Felix Sturm: The Only Real Contender Pavlik Has Left?
By Cliff Rold from Boxing Scene
Comparison shopping can be an effective way to figure out which detergent one will use around the house. It sucks as a way to sort things out in boxing. When a pair, or group, of fighters pull away from the pack in a given weight class, it is rightfully desired to see them draw blood from one another.
Itís not that boxing is short on fights between the best in most weight classes right now. There has been this year, as there is most years, plenty of quality to go around. Still, there are always soft spots. 160 lbs. is one of them right now.
A year ago, two years ago, this appeared a more promising domain.
When Kelly Pavlik (35-1, 31 KO, Ring/WBC/WBO) seized the lineal Middleweight crown from Jermain Taylor in 2007, the promise seemed imminently headed for a payoff. Pavlikís promoter was already mentioning the best Middleweights as future foes.
IBF titlist Arthur Abraham (30-0, 25 KO) was the name which generated the most excitement amongst the hardcore faithful.
Mention of WBA titlist Felix Sturm (32-2-1, 14 KO) wasnít bad either nor was the occasional flirting with the idea of a Sturm-Abraham showdown in the German market they dominate.
The fights havenít happened and given recent events likely will not. Abraham looks headed for the Showtime Super Middleweight tournament in whatever final form it takes. Neither Pavlik nor Sturm is anticipated to participate and the tournament could keep Abraham tied up into 2011. Over the last couple years, the question always seemed to be whether or not Abraham could make 160 long enough for a Pavlik fight to materialize.
It appears the answer is upon us. With Abraham exiting, Felix Sturm finds an opportunity to fill his void as the man who can best challenge Pavlik for his throne.
Given geographic boundaries, Abraham-Pavlik wasnít easy to put together. Sturm-Abraham looks like it should have been from the outside looking in. Closer inspection exhibits similar problems in other parts of the world to those which have plagued the U.S. market at times. It wasnít long ago exclusive contracts tying fighters or promoters to HBO or Showtime created massive roadblocks to fights like Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis or Kostya Tszyu versus lots of guys.
Lewis-Tyson happened because the money was too big for it not too. Tszyu versus men like Shane Mosley or Floyd Mayweather never did. Abraham and Sturm are tied to different promoters and networks. If Abraham successfully moves up and both continue to win, they will remain a tantalizing what if. As the focal divisional stars of their market, for now the best they can do is occasionally beat each otherís foes and try to out duel each other by proxy.
That brings the sport to this weekendís battle between Sturm and Khoren Gevor (30-3, 16 KO). Gevor is not the most familiar name on this side of the Atlantic. Those who know the name know Sturm may be in for quite a tussle. Through Abrahamís ten IBF title defenses at Middleweight, Gevor stands out for giving him one his best fights in 2007. He also provided Abraham his best highlight, a knockout punch in the eleventh round which can make any fight fan wince on every replay.
Gevor has since become more than the guy who gave Abraham a good scrap. Three consecutive wins were topped off by a stoppage last November of legitimate top ten contender Amin Asikainen. Heís earned his second opportunity for a title belt.
Sturm has earned back some of the stature he lost.
In 2004, Sturm crossed the Atlantic and to the feeling of many was robbed of a victory against Oscar de La Hoya. Displaying hand speed and ring smarts, the former Olympian left with a buzz. American fans wanted to see him again, wanted to see what he really had. Instead, Sturm headed back to Germany against good but always beatable fighters, winning a WBA belt but losing momentum away from home. A shocking 2006 knockout loss to an aged Javier Castillejo brought cries of exposed from those who were still paying attention.
Even after he bounced back to decision Castillejo and regain his belt in 2007, itís not a leap to say Sturm was seen as a few steps below Abraham and Pavlik for most of the last couple years.
It may be time to reevaluate the thought.
While Abraham and Pavlik have feasted on some lesser foes over the last year or so at 160 (while making some notable bones in catchweight bouts), Sturm has been the one dealing with some of the better top ten contenders available. He avenged a 2007 draw against American Randy Griffin with a commanding decision win in 2008 followed by a dominant performance over a Sebastian Sylvester most had and still have in the top five at 160. Gevor enters this weekend also in many top fiveís.
None of these men may be world beaters but they are among the best of todayís Middleweight field and Sturm is a Middleweight. If he can dominate Gevor, he makes a statement at home about where he stands in comparison to Abraham. He also makes a statement to the world.
The action right now is not at 160. It is at 168 and not just in terms of whether the Showtime tournament proposed to feature Taylor, Abraham, Andre Ward, Andre Dirrell, Mikkel Kessler, and Carl Froch comes off. The options are limited and Sturm needs statements to make himself not only the logical but demanded challenge for Pavlik.
Before the fight was cancelled, Pavlik was slated for a defense against former Contender winner and Jr. Middleweight titlist Sergio Mora. It set no pulses racing. His top contenders from the WBC and WBO are Domenico Spada (29-1, 14 KO) and Sebastian Zbik (26-0, 10 KO). Neither is a bad fighter but neither stokes the fan friendly fires of wondering what might happen.
Make no mistake. Pavlik-Abraham not happening is a loss. It would have featured two of the gameís best finishers head to head. Sturm is no consolation prize based on recent form. Fans saw the speed of Bernard Hopkins befuddle Pavlik last year in a non-title affair. Sturm does not possess the same overall acumen as Hopkins but thatís what makes it fun. Itís a competitive contest, boxer versus puncher.
Barring Paul Williams becoming a firm entrant at Middleweight (and he appears still more interested in Welterweights and Jr. Middleweights), Pavlik-Sturm is the only serious contest at Middleweight right now.
Can it happen?
On June 28, BoxingScene editor Rick Reeno ( http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=20717 ) reported it probably canít right away as the network money might not be there. However, with so many of the other top names around them stepping into a series of competitive fights, the pressure to make the best fight available to both men could change the game board. It remains to be seen. It is a positive that the fight has appeared close to happening more than once and both sides seem willing.
For now, Sturm must win and continue to look good doing so. In a thin division, he is the only threat to the man seen as king. Itís the fight to root for at Middleweight.