape.”
Rahman and his camp have energized themselves by drawing parallels between this title challenge and the one 11 years previous, when he wasn’t taken seriously by then-champion Lennox Lewis and ended up knocking the champ cold.
“Hasim is going to shock the world again,” says Cohen.
“This is the exact situation you don’t put Rahman in. Disrespected. Overlooked. An over-confident champion thinking he can just show up and win. But in the gym with Hasim, and seeing how focused he is, you know something’s about to happen.”
Well, maybe. Povetkin surely looked vulnerable last time out against a cruiserweight champion in Marco Huck, and Rahman is a true heavyweight with knockout power. But “The Rock” also hasn’t had a meaningful win in many years, and looked anemic when he got a shot against Wladimir Klitschko in 2008, losing by TKO.
But don’t tell that to Rahman, 39, who insists that this time is his time once again.
“Povetkin is a very good fighter,” says the challenger.
“He has proven to be a winner at every level. He was an Olympic gold medalist and is the current WBA Champion. I have respect for him as a boxer. Regardless of his strengths or weaknesses, I know what I have to do and that is to knock him out. I know that when I’m at my best, no one can take my power and I will knock him or anyone else out, period!
“I’ve been preparing for this fight for six months. We thought we were going to fight in May, then July, now it is September 29. I haven’t been this ready for a fight in many years. I’m prepared to go twelve rounds, I’m in great condition.
“No fight at this level is easy, but I know that I am 100 percent prepared and so I am supremely confident. The fight will not go the distance. I will KO Povetkin on September 29.”
POVETKIN HAS SOMETHING TO PROVE
As for Povetkin, he knows that there is something to prove this time out, after looking soft and lacking stamina against Huck following his split with American trainer Teddy Atlas.
Needing a new voice in his corner, Povetkin has enlisted former light welterweight great Kostya Tszyu as head trainer, and insists he is already feeling the benefits.
“I feel privileged to be working with him,” Povetkin says of Tszyu.
“He was an excellent boxer and now he is an excellent coach. I have learned a lot from him.
“Kostya Tszyu doesn’t want a new fighter, as it isn’t necessary. We want to improve aspects that I am already good at. We also working on my weaknesses as well and want to wipe them out. Altogether, I will be a more complete boxer though our work inside the gym.”
Unlike Rahman, Povetkin won’t predict how the fight will end, but says he will give all to hold on to his belt and earn a possible meeting with the true world champion, Wladimir Klitschko, soon.
“You can’t foresee what will happen and I don’t like giving such statements ahead of a fight,” says the champ.
“I just know one thing for sure: I will be one hundred percent for that bout and will do my best to be the one standing tall when everything is said and done. It doesn’t matter if it will go for twelve rounds or if it will end prematurely. The main thing is me keeping my belt.”
KUBRAT WHO? NOT FOR MUCH LONGER!
Even among those still interested in the heavyweight division in North America, the name Kubrat Pulev is often met with puzzled reactions. But that state of affairs shouldn’t last much longer for the Bulgarian bad boy, who dates sexy pop princess Andrea back home.
After a highly successful amateur career, Pulev has risen quickly as a pro. His stoppage win over the towering 6’7″ Alexander Dimitrenko last time out was his most complete effort to date as a professional, earning him the European heavyweight crown.
And no one can say Pulev isn’t taking on the “big” challenges. Next up for “The Cobra” is another behemoth, 6’7 1/2″ tall Russian Alexander Ustinov. Pulev is no little feller himself at nearly 6’5″ tall, but says he will need to utilize his extensive experience to keep his momentum going.
“Alexander Ustinov is a mountain of a man,” says Pulev.
“He is not only a few inches taller than me but also weighs considerably more than I do. That will tell in his punching power. I will have to be fully focused when I am inside the ring with him. The saying that one punch can decide a heavyweight fight is quite accurate for this fight.
“I will definitely have to win this fight through my athleticism, speed and agility. He does not really have an amateur background and therefore I will also have an advantage when it comes to technical abilities.
“I fulfilled a dream of mine by winning the European crown during my last fight. Now I will be defending my title for the first time. Being right at the top of the division is just a bonus. But for now, my priority is to establish myself as a top heavyweight in Europe when I face Ustinov,” says the Bulgarian.
Pulev notes that his recent success has raised his profile back home (perhaps not yet on the level of his famous girlfriend) and says he is still getting used to the attention.
“They were completely over the moon – I am the first Bulgarian to win the European Heavyweight Title,” says Pulev of his countrymen.
“Whenever I am walking around the town people recognize me and thank me. Sometimes it actually makes me feel a bit awkward. Nevertheless, I am really proud of what I have achieved in the name of my country.”
If Pulev continues his rise with another impressive effort against Ustinov, he will soon have to get used to being recognized not just at home, but throughout Europe and ultimately world-wide.