By Jake Donovan
Arthur Abraham managed to win a belt in a second division after barely edging super middleweight titlist Robert Stieglitz on Saturday evening in Berlin.
Heading into the fight, there wasn’t a lot of doubt but still some concern over whether Abraham had enough left to turn the feat. The lingering question in the aftermath is just what he plans to do now that he’s back in the title fray.
Past history suggests not very much is in store, other than upgrading his chances for a lucrative cashout opportunity down the road.
Once upon a time, Abraham was among the very best middleweights in the world. For several years, he was placed directly behind then-lineal middleweight king Kelly Pavlik, while some argued that he was even better than the American knockout artist.
Unfortunately, a head-on collision never materialized, largely due to a lack of a genuine effort as both sides seemed comfortable racking up wins and leaving their respective rankings up for debate.
Abraham always expressed a willingness to face the then-unbeaten champ. Included in a near-four year reign was his stateside debut, knocking out Edison Miranda in their June ’08 rematch in Florida, albeit in a non-title fight. The reign ended in late 2009 when the Armenian transplant enrolled in the highly anticipated Super Six World Boxing classic the following year.
His inclusion in the round robin tournament was supposed to underline his determination in proving to be among the world’s best fighters. Abraham was 29 years old at the time and in the heart of his prime as a six-year ring veteran, winning a belt after just two years as a pro and making 10 defenses.
Abraham was heavily favored to advance to the finals, along with fellow Euro star and promotional stablemate Mikkel Kessler. He opened the tournament with a bang, scoring a 12th round knockout of Jermain Taylor to begin the early buzz.
That was as close as either Abraham or Kessler came to living up to their press clippings.
Kessler suffered a lopsided loss to Andre Ward in Nov. ’09 before redeeming himself with a thrilling points win over Carl Froch four months later. A detached retina suffered during his loss to Ward worsened in the Froch fight, forcing the Dane to drop out of the Super Six tournament.
His return more than a year later came with plenty of intrigue. Where Kessler ranked among the world’s best super middleweights was open to debate, even without finishing out the tournament. The win over Froch meant that there was still enough mixing and matching to be done among the rest of his divisional peers.
The same cannot be said of Abraham, ironically due in large part to his decision to go the distance in the tournament even in reaching a point where his career was in peril.
The first loss of his career came in Stage Two of the Super Six, suffering a 10th round disqualification in March ’10 at the hands of Andre Dirrell, who would also subsequently drop out of the tournament. The three points Abraham earned in Stage One was enough to remain in the lead until Ward posted a second tournament win three months later.
Abraham came on late in the fight, but was losing badly and also suffered the lone knockdown of his career during the fight. He nearly came back to knock out Dirrell, but was far too overzealous (and perhaps a bit frustrated), landing a home run punch while the American slipped and was on a knee on the canvas long enough for Abraham to think before he threw and landed.
The incident was the beginning of the end of Abraham’s consideration as one of the very best in the sport. An equally lopsided loss came eight months later when Froch gave him a boxing lesson to punch his way to second place in the Super Six tournament.
Abraham remained stuck on the three points he earned in Stage One, falling all the way from the top to the fourth seed. The fall from grace landed him a showdown with Andre Ward, with only a tuneup win interrupting what would have been three straight landslide losses against Top 10 opposition.
Ward went on to beat Froch in the Super Six finals, but there was enough intrigue left over. Froch gave a terrific account of himself and his overall bravery throughout the tournament – in victory and defeat – proved his worth as a legitimate Top 5 super middleweight.
That stance was confirmed with his emphatic knockout of then-unbeaten titlist Lucian Bute earlier this year, further proof that a loss on its own does not ruin a career. Froch survived two losses in the span of four fights to still punch his way back towards the top of the division.
Abraham traveled a different path in search of post-tournament redemption. The 32-year old is now in the midst of a three-fight win streak, the latest netting him a super middleweight belt in a thriller against Stieglitz.
While the win itself made him a champion in the eyes of those who recognize all alphabet belts, the performance and level of “championship” opposition left a lot to be desired. The bout was thrilling enough to where you want to see Abraham again.
The problem is that Abraham – if he were truly all the way back – had no business allowing the fight to become that thrilling, or that questionable down the stretch in a fight that easily could have went the other way.
Stieglitz was undoubtedly the weakest titlist among the super middleweight lot heading into the field. The other claimants – Ward and Froch – already beat Abraham bad enough to where a rematch is the furthest thing from anyone’s mind.
Given the grim outlook of what lies ahead with a win, there existed the theory that Abraham merely sought redemption with a title win in and of itself. The short term goal was all that mattered, with little to no regard for the future.
Immediately after the win, Sauerland Event announced the possibility of a long awaited showdown between Abraham and Kessler, the bout that was once thought to be for the Super Six championship. In the statement, it was declared that the bout was there if Kessler is up for the opportunity. The rest would be relatively easy to handle, since Sauerland promotes both fighters.
The question now is just how far Kessler is looking to take the rest of his career. The two-time super middleweight titlist looked like anything but his former self in climbing off the canvas to knockout Allan Green earlier this year. The win was just his second since returning from hiatus following injuries suffered in the Super Six, which leaves him at just one fight per year since 2010.
Overall, Kessler and Abraham have won three straight. There’s more substance to Kessler’s run if only because of the win over Froch, even if spray-painted over a 28-month stretch.
By comparison, Abraham has been relatively active, having fought three times this year alone after an eight-month rest-and-reload session following last year’s loss to Ward. However, none of the wins rate very high in the grand scheme of things. The fight with Stieglitz was exciting enough to where a rematch has been demanded.
Such a statement means that Stieglitz’s stock soars in defeat, having been viewed as a weak titlist heading in and for good reason. Oddly enough, the 31-year old was an active titlist at the start of the Super Six tournament, his reign beginning one month after the series was announced following a thrilling 12th round knockout over Karoly Balzsay in Aug. ’09.
That seven title defenses followed isn’t as impressive once the level of opposition is taken into consideration. Because of that, Stieglitz was viewed as a sitting target for even today’s version of Abraham, one who has yet to prove that his once explosive knockout power followed him up the scale.
Now that he’s won titles in two divisions, it’s entirely possible that Abraham no longer has to try to prove anything. His future options are limited, given the number of contenders above him who would either be heavily favored to win or whom have already proven to be superior.
The two feasible lingering options in terms of next facing and beating someone above him were Kessler and Bute. The latter won’t happen anytime soon, as Bute has a tune-up scheduled later this year before a rematch with Froch next March.
That leaves only Kessler, in terms of Abraham having any chance to improve on his position among the lower tier of top super middleweights. There also exists the possibility of a long awaited showdown with Pavlik, who is far enough long on the comeback trail and to the point where he wants nothing but big fights.
Whatever the path Abraham chooses, he no longer has to depend solely on name value to secure a future payday. The title belt in tow gives him the necessary bargaining chip to add to his retirement fund, if not ever again the win column.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox