What if some heavyweights fought some competitive, entertaining bouts nowadays? I know, I know, it sounds like a scenario for Marvel Comics’ Uatu*. But it actually happened Saturday on Epix’ broadcast of a heavyweight doubleheader out of Germany.
Frirst up, Alexander Povetkin edged Ruslan Chagaev in a close, hard-fought match where both men landed their share of clean, hard shots. It was the biggest test of Povetkin’s career, and he passed it — albeit in a way that suggests he might not need to be held back a grade, but it was no endorsment of him skipping a year. Trainer Teddy Atlas has negged the living hell out of Povetkin, saying before the fight he wasn’t ready for this fight due to some flaws he has or that and complaining about the training camp and Povetkin’s team, which might explain why Povetkin was tentative in the middle rounds after doing well early… although maybe the looping, punishing lefts Chagaev landed had something to do with that, too. But the mid-rounds negging — telling him his whole family’s honor was at stake — seemed to do good things for Povetkin’s motivation late, because Povetkin took those rounds, finding lots of room for his head-snapping uppercut. It looked like a closer fight to me than the 116-112, 117-113 x2 (?) scorecards, but it was nonetheless a really nice win for Povetkin and no repudiation of Chagaev as a sub-Klitschko contender, even if Chagaev should’ve done more late than he did. Regardless, Povetkin remains a work in progress; I never thought he was ready for champion Wladimir Klitschko before he pulled out of that fight, and he still isn’t, but maybe more time with Atlas where he finds a definitive identity (along with more frequent appearances, as Atlas wants for him but hasn’t happened) and this win over a savvy and tough veteran will get him as ready as he’ll ever get.
Actually, I think Robert Helenius is more ready for Klitschko than Povetkin is, and he’s really only recently entered the world stage against quality competition. I say that despite the fact that Helenius got hit a ton by Serhai Liakhovich in their meeting Saturday. Still, where Povetkin was staggered by Chagaev, Helenius never seemed remotely bothered by Liakhovich’s stinging blows. And in the meantime, in addition to that ability to take a punch, he’s got great size — 6’6″ — and excellent power, three things that could make him a threat to Klitschko, at least theoretically, given that both those qualities have at times troubled the king. The power thing, Liakhovich can attest to. Before the 8th round, Liakhovich had held his own, mostly, even if Helenius was doing the most damage and had bloodied up Liakhovich’ nose and blackened his eye. At the end of the 8th, a furious Helenius combination dropped Liakhovich. Early in the 9th, a second, even more furious and fast combination knocked out Liakhovich on his feet. The uppercut started it, but a la Fight Night Round 2 or 3, he hit him about a million times on the way down and kept him up, forcing the referee to step in and keep Helenius from punching any more. Liakhovich leaves with a couple more meaningful fights in him from his game, competitive effort. Helenius leaves that savage knockout an incomplete product, like Povetkin, but with some real tools to hone. Besides the shoddyish defense, he still has stretches like all Ulli Wegner-trained fighters where he doesn’t do enough, although he did more here than he did against Samuel Peter. It’s possible to imagine Helenius beating Klitschko in the fall, but it becomes better-than-remote if he gets more seasoning yet and works on his defense/activity deficits.
Even with the works-in-progress vs. veteran-contenders display of so many good-not-great boxers, it was nice, for one night, to have enjoyable heavyweight fights, if not out-and-out Fight of the Year-style bouts. It’s been said, and not unreasonably, that the Klitschko brothers’ dominance is about all that keeps the heavyweight division legit from a world-class standpoint. But shows like this do at least give a little itch of wondering whether a bit more parity, and a bit less world-class, would really be so bad.
*Apologies to boxing blog brethren Boxing Watchers.