by Cliff Rold
Win or go home.
There are few spectacles as intriguing as a fight where a formerly upper echelon battler finds himself in a legitimate must-win scenario. Once the most feared fighter in the Middleweight division, Arthur Abraham never got a crack at Jermain Taylor or Kelly Pavlik at 160 lbs. He settled instead for a series of strewn opponents, building his reputation but never getting the chance to truly show where he belonged with the best in the world.
Opportunity presented itself one division higher in the form of the Super Six Super Middleweight tournament. Moving up, Abraham was seen as one of the early favorites and walked through Taylor in the first preliminary contest, winning most of the rounds and finishing with a devastating knockout.
Then the wheels came off.
Abraham was dropped early and well behind against American Andre Dirrell in his second fight. It was a brush with adversity he’d seldom seen. Abraham began a late rally, scoring an uncalled knockdown in the tenth and forcing Dirrell into retreat mode. He didn’t keep his cool and, desperate, landed a foul hook after Dirrell slipped to the floor in the eleventh.
For the first time, Abraham was defeated, and ultimately that night by his own hands. He might have lost on the cards anyways, left pitching for a miracle. He didn’t give himself a chance to find out. Against Carl Froch, he was flaccid and defeated again in the final tournament preliminary. Despite showing signs of life, Andre Ward outclassed him over the stretch in the semi-finals.
Three losses and out of the Super Six.
Given the quality of his foes, it wasn’t enough to write off Abraham as a world-class talent but a ceiling was apparent. Fans criticize fighters for playing soft and succeeding. Abraham played hard and fell short. There is no shame in that. However, in a world of fighters who tune up twice, maybe three times, a year, losses matter more in the game of positioning.
The Russian-born titlist has been the least regarded of belt holders at 168, but he’s also been among the division’s most improved. Since being stopped by Librado Andrade in 2008, Stieglitz has won eleven in a row. Among those wins, Karoly Balzsay, Eduard Gutknecht, and Khoren Gevor stand out as serious foes. This fight can push Stieglitz into new areas of respect and open doors.
This fight is all that stands between Abraham and the door closing behind him.
Let’s go to the report cards.
Titles: WBO Super Middleweight (2009-Present, 6 Defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 167.8 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 167.5 lbs.
Hails from: Magdeburg, Germany (Born in Russia)
Record: 42-2, 23 KO, 2 KOBY
BoxingScene Rank: #5 at Super Middleweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 7-1, 2 KO, 1 KOBY
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 2 (Alejandro Berrio, Karoly Balzsay)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 1 (Alejandro Berrio)
Previous Titles: IBF Middleweight (2005-09, 10 Defenses)
Weight: 167.8 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 167.9 lbs.
Hails from: Berlin, Germany (Born in Armenia)
Record: 34-3, 27 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #7 at Super Middleweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 11-2, 7 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 2 (Raul Marquez, Jermain Taylor)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 2 (Carl Froch, Andre Ward)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Stieglitz B; Abraham B
Pre-Fight: Power – Stieglitz B; Abraham A+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Stieglitz B-; Abraham B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Stieglitz B; Abraham B
Stieglitz has attributes that can serve him well against Abraham. He can be a busy fighter and mixes his head and body attacks well. The titlist gets off quicker than it looks like he does and, if he’s smart with his feet, he can take advantage of what stands as one of Abraham’s greatest strengths and weaknesses: his guard.
Abraham, often with his hands high and tight, is good at picking off shots and can be hard to get through to. The problem is the same defensive shell leaves him handcuffed too often. There is also a notable over reliance on power. Abraham knows, as do opponents, that he can put just about anyone to sleep. He carries that power in both hands.
So he waits.
In the absence of perfect shots, it can often mean dull rounds with foes unwilling to leave themselves open and Abraham waiting for a mistake. Against Froch and Ward, he found foes that were willing to leave openings to make shots land and found out that, when he’s under fire, Abraham rarely is throwing back.
Stieglitz needs to look to those examples but can’t be overly aggressive. His chin has proven a liability before. A win over Berrio in an eliminator turned into an early stoppage loss in his first title shot. Against Andrade, in a solid fight, he wore down and was left for the finish by eight. The problem for Stieglitz is he hasn’t found many right hands he won’t take.
Take too many, and Abraham will be lying in wait with his left hook behind the right. No one should want to get hit with an Abraham left.
The thinking here is Stieglitz can’t avoid it for twelve rounds. A fighter whose been stopped twice before, and who isn’t a defensive marvel, just appears the right call for an Abraham trying to get back in the title ranks.
It won’t mean it will be easy. Some fighters get belt with a strap around their waist. Stieglitz has shown those inclinations, but he hasn’t seen the same level as Abraham. Maybe he can pull off what Froch and Ward did, but the losses he has put him a level below and that’s right at the level Abraham has dominated over the years.
Abraham may lose some early rounds, but eventually he’ll chip away and when he starts to connect the end will grow closer. Look for Abraham to lower the boom sometimes between the sixth and ninth.
Report Card Picks 2012: 38-13
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]