By Alexey Sukachev
Frankfurt, Germany - Cuba's Yoan Pablo Hernandez (26-1, 13 KOs) erased all doubts, taking the title as the "best active cruiserweight in the world" - with a gutsy, blood-proven and sweat-earned twelve round unanimous decision over former champion Steve "USS" Cunningham (24-4, 12 KOs). Scores were: 116-110 (by Mexico's Alejandro Lopez Cid), 116-110 (by Pasquale Procopio of Canada) and 115-111 (by Massimiliano Bianco from Italy) - in favor of the reigning IBF champion. It was a classy win in the first meaningful battle of 2012, and the best fight of the year so far.
Hernandez started quickly, using his superior speed to land stiff right jabs and followed with left hands on occasion. IBF #4 Cunningham, still dangerous at 36, met the Cuban head-on with a hard jab and also countered him well. But Hernandez was more active, and sharper, while Cunningham missed a large amount of his shots.
Round four proved to be the decisive moment of the fight. Hernandez dominated this stanza. During the last minute of the round, Cunningham landed a major (but also very short) left hook, which put Cunningham down badly. Steve fell down once more before getting up on unsteady legs but referee Eddie Cotton looked in his eyes and allowed the fight to go on. Badly shaken Cunningham went down immediately after that and was issued a second count. He managed to survive the round on sheer will but the score should have been no less than 10-7, as there were two knockdowns.
Surprisingly, Cunningham, got much better after being hit hard in the previous rounds. Having nothing to lose the American fighter marched forward and landed punches. His combinations weren't particularly hard but he landed them right on target. His right uppercut was also very effective in giving him the edge in the sixth. He was considerably better in the sixth and seventh rounds, but the eighth was very much even. It looked like Hernandez, 27, was finally listened to his head coach Ulli Wegner, as he stood his ground and countered the American with well-timed combinations. Imploring more sheer will, Cunningham took the ninth but that was it. His speed decreased, his legs got stiffer and he increasingly became less sharper.
In the tenth and in the eleventh rounds the fight became very much even. Hernandez fully recovered from a mid-fight crisis and started to land as many punches as he did in the opening rounds. Cunningham had his share of success as well but it was ultimately not enough to give him any chance of a win.
Finally, in the twelfth and final round, Cunningham started zealously but soon fatigued and Hernandez landed a lengthy and very dangerous combination to almost knock down Cunningham for a third time. The American fighter survived but lost the fight. BoxingScene had it 115-112 for the Hernandez, who sets the record straight after winning a controversial six round technical decision over Cunningham last October.
European light heavyweight champion Eduard Gutknecht (23-1, 9 KOs) successfully moved forward to new heights and to new goals, while Vyacheslav Uzelkov's (25-2, 16 KOs) career stagnated, after EBU titleholder Gutknecht scored a will-proved twelve-round decision over the uncharacteristically passive Ukrainian fighter. Gutknecht also positioned himself as a bona-fide contender and possibly the best European fighter without a world title, as both pugilists were ranked very high by all four major sanctioning bodies.
Uzelkov, enjoying a vast advantage in power and physical prowess, tired to press the action in the opening round, using smashing overhand rights to penetrate Gutknecht's defense from time to time. In the second stanza, Gutknecht put his punches together to get the edge, and the third round was rather even with neither boxer dominating. Round four was the first one where the Germany-based Kazakh delivered the goods, connecting with some crisp combinations to start the round and ending it big by fooling and tricking Uzelkov into useless movement, which resulted in ugly turn-arounds and falls. The Ukrainian did what he could in the next couple of stanzas and shortened the gap a bit with his activity and aggression.
The second half of the fight proved to be an horror for the challenger, who quickly started to fade being frustrated by Gutknecht's constant movement and tricky feints. He managed to bully the German in several moments but his defense soon deteriorated and he started to eat punches - one after another. More important is the fact that his punch output had drastically decreased while his breathing was very hard. Gutknecht tried to get a late stoppage but a lack of power and Uzelkov's durability prevented him from doing so. However, he looked determined and willing to grab the decision while the Ukrainian looked absolutely lost and without any fire in his eyes.
After twelve rounds, Erkki Meronen (Finland) saw it narrowly 115-114 - for Gutknecht. More realistic were the scores by Jean-Francois Toupin (France) - 116-112, and Daniel Van de Viele (Belgium) - 117-111. BoxingScene also had it in favor of Eduard Gutknecht - 117-113. The German fighter was ranked #4 by the WBC, #5 by the WBO, #8 by the WBA and #11 by the IBF, coming into this fight. Vyacheslav Uzelkov was WBA #5, WBC #9 and WBO/IBF #13 ranked light heavyweight.
After more than fifteen months out of the ring, IBF #3 Canada-based Guyanese fighter Troy Ross looked predictably rusty and totally out-of-shape during his tune-up bout with Polish trialhorse Lukasz Rusiewicz (10-12, 3 KOs). Southpaw Ross, 36, a victim of a controversial loss to Steve Cunningham in his valiant but losing effort in a 2010 title challenge, boxed in spurts using overhand right hooks to hit the durable Pole numerous times to little effect - due to the tough nature of Rusiewicz, who was stopped only once in his career by world-class contender Enad Licina, and that time it was on cuts.
Rusiewicz answered with some roughhose tactics, landing punches to the back of the head, holding and hitting and going below the beltline. He was never been penalized, and he was able to frustrate the aging amateur star, who was effectively limited to a slight advantage in a tedious and dull fight. Scores were 80-72 (twice) and 79-73 - for Ross (now 25-2, 16 KOs). BoxingScene had it 78-74 - also for Ross.
Rising cruiserweight prospect David Graf, 23, suffered the first relative blemish of his career, being taken to the full distance by durable British journeyman Paul Morris (4-6-2, 2 KOs). Morris, nicknamed "Maniac", did his part of the job probing the German's skills and the power of his punch. Graf tried to knock the Englishman out but despite some fair success in the fifth and in the sixth rounds his mission failed, and his record now reads as 6-0, with 5 KOs. He spent less than six rounds in the ring during his previous five bouts.