Action-Packed Night in Germany

By Matt McGrain on May 5, 2012
Action-Packed Night in Germany
Who would ever object to seeing a third fight between Marco Huck and Ola Afolabi? (AP)

There was a reminder tonight from the Messehalle in Erfurt, Germany that the first course can be the best part of any meal…

There is more to boxing than just the main event and however critical Floyd Mayweather-Miguel Cotto may seem to us just hours before the opening bell, there was a reminder from Germany that the first course can be the best part of any meal.

Firstly, the European heavyweight title changed hands as the overprotected and widely criticized champion Alexander Dimitrenko (now 32-2) was stopped in the 11th round by breakout prospect Kubrat Pulev who moves to 16-0. 

This is Pulev’s most significant professional win, his January 2012 ninth round stoppage of Michael Sprott the only indication up until this point that he might add, in the paid ranks, some of the modern game’s many baubles and bangles to his European Amateur Championship gold medal, earned in 2008 at super heavyweight. 

He was favored by many to do just that tonight, but I felt that this fight might be coming just a little too soon for him. Although Dimitrenko has been an underwhelming champion, victories over Albert Sosnowski (KO12), Michael Sprott (UD12), Luan Kurashiki (KO3) and a close loss to Eddie Chambers (LMD12), a fight for which he was ranked #8 by Ring magazine, seemed to indicate that he was the fighter with the pedigree.  His 6’7 height augmented by an 83” reach and a 258 lb. frame also gave him a serious advantage in size over the 6’4, 245 lb. Pulev.

In the first, Pulev took on the appearance of a fighter still in love with his amateur style and Dimitrenko’s fast start left him looking rather planless. The European champion showed some decent variety, swapping between head and body behind a long jab and a welcome dose of head movement. Pulev looked unsure, waiting within in range but throwing little, being moved back by a decent rush and punch strategy. The second followed a similar pattern, Dimitrenko landing a good left hook from a very wide stance, using his reach to land a follow-up right hand. Pulev was still declining the invitation to fight, but by now it was apparent that Dimitrenko’s punches were not having much effect on his stoic challenger. Whilst Dimitrenko has stopped 21 of his 34 opponents, like many other prospects he has been heavily protected on the way up, and certainly has never demonstrated elite power. In Pulev, he had finally run into an opponent who was not only able to absorb his punches but was disdainful of them.

The fight began to swing to Pulev in the third. The challenger showed deft footwork to close the distance against his bigger, rangier opponent before landing a stiff jab, adding a wild but effective right hand to the mix in the second half of the round as he forced the champion back to the ropes. Dimitrenko’s variety had vanished by the beginning of the fourth. Devoid of any top drawer head movement, Pulev was using a static frame to bait an uncertain Dimitrenko forwards with a view to making him miss by a small margin and hit back. The strategy was a valid one only because Pulev’s chin was superior to Dimitrenko’s punch. Still, the bigger man upped the workrate in the fifth to arguably steal the round but both looked void of any concrete strategy. Pulev seemed to be fighting a rather reactionary fight and Dimitrenko’s bread-and-butter approach was also giving him little to work with.

Dimitrenko controlled the range and action for the first full minute of the sixth before walking into a hard shot. But to the relief of his increasingly disturbed corner his punch variety, which, along with his superior workrate was his only tangible advantage during exchanges, seemed to be returning. Pulev trapped him onto hard shots however and Dimitrenko emerged from a ragged few seconds with a cut left eye.

The seventh saw the two swap hard jabs, Dimitrenko moving in a tight circle whilst Pulev watched and waited. Pulev was throwing by far the fewer punches but he was still, at least, even on most cards and the champion was beginning to look tired. Pulev landed a huge uppercut right at the end of the round, taking advantage of Dimitrenko’s disorganization. The European champion looked distressed between rounds, seemingly unsure as his corner demanded more. In the eighth, he looked close to quitting. But Pulev seemed unsure about pushing the action, and Dimitreno—derided by broadcaster Steve Bunce as “waiting to be stopped” during the second half of the fight—had a deeply mournful look as he returned to his corner. He had fought back well however, and I think he might even have won the round. The fight had taken on a deeply odd complexion, Dimitrenko still in the fight on the cards but basically having the look of a beaten fighter.

A slip at the start of the ninth added to the general sense of his exhaustion but still Pulev declined to close. By the end of the round the soon-to-be-deposed champion was outright leaning on the ropes for support in a break in the fighting. In the 10th, Pulev continued to wait outside, but was boxing forwards more steadily. By the 11th Dimitrenko was all in. Trying to take control once more with his jab he was spun by a Pulev punch and floated idly by his challenger who was moved back by the referee. Pulev continued to stalk with his sharp, stepping jab, adding a more disciplined right hand before a stiff left hand dropped the bereft champion for the count. Dimitrenko seemed to consider getting up briefly, but he was all in, and almost certainly now needed a knockout to defeat the Bulgarian challenger—who after the count of “10” had become champion.

How much further Pulev can go is open to question. A one-paced fighter, he may carry with him a chin of pure granite. Literally nothing that Dimitrenko threw even troubled him, and whilst the German is not a huge puncher, he’s still huge. Prospects that get tagged by a 258 lb. opponent without result and sport an amateur gold are worth watching. At 16-0 it would be nice to say that he has the time to learn his trade defending that European title, but it may not be the case. Pulev turned 31 yesterday and was actually the older of the two men in the ring. Still, if 40 really is the new 30 Pulev may have a say in tidying whatever mess the Klitschko brothers leave behind when they retire, even if it is just in the role of contender.

As absorbing as the European heavyweight title fight had been, it was about to be eclipsed by the settling of WBO cruiserweight title bragging rights. At we like to keep our readers abreast of the title situation, but the governing bodies don’t make that job particularly easy. Case in point, both Ola Afolabi (19-2-3 going in) and Marco Huck (34-2 going in) both seemed to have a piece of that particularly title at the first bell. Does that make this a unification match? Whatever the detail, this was a fight fit to crown any champion.

Afolabi, ostensibly the challenger, fights in Union Jack shorts but trains and is mentored in the United States, fighting out of Los Angeles. Huck, who defeated Afolabi by 12-round decision in their previous encounter in 2009 had admitted pre-fight that he expected a harder fight the second time around. Coming in smarting from his controversial points loss at heavyweight to Alexander Povetkin, Huck had promised a fast start and a quick knockout—but failed to deliver either as Afolabi took complete control of the fight.

Jabbing beautifully to the body, Huck was forced to take on the same ominous watching role as Pulev had earlier, but when Afolabi added a sharp uppercut and moved deftly out of the way of Huck’s single clumsy rush, it became apparent that these two were working a higher level than their heavyweight counterparts. Showing surprisingly good footwork and balance, Afolabi remained the boss in the second, continuing to toss out a sharp and varied jab that left Huck bemused and bothered. A little less comfortable when the two went chest to chest, Afolabi remained in charge even there, landing a superb right hand upstairs, combining it beautifully with a hook to the body. When Huck rushed and caught the Londoner with a right hand, Afolabi was alive enough to roll with the punch while moving away, rendering the type of thundering cross that Huck has become famous for harmless. 

Huck’s lack of aggression continued into the third, and although he landed a nice double jab late to augment some of the rougher stuff he had added early on, Afolabi was basically controlling him with the workrate and left. It was a punch the challenger continued to push the champion back with in the fourth and Huck’s rushes seemed amateurish by comparison to what was a disciplined and crafty fight plan by his opponent. Huck was seemingly devoid of ideas and energy as the fourth drew to a close, and the thought occurred that making weight may have hurt the Serbian. 

He dismissed this notion in the fifth, starting aggressively and remembering his own jab for the first time. But the challenger added a lead right to his left and bodywork and Huck slowed once again, moving away and to the ropes, looking to absorb Afolabi’s punches on his tight guard. In commentary for BoxNation, Spencer Fearon got a little overexcited during some of the Brit’s better work, comparing him to middleweight and light heavyweight legend Lloyd Marshall. It was a nice moment, and perhaps one the challenger had earned as he slipped some of Huck‘s best work before the champion had even really wound up taking, on my card, his fifth straight round.

Round six was when the fight began to change.

Huck had apparently been biding his time and waiting for Afolabi to tire. The champion waded forward, his punches hard and accurate, concentrating his attack on the body but also landing a beautiful left hook up top. Suddenly the Brit looked tired and in the second half of the fight his blows just didn’t contain the snap they had in the first. One-two punches and a nice right uppercut thrown through the middle was Huck’s bread and butter, but a double handed attack to the body bought by a nice feint married to some decent counterpunches off the ropes reminded Afolabi that he was much more than a brawler. Nevertheless, a brawl is exactly what was brewing.

Huck instigated it with a nice double jab at the beginning of the seventh. Afolabi came roaring back aggressively but Huck remained unhurt. Duking it out at close quarters on the ropes, Huck was cut, supposedly by an accidental headbutt, a decision that irked the Afolabi corner. For the first time, Huck had taken control of the fight in earnest, and while the challenger was able to orchestrate the attack when he stuck to his aggressive boxing, as soon as Huck hit home with something serious he was forced to fight or give ground. He chose consistently to do the former, and although this was a decision derided by the BoxNation commentary, I understand the choice. Giving ground to a rushing puncher like Huck is no less giving up control of the fight than brawling is, and Afolabi had a lead to defend.

Continuing to impose himself in the eighth, the champion took on a real look of dynamism, stepping in with a feinted jab to land an uppercut, landing the double jab, throwing a lead left hook. Afolabi looked like he might be out of his depth. After a slow start to the ninth, it seemed that the time had come. Jabbing and going back, even finding time to land a decent left hook, the challenger seemed back in control and on his way to banking his first round on my card since the fifth when Huck suddenly cut loose. Steadily introducing punches as the fight wore on, Huck now weaved them together in a positive tidal wave of hurt, battering Afolabi across the ring with hooks, uppercuts, straight right hands and body punches. It just seemed that the challenger would have to capitulate. Huck, all but unboxable when on such form, showed no respect to his gutsy challenger and the punches became positive clubs as Afolabi, nearly, nearly broke. 

But at the beginning of the 10th, the challenger was up first and ring center, waving Huck forwards. In a display of true heart and guts, not to mention superb recuperative abilities, Afolabi gutted out the 10th round and won it on my card. He did not flinch, blink or buckle. As the round progressed the tension became unbearable as we waited for Huck to spring his trap, but it never happened, in spite of shipping more punches than it had taken to make the 50 lb. heavier Dimitrenko quit in the space of just 20 seconds, Afolabi boxed with complete control, pouring cold water on Huck’s only attempted rush at the 1:20 mark with movement and jabbing. Huck, clearly stung by his inability to put his stubborn challenger away, started the 11th more aggressively but once again came under the spell of the Afolabi jab—until the midway point when Huck once again scored with punches during aggressive rushes, each man taking a turn to show chin and heart as they exchanged blows. 

The 12th and final round was pandemonium. Afolabi’s demeanor was grim as he somehow found the will to carry the attack to a suddenly exhausted looking Huck. Wide, hard punches looked for a moment like they might undo him at last, but he came thundering back inside and the challenger held on mid-round before rallying again. They went to war for the final minute in one of those dumfounding “Am I seeing this right?” moments boxing occasionally throws up as the previously exhausted warriors turned in a final session of back and forth before handing it over to the judges.

I had the fight a draw based upon Huck’s slow start, but expected the house fighter to get the nod. I was given a lesson in my own casual xenophobia as judges Barrabas and Thomas turned in 114-114 scorecards resulting in a majority draw. Judge Enyedi turned in another perfectly reasonable card, seeing Huck the winner by a single round.

I can’t say I understand the intricacies of the WBO’s splintered title, but I can’t think of anyone who would object to seeing a rematch to settle the issue.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Marco Huck vs Ola Afolabi 2 Part 1

Marco Huck vs Ola Afolabi 2 Part 2

Marco Huck vs Ola Afolabi 2 Part 3

Marco Huck vs Ola Afolabi 2 Part 4

Marco Huck vs Ola Afolabi 2 Part 5

Kubrat Pulev vs Alexander Dimitrenko Part 1

Kubrat Pulev vs Alexander Dimitrenko Part 2

Kubrat Pulev vs Alexander Dimitrenko Part 3

Kubrat Pulev vs Alexander Dimitrenko Part 4

Kubrat Pulev vs Alexander Dimitrenko Part 5

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  1. Matt McGrain 05:37am, 05/07/2012

    Yeah Cheekay, there’s a real gap as far as coverage of both Commonwealth or European title coverage goes.  I didn’t even think to kick somethin up here though until Pulev broke out which I thought was noteworthy…I was already working at it when Huck and Af kicked up a FOTY candidate.

  2. Cheekay Atomic 03:41pm, 05/06/2012

    This is fantastic and necessary coverage: I definitely would not have learned this much had I not read your piece, and a lot of this is really relevant.

  3. McGrain 01:16pm, 05/06/2012

    Cheers Mike.  Ofolabi-Huck was the best boxing from yesterday as far as I’m concerned…I hope anyone who missed it will hunt it down on YT.

  4. mikecasey 06:29am, 05/06/2012

    Great, detailed report, Matt!

  5. Tony Capoocia 06:14pm, 05/05/2012

    Afolabi vs Huck I had the fight a Draw myself. Felt that Huck looked slow at the start of the fight…then as it went on, seem to find it…then in the 10th he did nothing. Was a very good and close fight and Enjoyed it.

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