Marco Huck vs. Ola Afolabi Part III

By Matt McGrain on June 3, 2013
Marco Huck vs. Ola Afolabi Part III
Huck did not wait to become tired to rest, he rested so he would not become tired.

Huck explained to Afolabi what his own problem would be that night in no uncertain terms. That problem is violence…

A few days from now on Saturday the eighth of June, Marco Huck and Ola Afolabi will meet for a third and in all likelihood final time in Berlin, Germany, completing what may very well be one of the better trilogies completed so far in this millennium. Flying firmly under the radar of many boxing fans it is a fight made between the generally unpopular world’s number one cruiserweight, the Serbian Marco Huck, a homeboy who has not fought outside of his adopted Germany since 2007, and Ola Afolabi, an unheralded, under-schooled road warrior born in Britain who lives in Los Angeles.

Like Chris Eubank before him, Afolabi found petty crime an easy out when he spurred his family and turned to the streets of London for his living before leaving for America and a fresh start. Afolabi went further than Eubank, bouncing past New York and all the way out to LA and an older brother. Things did not improve for him, however, until, like so many other troubled young men before him, he stepped into a boxing gym—The Wild Card, no less, where he went to work picking up around the place in the employ of one Freddie Roach. Whilst his life was turned around, his boxing career still had no real lift. Unlike Eubank, he didn’t have a Watson or a Benn to return home to, but knocking out Enzo Maccarinelli earned him something called the interim WBO cruiserweight title and a shot at Marco Huck. 

Afolabi’s rootlessness has denied him the solid fan base a fighter of his heart, determination and punch resistance might readily have earned himself in London. On the other hand, the unspectacular Huck has stuck to “home” with a determination perhaps only an immigrant could understand. The combination makes this weekend’s clash a regional affair rather than the international showcase it perhaps ought to be. The first fight was even more unheralded.

Fought in a basketball arena in the boxing backwater of Ludwigsburg, Baden-Wurttemberg, it was the first time Afolabi had fought over a scheduled twelve and the first time Marco Huck was to defend the cruiserweight strap he earned against Victor Ramirez. Although the fight contained too many clinches and petty fouls to be considered a classic, it was a desperate, knife-edge encounter from which Huck emerged victorious by the narrowest of margins. My card read 115-113 in the Serbian’s favor which saw me in agreement with two of three judges, the other finding the extra round for Huck and a 116-112 card. Afolabi won the first frame with one of the division’s most interesting jabs, a punch he throws from as low as his waist, a single shot that is blessed with solid variety, often planted in his opponent’s chest or stomach, or lifting all the way into a disturbing up jab. Certainly it disturbed Huck and in truth it is a punch that the Transnational Boxing Board’s number one cruiserweight is yet to solve. Huck explained to Afolabi what his own problem would be that night in no uncertain terms in the second third and fourth. That problem is violence. Huck allowed Afolabi the illusion of control, allowing himself to be moved and jabbed but when he attacked it was with sudden and surging aggression,  carpet-bomb combinations designed to hurt, disorientate and catch the eye of the judges. These scything punches were often clumsy looking and many of them landed upon glove and elbow as Afolabi covered up with the certainty of a much more experienced boxer, but they also redefined the fight. To win, Afolabi would need to win at least some of the exchanges Huck was initiating. He could not go to Germany and win on the jab.

His answer was a brutal right uppercut, a punch that he has made use of ever since. “Upperclub” might be a better way to describe this blow which has little of the finesse or sharp punctuation of the traditional punch but rather seems to be thrown from the knees before rocketing through the target into the low atmosphere. Afolabi throws it at close range when he can safely make the space and he hurt Huck with this blow at the end of the fifth, the first round he was able to win since the first. With this punch in tow, the Londoner’s natural aggression and fighting heart took him to within a single round of an upset. In the late rounds, they took turns to brutalize one another. The difference between them was Huck’s generalship. For those that looked closely, this was the fight Huck proved himself to be a thinking bear. Yes, he won with violence and not technique, but he is also a fighter that had great knowledge of himself, something that is as rare in a boxer as it is precious. He did not wait to become tired to rest, he rested so he would not become tired. This left him with just enough to pull out a last minute rally and steal the fight, probably in the final fifteen seconds of the twelfth round. 

Afolabi remained in Europe in the aftermath, though to what purpose was not clear. He beat some middling competition in Germany before travelling to Poland for a bizarre eight round fight with Lukasz Rusiewicz. To say that Afolabi was treading water upon meeting a man with a record of 9-10 would be an insult to water, which does, after all, sustain all life on the planet. Huck, on the other hand, showed huge ambition boxing seven defenses of his strap and moving up to heavyweight to take on one of the world’s better heavyweights, unlucky to drop a majority decision to a dumbfounded Alexander Povetkin. So when the Ola and Marco were scheduled to meet again in May of 2012, Huck was once again made a heavy favorite. 

The fight was a classic, and my personal choice for Fight of the Year in 2012. It was Afolabi, not Huck, that looked the more improved fighter, jabbing as he had done so before but showing footwork and mobility in great excess of previous performances. Always supple of upper body and able to ride Huck’s harder punches, the sizzling left hook to the body was a new development. On my card this combination of new skills and old skills earned Afolabi each and every one of the first five rounds, a seemingly unassailable lead for a fighter with an iron chin. But from the sixth on, Huck forced an exciting and brutal brawl on Afolabi, and the Brit accepted with tired abandon. Mixing a one-two down the middle with a right uppercut and thunderous body attack Huck took control of the fight and while Afolabi’s decision not to give ground was entirely understandable in psychological and tactical terms, it may have cost him the fight. Nevertheless it was hard not to be impressed, even stunned, when after being horrifically brutalized by a rampant Huck in the ninth, Afolabi came roaring back in the tenth, winning his first round since the fifth and taking him to within one round of victory. He came so very close to winning the eleventh before Huck charged him once again and stole it. The twelfth was, as I put it writing for at the time, “pandemonium…one of those dumfounding ‘am I seeing this right?’ moments boxing occasionally throws up.”

I scored the fight a draw, and the judges saw it that way too. A rematch seemed both a necessity and impossibility, with Huck apparently headed to deeper waters and the heavyweight division.

And yet, here we are. Nobody really seemed to care about the first two fights but in just a few days, there will be a third.

Originally planned for early May, the fight fell through when, to no one’s great surprise, Don King failed to make good on the promises he had made when he entered his astronomical purse bid of $1.5 million. Rescheduled, the paydays are expected to nevertheless be solid for both men, Huck promised in excess of $700,000, Afolabi on a promise of around $180,000. Whilst Ola is undoubtedly being low-balled a bit here, knowing that he was paid just $6,000 to fight Orlin Norris in 2005 can help us understand why he is not to be heard complaining. As to who will win? That is the $1.5 million question.

Afolabi is telling the press in turn that he is going for the knockout or that he isn’t depending upon his mood and who asks him. He also claims to have redesigned his diet leaving him in the best shape of his life at thirty-three and given his background and his route to the top, I can believe this. But I do wonder about his fighting shape. Afolabi has not been in a prize-ring since that 2012 draw with Huck. He has been out of the game for more than a year. Reading these signs is always difficult. Recently we saw an apparently underprepared Kessler turn in a great losing performance against a much busier Carl Froch but we also saw Kessler lose the first few rounds of that fight—was he shaking off rust? And is it something that Afolabi will have to do? This we cannot know until we know, just as we cannot know if he is over-trained. Afolabi went into camp in November for this fight, some six months ago. Whilst the build-up has been slow and the first couple of months were all about conditioning it is very possible that the Brit has left some of his best in the training camp. A combination of ring-rust and burnout would be a disaster for Afolabi, who lost the first fight after a slow start and the second one after a poor finish. 

If Ola has his conditioning right, however, Huck may be in trouble. He looked less than spectacular in edging out Firat Arslan at the end of last year in a fight that some had him losing. Often guilty of doing just enough to get the win I got the feeling watching that fight that Afolabi would nevertheless have beaten Huck that night and even after thirteen months without throwing a paid punch that is still a strong possibility—and in the end I think the most likely outcome, by a sliver. This is not a fight I feel comfortable making a pick for given the location, the build-up, the previous between the two men and their respective characters, but the arch seems to be with the Londoner—a close loss, a draw, and then a win is a logical progression. Assuming the judges play it straight, which they have on two previous occasions, I think Afolabi is going to find a way to make the necessary adjustments and get the win. 

In the end though, that does not matter for us, the fans. What we want to see is a great fight. There is absolutely no reason to believe that it will be anything but. “Huck is too tough to know when he is hurt” is a remark that Ola has made one week out, something that is equally true of both men. Afolabi’s march to victory is not the only apparent arch this trilogy might display. The first was a really good fight, the second was great, what will the third be? Not widely publicized and unlikely to be widely broadcast, if you miss it, one thing you cannot say:

That you weren’t warned.

2009-12-05 Marco Huck vs Ola Afolabi I by Simbros1

Marco Huck vs Ola Afolabi II 2012-05-05 by tiguidou421

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  1. statistics 12:25pm, 06/03/2013

    really informative, well written description

  2. Michael Hegan 11:20am, 06/03/2013

    kinda like Glen Johnson…...good fighter…no industry push…had to win big if he was gonna take a win over a top ten guy

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