Felix Sturm Stops Sebastian Zbik, But What Next?

Felix Sturm (37-2-2) retained his middleweight title with an impressive win over Sebastian Zbik (30-2) when Zbik’s corner threw in the towel at the conclusion of the 9th round. The opening rounds saw some decent back-and-forth with Sturm playing tight defense and working behind the jab while Zbik was more aggressive with combinations and some nice right hands down the middle. From the 4th round onward, Sturm took over. He was doubling and tripling up on the jab and began landing uppercuts and power shots that left Zbik a bruised and helpless mess by the end of the night. Zbik has a ton of heart, but with very little power and presumably facing a massive deficit on the scorecards, his corner made the right call in sparing him from any further punishment. Through nine, I had the fight 89-83 for Sturm, 7-1-1 in rounds.

Sturm looked very sharp and this performance to some degree helps erase his previous two relatively lackluster ones: a controversial decision win over Matthew Macklin last June and a draw with Martin Murray in December. There’s no question Sturm is an excellent technician; he keeps his gloves up in a tight shell defense and pumps a stiff and effective left jab, sometimes three and four at a time. As the methodical jabs began to take their toll, Sturm rocked Zbik with some sharp uppercuts on the inside and began to open up with the full array of hooks and winging rights in the middle rounds. Zbik never stopped throwing punches, never ran or recoiled into a defensive stance, but Sturm blocked most of the flurries and fired back with the more precise and damaging counter-shots. Going into the second half of the fight, the outcome appeared inevitable, and with Zbik actually seeming wobbled for the first time after a barrage in the 9th, his corner made the decision and gave their fighter the chance to live to fight another day. Maybe if Zbik had more than ten knockouts to his name in thirty fights, things would have played out differently. But in this case, the stoppage was absolutely justified and even commendable.

So where do we go from here?

As far as Zbik goes, he simply doesn’t have enough variety to his game to pose a threat to any of the elite-level fighters at middleweight. Zbik was very effective in the first half of his fight against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. last year, but that probably speaks more to Jr.’s defensive inadequacies than anything else. He’s a competent boxer-puncher who simply lacks the power, speed or any one great quality that might put him over the top. Against a skilled boxer in Sturm, those mediocrities were exposed. Where Felix Sturm goes from here is the more interesting and probably more infuriating question to answer.

Sturm is a very good fighter and this performance affirmed his place as one of the handful of best middleweights in the world. He has done himself no favors in the American consciousness, content in recent years to defend his belt on his home-turf in Germany and appearing disinterested in facing the man presumed to be his biggest challenge and most logical opponent, legitimate middleweight champion Sergio Martinez. Of course, Sturm could probably care less about any of that because he draws huge crowds and makes big money doing so. He likely will continue to fight whatever mid-level contender the WBA mandates as his challenger. Perhaps with hard-hitting, rising sensation Gennady Golovkin being the “WBA regular champion” while Sturm is the “WBA super world blah-blah”, that match-up may have some chance of occurring in the future. Who knows? The truth is, as long as Sturm is a money-making draw in Germany, belt or otherwise, he can pretty much dictate whatever he wants to do and boxers in that situation tend to take the lowest-risk approach.

Unfortunately, that means Sturm probably won’t be testing his talents against the cream of crop anytime soon, and will continue to be thought of as the quintessential Euro-belt-holder, snug and happy in the friendly confines of Allemania. While the IBF and WBO middleweight titlists, Daniel Geale and Dmitry Pirog, are rumored to be fighting on HBO in a unification bout in the fall, and Martinez and Chavez inch ever closer to their meeting with the WBC belt at stake (although I’ll believe that one when I see it), Sturm will likely find himself out of the mix for middleweight supremacy. Sturm may very well be, on paper and in reality, the best and most worthy challenger to Sergio’s undisputed throne. But when you can make millions against lower-risk opponents, when you struggle in fights as he did against Macklin and can come away with comfortable decisions, when you can perform in front of adoring crowds in your backyard, to paraphrase Larry Merchant, all that other cosmic crapola goes out the window. In a few years, we may look back and say “Felix Sturm, we hardly knew ye.”

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.