SAM Soliman is certain he will get a mandatory crack at fellow Australian Daniel Geale's IBF middleweight boxing title after producing the "Rocky Balboa'' performance of his career to beat Felix Sturm in Germany.
Soliman, 39 (43-11, 17 KOs), overcame a second-round knockdown in Dusseldorf to earn a unanimous 12-round points win in an eliminator for the No.1 ranking on Friday. While Sturm (37-4, 2, 16 KOs) might have been four points ahead after the first three rounds, he was comprehensively outworked for the remainder of the fight.
Two judges scored it 114-113 to Soliman and their colleague had it 116-111 in the Australian's favour. Ring announcer Michael Buffer initially appeared to declare Sturm the winner before hurriedly reversing the result.
It was an eighth straight win for Soliman, who was the No.1 contender going into the fight and it confirmed his status as mandatory challenger to Geale, who retained his title on Wednesday with a points win over fellow Australian Anthony Mundine.
Geale's promoter Gary Shaw earlier in the week indicated he might petition the IBF to have a voluntary defence next, rather than fight the winner of Soliman-Sturm.
After Geale's win, Shaw wasn't sure who his boxer's next bout would be against.
The WBA stripped Geale of its middleweight Super belt for fighting Mundine rather than their regular champion Gennady Golovkin and Soliman was certain the Sydney-based Tasmanian wouldn't want to risk losing his other belt for not fulfilling a mandatory defence against him within 90 days.
"Gary (Shaw) won't want to get (Geale) stripped ... the embarrassment of knocking back a second mandatory is not going to happen," Soliman said.
Sturm, the IBF No.3-rated contender, dominated the first three rounds, catching Soliman with several stinging right-hand blows, one of which dropped him halfway through the second.
Soliman survived the rest of the round and stayed on the defensive for the third.
Thereafter, he swarmed all over the 34-year-old German, firing off volleys of punches, with Sturm unable to reproduce the accuracy and volume of the first three rounds.
Asked if it was the best performance of his 16-year professional career, Soliman said ``in terms of guts, it was my best but, in terms of skill, Raymond Joval (in 2004) is still my best performance.
"In terms of Rocky Balboa finding something after getting dropped and then finding something to come home to try and win the fight in that movie, in real life it just makes it a bit more glorious.''
Soliman credited his long-time trainer Dave Hedgecock with devising the right fight plan.
"Dave Hedgecock had a plan and we stuck to it ... we had to move to our right and make him (Sturm) pay," Soliman said.
While he would prefer to fight Geale in Melbourne, Soliman said he was prepared to face the IBF champion "anywhere, any place, any time".
Soliman's points win was the third by an Australian middleweight in Germany in recent times, with Geale taking titles from Sturm and Sebastian Sylvester.