by Cliff Rold
Over a spirited twelve rounds, 31-year old 2004 Olympic Super Heavyweight Gold Medalist Alexander Povetkin (22-0, 15 KO), of Chekhov, Russia, showed a solid beard and the ability to will through early adversity, controlling the second half of the contest for what was arguably a career best unanimous decision victory over 32-year old former WBA heavyweight titlist Ruslan Chagaev (27-2-1, 17 KO) of Hamburg, Germany, on Saturday night at the Messehalle in Erfurt, Germany.
The entertaining contest was notable for the level of technical acumen on display, both men showing off the skills acquired both as professionals and through laudable amateur careers. Along with his Olympic accolades, Povetkin was also an Amateur World Champion in 2003. Chagaev, representing Uzbekistan, failed to medal as an Olympian in 1996 and 2000, but captured Amateur World Championships in both 1997 and 2001.
Povetkin came into the contest at a career high 232 ½ lbs., Chagaev matching him to the ounce on the scale. The referee was Hubert Earle.
As expected, both men began behind the jab, Povetkin moving to the left and keeping his lead foot on the outside of the southpaw Chagaev. The first notable blow of the round came from Povetkin, a hard right hand, but Chagaev would answer in the first with a thudding left to the body and a hard straight left upstairs. The final landed shot of the first was a left from Chagaev to the temple.
Povetkin attempted a right immediately into the second but found only the gloves of Chagaev. At the midway point of the round, a Chagaev left appeared to briefly stun Povetkin and the Russian answered, a right coming over the guard of Chagaev moments later. It was one of the few moments of genuine action as the dynamic of the fight through six minutes seemed to be Povetkin struggling to get through the Chagaev guard and Chagaev not throwing quite enough but landing hard when he did.
Business picked up in the third, Povetkin wisely using a left to the body to aid his efforts to strike the head of Chagaev. Increasingly, the left uppercut of Povetkin was paying dividends. Again Chagaev found single, hard blows to rock his man but struggled with Povetkin’s work rate. A snappy left early in the fourth caught Povetkin’s attention, as did a counter left moments later. The volume of Chagaev’s offense noticeably increased and gave him his best round of the fight to then, Povetkin forced to play catch up in the last minute with some combination bursts.
Between rounds prior to the fourth and fifth, Povetkin could be seen to be taking deep breaths while the more experienced Chagaev looked all of the veteran he is. Through the first two minutes of the fifth, he fought like it too but Povetkin responded to the left of Chagaev with a left uppercut and partially blocked right and near the minute mark. They fought at close quarters down the stretch, neither man firmly controlling the other.
A massive, clean left hand blasted Povetkin along the ropes in the first minute of the sixth, Chagaev following his wounded prey and blasting him with another. Povetkin planted and fought back, trying to halt the forward momentum of Chagaev with the left uppercut. A right hand would stun Povetkin near the minute mark and then the assault stemmed, Chagaev patient in waiting for opportunities that would have to come in another frame.
With his trainer, Teddy Atlas, increasingly reaching for the big-game-speech dramatics that have marked his corner work since at least his days with former Heavyweight Champion Michael Moorer, Povetkin would have a bit of a comeback round in the seventh. He didn’t hurt Chagaev, but he moved his hands, landed the uppercut, and ate fewer Chagaev power shots than he had in the previous few rounds. A right uppercut, rather the shorter left, made an impact for Povetkin in the eighth, at least three of them landing clean in the round and a second wind seemed at hand.
It continued in the ninth, Povetkin dominating the first two minutes of the round, working both uppercuts, looping hooks, and some winging body shots before Chagaev woke up a bit in the final minute for some hotly contested leathered chess into the bell. In the tenth, Povetkin wobbled Chagaev with a right hand early, and blasted him with a left and right along the ropes late, and another stiff pair of left uppercuts, to punctuate yet another winning round in his second half rally. Heading into the final two rounds, it was Chagaev sucking air and wearing a mask of discouragement.
He never gave up. He never got any closer to victory either, Povetkin using smart movement and well timed combinations to continue piling points en route to what ultimately would be read as victory by scores of 116-112 and 117-113 twice. BoxingScene scored the contest 116-112 for Povetkin.
With the win, Povetkin picked up a WBA heavyweight belt, available by way of the WBA’s internal, comical allowance of multiple champions in the same division.
The widely recognized real Heavyweight Champion, Wladimir Klitschko, added the WBA belt to his WBO and IBF straps with a decision win over David Haye in a unification contest in July. His status as a unified beltholder led the WBA, under their rules, to name Klitschko “Super Champion,” creating an opening for the hollow “World Championship” belt handed out Saturday.
Povetkin previously appeared poised to challenge Klitschko as an IBF mandatory but the fight didn’t happen. His trainer, Atlas, has indicated in the press that he felt his charge was not ready for that contest, which Povetkin officially pulled out of with injury. The belt issue took nothing away from the high quality of the action, and Povetkin took an important step towards perhaps one day being ready to challenge for the real deal.
The loss was only the second of Chagaev’s career, his previous coming on a ninth round stoppage at the hands of Klitschko in 2009.
As solid a fight as Povetkin-Chagaev was, fans were treated to an even better affair immediately afterwards. Over a brutal, rugged nine rounds, both men took the measure of the other and in the end it was Finnish 27-year old Robert Helenius (16-0, 11 KO), 243 ½, of Berlin, Germany whose hand was raised with a rousing ninth round stoppage of Belarusian 35-year old former WBO heavyweight titlist Sergiy Liakhovich (25-4, 16 KO), 232, of Scottsdale, Arizona.
Helenius, taller by at least a couple inches at 6’6 and change, pawed with the jab at times in the first, showing more snap with short rights and lefts as Liakhovich got close. Liakhovich warmed calmly to the task in the opening minutes, blocking and stepping right and left to get a feel for what Helenius could do. Having taken some big rights to the body along with jarring stuff upstairs, Liakhovich began to open up towards the end of the round and into the second. In the latter, Liakhovich countered with a decent left off the ropes, had some success with the jab, and scarped a pair of quick lefts of the side of the face of Helenius before the bell. Helenius, between those blows, showed off a dangerous right.
Liakhovich was more than warm in the third, his left hook and bodywork pushing Helenius in ways the new flavor in the division hadn’t really seen yet. Helenius didn’t shy from the fray, bloodying Liakhovich’s nose with an increasingly stiff jab, but it was the veteran shading the round with more accurate and eye catching blows. A hotly contested, and bruising, fourth saw Helenius play the part of more accurate puncher for most of the round, blocking body shots well and muffling many of Liakhovich’s wide shots to the head while countering with clean, snapping blows often enough to appear to have taken a round back in his favor.
Round five was a scoring nightmare, each man landing booming blows with Liakhovich plowing into the flanks of Helenius and Helenius catching Liakhovich upstairs. Between rounds, Helenius appeared exhausted, his trainer fanning him with a towel and cornermen icing his legs. Liakhovich pushed the issue in the sixth, moving forward and backing Helenius up, willing to eat right hand counters in order to land his own loaded bombs.
The back and forth war saw both men score in the seventh, Liakhovich doing the better work in the first part of the round, Helenius digging deep in the final minute. A right hand while Liakhovich was on the ropes exhibited how in the fight the fatigued younger man remained and, like Povetkin earlier in the night, Helenius was breathing a second win when he needed it.
In the eighth it was Helenius taking the role as pressure fighter, eating clean hooks from Liakhovich for the chance to get his own punches home. It worked. Chipping away at Liakhovich all through the round, Helenius landed a short left hook in the final seconds to hurt his man, opening up with a fusillade of blows to force Liakhovich towards a corner and to his knees for a knockdown. Liakhovich beat the count and the bell rang before he could suffer any further punishment.
It didn’t matter. The fight was for all purposes over, and Liakhovich could do nothing about it. At the bell for the ninth, Liakhovich came forward bravely and left on his shield the same way. Helenius blasted him with an uppercut to start the finish, unloading with a straight right and left as Stanley Christodoulou stepped in to save a Liakhovich ready to slump towards the floor at ring center at :19 seconds of round nine.
Liakhovich can be proud in defeat, engaging in arguably the best Heavyweight fight since his own fantastic win over Brewster. Helenius-Liakhovich didn’t quite meet the level of mayhem found in that 2006 classic, but it might have been the best Heavyweight battle since.
The win gives Helenius his third scalp from a former Heavyweight beltholder in his last six fights, all of those scalps coming inside the distance. Helenius stopped Lamon Brewster in eight in March 2010 and knocked Samuel Peter senseless in his last contest, in April of this year. The buzz around the “Nordic Nightmare” can be anticipated to grow as fans begin asking seriously if, and when, he will be ready to challenge Klitschko.
The card was televised in the U.S. on premium cable network Epix, promoted by Sauerland Events.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]