By Jake Donovan
Dating back to Sergey Kovalev’s most recent ring performance in late March, there is a lot of activity at the top level of the light heavyweight division in a span of just under two months. Kovalev is fresh off of a dominant knockout performance over Cedric Agnew.
Bernard Hopkins and Beibut Shumenov are set to square off in an alphabet unification bout on April 19. The winner is likely next in line for a crack at lineal light heavyweight king Adonis Stevenson, providing he gets past Andrzej Fonfara in May.
And then there’s Juergen Braehmer.
The 35-year old has been steadily climbing the light heavyweight ranks, but still managing to fly under the radar. Part of that comes from fighting exclusively out of his native Germany, which leaves him largely out of the global spotlight currently enjoyed by his aforementioned divisional peers.
Steps are being taken to change all of that.
A career-best win came in his last fight, a dominant unanimous decision over Marcus Oliveira in their vacant title fight last December. The opportunity came due to the inactivity of Shumenov, although – ironically- both wound up fighting for different variations of the same title on the same night.
The win over Oliveira was considered a minor upset though a win that makes sense in retrospect. Now comes the fun part, where Braehmer gets to bring some much needed notoriety to his career. His first title defense comes this Saturday, as he faces former cruiserweight champ Enzo Maccarinelli in Rostock, Germany.
As great as he looked against the previously unbeaten Oliveira, this weekend is all about making a major statement in a division well in the spotlight.
“You can expect a better performance from me than the last time I fought,” promises Braehmer (42-2, 31KO). “Since fighting under the Sauerland Event promotional banner, I’ve always show progression in my fights. And the good thing is that this time I am fighting someone quite tall and that suits me. I do not promise a knockout victory but it might very well happen.”
Braehmer is heavy-handed but only has one knockout among his past five fights. Three of his past four bouts have gone the full 12-round distance, including solid wins over Stefano Abtangelo and Eduard Guknecht in leading towards his first title fight.
However, in Maccarinelli (38-6, 30KO) he has a faded former champion who has been stopped in all of his career losses. The Welshman brings a three-fight win streak into the ring and renewed confidence since dropping down from the cruiserweight decision. Braehmer is well-prepared for that version, which he believes should make it a relatively easy day in the office if the same old Maccarinelli shows up on fight night.
“He cannot completely change his style of fighting,” Braehmer believes. “He may have learned something about defense but the first time I counter him hard, he will very well have forgotten everything about it. He is a good puncher with a heavy punch output, but it’s about who lands first and cleanly and that will be me.”
That strategy has led to an 11-fight win streak, without having to dumb down his competition following his last loss – a 12-round decision at the hands of Hugo Garay back in 2008. The only other loss in his career – a majority decision versus Mario Veit in 2005 – was emphatically avenged two years later, with Braehmer scoring a 4th round knockout some two years later.
With his win over Oliveira late last year, Braehmer emerged as a player in the light heavyweight division at a time when the division was on the cusp of a major upgrade. Quickly reemerging as one of the more prominent divisions in the sport at the top level, the headlines have been dominated in recent weeks of all of the possible matchups that can take place in the coming months.
Depending on how things would have played had past plans mapped out, Braehmer would either already be in the mix, or flushed out of queue altogether.
“I trained for a fight against Shumenov, which never happened, so I’ve paid attention to his career,” Braehmer says, referring to a scheduled Jan. ’11 showdown that ultimately failed to materialize. “They say you are only as good as your last fight. Although Shumenov fought a nobody (unbeaten but untested Tomas Kovacs, whom Shumenov stopped in three rounds last December), he looked very good disposing him in a hurry.”
Braehmer would love nothing more than to put a Shumenov showdown back on the table, should the Kazakh boxer get past Hopkins later this month. If not, there are plenty of other light heavyweights to face. Given his location far away from the politics that otherwise discourage a fight or two from happening, Braehmer and his team are in position to provide a viable alternate to desired super fights.
Of course, the money has to be right, given the “prize” aspect of being a prizefighter.
“Legacy is important but so is money, and perhaps more so given what we go through in the ring,” Braehmer admits. “I want to fight the best, no matter who it is, as long as the money is right. If the money is right, I would fight Kovalev without a doubt while the other guys fight each other. I want the best just like everyone else.”
First he has to take care of business on Saturday. Not that Braehmer views it as a given, he knows that nothing less than a dominant showing is required to prove his worth – figuratively and financially – at the top level of an increasingly lucrative division.
“Maccarinelli can let his fists fly as much as he wants, I will be the one landing to decisive punches and that is all that matters. The WBA World Title will not change hands but my hand will be raised on Saturday."
With any luck, awareness of his divisional presence will raise as well.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox