by Cliff Rold
They might be the best fighters in their respective divisions. Neither has yet had a chance to prove it. One of them might be on the verge. The other sees time slipping away.
Lucian Bute is a tremendous package of talent, fire, and is long into a belted run in the deep Super Middleweight division. Unfortunately, as could be prognosticated, the Super Six tournament in that class has mean big fights for just about everyone but Bute. This weekend, he takes the latest stay busy fight…or should it be said stay fresh? While his peers beat each other up, every victory brings him closer to the day when he can stand across from the Super Six winner ready to prove his place. Challenger Brian Magee will look to upend those hopes. Does he have a shot?
And then there is Vitali Klitschko. Once he was on the verge of becoming the global superstar the Heavyweight division has lacked over much of the last decade. He wasn’t just selling tickets in Europe. He was filling seats in L.A. and New York as well. Injuries and an almost four-year retirement killed some of that momentum and Vitali watched while his brother collected belts and big wins leaving Vitali largely with lesser, or less proven, foes.
Odlanier Solis won two World Amatuer Championships at Heavyweight along with an Olympic Gold Medal in 2004 before moving to the larger Super Heavyweight class for a World title in 2005. That pedigree says that, while his professional resume is still very thin, Solis is a genuine challenger. Pedigree can be printed to the page.
So can the facts of the scale.
An amateur Heavyweight weighs in at a limit of 201 lbs. Anything over that is Super Heavyweight. Solis, at less than 6’2, was a fit and agile 200 lb. sight to behold. At Friday’s weigh-in, he showed up at his lowest weight since early 2008, not quite thirty pounds less than a career high of 271 lbs. just three fights ago.
But what’s thirty pounds less than 271 again?
Under 250 lbs. for the Klitschko challenge, that means Solis still is almost a fifty lbs. above his amateur marks of little more than six years ago. Anyone who saw the weigh-in photos knows a whole bunch of that fifty ain’t muscle.
If that’s the best that can be done to project that Solis cares, should anyone watching really give a damn about this fight?
Let’s go to the report cards, beginning with the big fellas.
Title: WBC Heavyweight (2008-Present, 5 Defenses)
Previous Titles: WBO Heavyweight (1999-2000, 2 Defenses); WBC/Ring Magazine Heavyweight (2004-05, 1 Defense, Retired)
Height: 6’7 ½
Weight: 249.5 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 249.25 lbs.
Hails from: Kiev, Ukraine
Record: 41-2, 38 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #1 at Heavyweight
Record in Title Fights: 11-2, 9 KO, 2 KOBY
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 6 (Herbie Hide, Orlin Norris, Corrie Sanders, Samuel Peter, Juan Carlos Gomez, Shannon Briggs)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 3 (Chris Byrd, Lennox Lewis)
Title: 1st Title Shot
Height: 6’1 ½
Weight: 246.9 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 264.3 lbs.
Hails from: Miami, Florida (Born in Havana, Cuba)
Record: 17-0, 12 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #10 at Heavyweight
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 0
Pre-Fight: Speed – Klitschko B; Solis B+
Pre-Fight: Power – Klitschko B+; Solis B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Klitschko B+; Solis B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Klitschko A; Solis C
Despite the less than rosy lead-in above, the answer is yes. Fans should give a damn about this one, at least early. That’s where Solis could genuinely be dangerous and has the potential to win despite himself. The reason Solis can be frustrating to follow is because of the knowledge of what could be.
Watching him at the Olympics, watching him move and shoot combinations, one recalls what it was like when the Heavyweight division had more peak form athletes, when the Heavyweight division had fighters who could have pushed the Klitschko’s and made consistently watchable fights.
It’s a crying shame to see guys who have some talent suffer apathy while men who, on paper, did nothing to earn title shots at Klitschko and who had absolutely no chance to win going in (think last year’s woeful duo of Albert Sosnowski and the long done former titlist Shannon Briggs) show up in shape, exhibiting great pride and heart while taking their beatings.
As a pro, Solis has shown decent balance when he’s closer to 250, as he is here, and no matter his weight his counter left hook is a sudden, telling weapon. If he can get close enough to Vitali early, if he can stun him as Corrie Sanders was able to do in the first round of their 2004 encounter, this could get interesting.
To win, Solis has to do damage early and slow the aging Klitschko down to a speed he can manage. Vitali hasn’t taken any live punishment in a long time. He’s almost 40. Even if Solis can’t close, a slowed fight could allow him to work just enough to eek out rounds in serch of a points nod.
Solis isn’t built to match the voluminous punch output of Klitschko. If he hasn’t put anything serious on Vitali by the end of the fourth, his best chances are likely gone and Vitali goes to work.
For a guy with his KO numbers, Klitschko isn’t a highlight reel type stopper too often. He is a mammoth grinder, able to break guys down with an underrated left underneath and a right hand difficult to defend because of the angle it starts from and the step Klitschko takes into it. He bludgeons people and, when fully into his game, is difficult to hit. A master of distance, Klitschko makes up for awkward coordination by knowing where he is and how to keep his opponent out of dangerous spaces.
It helps that he carries a mean streak. Unlike his more traditionally skilled and more single-shot lethal brother, Vitali never appears pensive or contained. If he senses Solis tiring, the always superbly conditioned titleholder will turn up the pressure and have no problem amping up the punishment down the stretch.
He’s the favorite for a reason.
So is Bute.
Title: IBF Super Middleweight (2007-Present, 6 Defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 167.6 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 167.4 lbs.
Hails from: Galati, Romania (Resides in Montreal, Quebec)
Record: 27-0, 22 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #3
Record in Major Title Fights: 7-0, 5 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 3 (Dingaan Thobela, Alejandro Berrio, William Joppy)
Title/Previous Titles: 1st Title Fight
Weight: 167.7 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 168.05 lbs.
Hails from: Belfast, Northern Ireland
Record: 34-3-1, 24 KO
BoxingScene Rank: Unrated
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 1 (Hacine Cherifi)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 2 (Robin Reid, Carl Froch)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Bute A-; Magee B
Pre-Fight: Power – Bute A-; Magee B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Bute B+; Magee B+
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Bute A; Magee B
While limited, Magee can point to his quality of competition has an advantage in this contest. Froch alone wins the argument. The problem is the next argument to be made. Magee lost there, his lone defeat inside the route. There is no shame in losing to the outstanding Froch but Reid suggests a ceiling for Magee.
Bute has the talent to make that ceiling emphatic. In a battle of southpaws, the taller and quicker Bute will have a much easier time of dictating the distance and walking Magee into his educated right uppercut. Magee’s best chance may come in roughing the night up. He sometimes brings his head in with the lead right hand. Breaking Bute into a muggy fight would be to his advantage.
Magee is a solid pro but there’s no denying he is being brought in to make Bute look good. With former multi-time belt winner Mikkel Kessler almost done with his recovery from eye problems, he’s slated to be in attendance and may soon be on Bute’s dance card. He’s the marquee, proven opponent Bute has lacked for years now. Magee is the man in the way. Look for Bute to dispose of Magee sometime around the eighth round.
Earlier in the day, hours before the always nuclear Montreal crowd cheers on Bute, the world will know whether the remarkable comeback of Klitschko continues with his hand raised. And it is remarkable. Even if the opposition has been, in the grand scheme, modest even on the good days, a man in his mid and now late 30s returning from years off to arguably win every round of six straight title fights is commendable.
This scribe wasn’t a believer when the comeback started, picking Sam Peter. Later, on the thought that big Vitali had to be aging, Kevin Johnson’s jab was seen as capable of making for a close fight.
Not so much on either count.
The one time picking Vitali to walk through a foe in short order, Chris Arreola, it went rounds. Arreola takes much of the criticism that can be leveled at Solis. Solis is technically superior to Arreola and the tools are there to make this interesting.
So, here is the bold pick.
Solis will at least win a round. Maybe two.
After that, professionalism takes over. Klitschko does the work, every day, to stay at the top. Solis obviously worked harder in camp for this fight but the whole thing reminds of an old Nike t-shirt. It said something like, ‘when you’re resting, your opponent is putting in work and when you face them, you will lose.’
Klitschko by late stoppage or decision.
Report Card Picks 2011: 4-1
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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]