By Jake Donovan
Sam Soliman couldn't have picked a better time to not act his age.
The 40-year old middleweight scored two knockdowns en route to a 9th round stoppage over Les Sherrington, Wednesday evening at the Melbourne Pavilion in Flemington, Australia. The win sets up yet another shot at a middleweight title, this time coming with the motivation of settling up unfinished business.
Sherrington was brimming with confidence before the opening bell, and for good reason. The 31-year old was riding high on a six-fight win streak, including three in an active 2013 campaign heading into Wednesday evening.
However, he was reminded of his role as the underdog when Soliman - who came out second - had him waiting in the ring for more than ten minutes. The only time Soliman acted his age on the evening was the amount of time it took him to walk from the dressing room to the ring, a deliberately slow crawl of a walk that had his ring entrance song play three times before finally climbing through the ropes.
Once he arrived, the fight was all but over.
Sherrington began the fight well-intended, boxing smartly and waiting for Soliman to make a mistake before capitalizing, as any good counterpuncher worth his salt would do. The bad news was that the strategy only held up for a couple of rounds, or just long enough for his opponent to shake loose excessive ring rust.
The fight was Soliman's first since his win-turned-no-contest over Sturm in February, when the Aussie was popped for traces of a banned substance found in his post-fight urinalysis. Prior to that came just two fights in 2012, with his points win over Giovani Lorenzo last August.
Despite just one fight in more than 15 months heading into Wednesday, momentum permanently remained in Soliman's favor by the third round. The longtime middleweight contender was effective in smothering his opponent, taking away the outside game as he broke down Sherrington round by round.
The first true signs of there being no hope for Sherrington came in round seven.
A straight left hand left him buzzed, while prompting Soliman to pick up the pace and close the show. That very outcome came just two rounds later, with Sherrington rocked again and dropped in round eight, before suffering a second knockdown in the ninth round.
The latter sequence prompted respected veteran trainer and manager Brendon Smith to throw in the towel to end the night. The loss ended Sherrington's six-fight win streak spanning two-and-a-half years as he falls to 33-7 (19KO).
Meanwhile, Soliman rights the ship at the perfect time as far as the middleweight division is concerned. Despite the drug test fallout following his bout with Sturm in February, the resurgent contender still remains unbeaten in nine bouts spray-painted over a stretch of more than five years. His latest conquest runs his record to 43-11 (18KO).
With the win, Soliman turns to unfinished business with another resilient middleweight.
Sturm threw the boxing world for a loop with his shocking two-round destruction of Darren Barker. The 34-year old had only claimed one official win in the span of 21 months, a stretch highlighted by his narrow loss to Daniel Geale and the no-contest with Soliman.
Both middleweights now have a chance at redemption with a head-on collision. A mandatory title fight figures to be the first order of business for each fighter once 2014 rolls around.
An eyes rematch with Sturm will mark the third attempt at a middleweight title for Soliman. His previous tries resulted in a pair of losses to Anthony Mundine (three overall, including a non-title fight early in his career) in separate super middleweight title fights in 2007 and 2008, respectively.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox