by Cliff Rold
It looked like it’s just about over.
While former IBF Middleweight and WBO Super Middleweight titlist Arthur Abraham (37-4, 28 KO) managed to escape with a victory last Saturday against a very average Willbeforce Shihepo (20-7, 15 KO), he didn’t look good getting there. At 33 years of age, it’s not certain that Abraham is on the slide.
The appearance of the inevitable is there.
Once removed from the first stoppage loss of his career, in a rematch with Robert Stieglitz, Abraham’s options are fairly limited. A third fight with Stieglitz is where he has to hang his hat. The chance to redeem that loss, after winning the first fight and the WBO belt with a decision last year, is his best option.
Sure, it’s just a belt. Andre Ward remains the champion of the class. For close to a year between 2012 and 2013, Abraham and Carl Froch were the only significant beltholders in class besides Ward. Ward had already soundly defeated them both.
In terms of dollars and cents, that’s not much of an issue for Abraham. He and Steiglitz did solid business. They probably would again. If he gets the rubber match, win or lose, it doesn’t change the premise here much.
The appearance of the inevitable is there.
Never a high volume or high-speed guy, Abraham doesn’t get off as suddenly as he used to. The dramatic power hasn’t left him but the delivery of those bombs is mitigated.
But it is interesting to track the slipping of Abraham. It wasn’t that long ago, just 2009, that he entered the Super Six Super Middleweight tournament as one of the two favorites, along with Mikkel Kessler, to win the whole thing.
Kessler’s status as favorite lasted one night, Ward emerging at his expense. Abraham was on track, outboxing and then concussing former Middleweight Champion Jermain Taylor to open the competition strong.
It had to be a sweet victory. Taylor’s team openly expressed no interest in matching their man with the Armenian puncher when Taylor reigned as the lineal king at 160 lbs. In retrospect, it might be said that Abraham missed his best chance, never seriously viable for a crack at history’s Middleweight crown despite a ten defense run with the IBF belt from 2005-2009. He would have had a strong chance to defeat Taylor then, or Kelly Pavlik later.
After the Taylor win at 168 lbs., it looked like he could seize the chances that eluded him one class lower. It wasn’t meant to be. A disqualification loss to Andre Dirrell in the second round was followed by a listless decision defeat to Froch and a gamer, but still lopsided, loss to Ward.
Since the tournament, he’s gone 5-1. The fighter who excited many fans when he was battling through a broken jaw against a then undefeated Edison Miranda in 2006, who knocked Miranda senseless in their 2008 non-title rematch, who nearly decapitated that tough Khoren Gevor, has been seldom seen. He always fought economically, behind a high guard, but the knockouts have been less frequent.
In looking like a fighter moving past it against Shihepo, a single thought crossed the mind: at least he tried.
The idea was reinforced on a weekend when Jhonny Gonzalez excellently dispensed the excellent Abner Mares in a single round. Gonzalez was a dangerous foe going in. Everyone acknowledged that even while virtually no one gave him much chance to win. In recent years, it’s become the norm to expect fighters like Mares to take softer touches than a Gonzalez between tough fights.
Mares didn’t. He lost for daring to be more than a hopeful brand. Mares will probably bounce back.
Abraham never really did. A good fighter at his peak, he ran into a string of better fighters and when it was over his prime was left behind.
Sometimes, failure can be worth celebrating. No, not as much as success. Victory still brings spoils, but it is undeniable that someone has to lose. Those who risk greatly put themselves more at risk of doing so.
In signing up for the Super Six, Abraham was provided a high-risk path to great success or failure. It ended up the latter, but in a noble fashion.
He didn’t pull out of the tournament when adversity struck. He rode it out to the end. He met his obligations, took his lumps, and went back to the drawing board. It isn’t always the case these days.
It’s not as bad as some lament, but it’s ain’t all good either. Think of some of the other notable names that made their bones just in the German market where Arthur Abraham initially flourished. For years, it was wondered what would happen if fighters like Sven Ottke or Dariusz Michalczewski tried (or were given the chance to try) to see just how far they could stretch before, as Larry Merchant might have put it, their reach exceeded their grasp.
There was an incomplete element to their runs.
No one can say the same for Abraham. He took a path more akin to Heavyweight Wladimir Klitschko, taking on the best around him when it was his time to do so and letting the chips fall. Klitschko dusted himself off to emerge as the genuine heir to Lennox Lewis, the next great Heavyweight after the last great heavyweight.
Abraham’s fate wasn’t as kind but so what?
When Abraham finally hangs up his gloves, fans and pundits can feel confident they know as much about him as there was to know. They know what styles he could handle and couldn’t. They know how he handled physical adversity (bravely against Miranda) and mental adversity (not as well in the Super Six).
They know he was a good not great fighter in a time where he could easily have kept feasting on less, racking up a KO count, and cashing checks, and left the sum of it all reading ‘inconclusive.’
He took a shot at the brass ring and fell short.
The appearance of the inevitable is there. If appearances are not deceiving, Abraham will exit worthy of the respect of any fight lover. Everyone can’t win the big ones but there is no reason to expect anything less than the try.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]