By Jake Donovan
Marco Huck and Ola Afolabi are prepared to meet for a fourth time, though with career momentum flowing in a different direction than has been the case ever before in their long-standing in-ring rivalry.
Whereas Huck was the reigning World Boxing Organization (WBO) cruiserweight champion in their three previous meets, Part IV comes with Afolabi's International Boxing Organization (IBO) title at stake Saturday evening in Halle, Germany.
To date, Huck enjoys a 2-0-1 lead in the series, having claimed a 12-round majority decision win in their third meet in June '13. However, things have dramatically changed in the 28 months since their last encounter.
Huck (38-3-2, 26KOs) lodged a division-tying 13 successful defenses over the long haul - the very first coming in a unanimous decision win over Afolabi in Dec. '09. He was one punch away from breaking the record for most cruiserweight defenses, as he had Krzysztof Glowacki down and nearly out in the 6th round of his stateside debut last August in Newark, New Jersey.
Somehow, the unbeaten contender from Poland peeled himself off the canvas and rallied to drop and eventually stop Huck in the 11th round of what was universally hailed as the best or one of the two best fights of 2015.
As memorable a night as it was for boxing pundits, it's one that Huck would love to put in the rearview mirror. Saturday's return visit with Afolabi marks his first time back in the ring - and could be facing a different version of his longtime rival altogether.
Afolabi (22-4-4, 11KOs) has always managed to hover somewhere around the bottom portion of the 10 best cruiserweights in the world, but managing to always fall just short on the title stage.
It happened in three tries versus Huck - a unanimous decision loss in Dec. '09, a majority draw in May '12 and a majority decision defeat in June '13 - as well as close but clear loss to International Boxing Federation (IBF) champ Victor Ramirez last April in Argentina.
The well-traveled veteran from England - who now lives in and trains out of Los Angeles - bounced back in a big way, in fact picking up the biggest win of his 14-year career.
Naturally, that moment once again came on the road, scoring a shocking 5th round knockout of Rakhim Chakhkiev last November in Kazan, Russia. Afolabi was down on all three scorecards before flattening the local favorite with a right hand and left hook to lift the IBO title.
For the first time in the series, Huck enters as the challenger and coming off a loss. Also a first, Afolabi comes in as a defending titlist.
Will that type of momentum trump the history between the two, or will it just be the same as it ever was before?
Read on to see how the staff at BoxingScene.com believes the cruiserweight action will play out in Halle, Germany.
STAFF PREDICTIONS: OLA AFOLABI vs. MARCO HUCK (IV)
Zachary Alapi (Huck UD): Huck overcomes a somewhat tentative start to take control of the fight in the middle rounds and finish strong.
Rene Ricardo Bernal (Huck UD): The Glowacki war probably took a toll on Huck but I think he still has enough left in the tank to outpoint an opponent he has faced three times already and defeated twice.
Ryan Burton (Huck KO11): I think Huck bounces back strong from his KO defeat even with the trainer change. Afolabi looked refreshed his last time out but I think Huck closes out their 4th meeting in convincing fashion.
Jake Donovan (Huck Dec.): It seems like there no better time for Afolabi to score a win in this series. A few things prevent me from going that route. Despite all three fights being close, Afolabi has yet to prevail on any of the nine posted scorecards. His best win came in a fight where he was being outfought every round prior to the knockout. Huck's worst night (Glowacki) came following a year-long layoff and where he was still one punch away from a knockout win himself. The storyline has dramatically shifted for Part IV, but I lean towards Huck ever so slightly to once again find a way to win.
Michael Gibbons (Huck SD): Fight is in Germany. If it goes to the scorecards I have Huck winning, however close, lopsided or controversial.
Takahiro Onaga (Afolabi UD): I think this is 4th time lucky for Ola who will beat Huck at last. I think the wars will have caught up with Huck and he will look like a man ready to retire.
Cliff Rold (Huck Dec.): Afolabi hasn't figured him out in three tries. He's not going to here either.
Reynaldo Sanchez (Huck Dec.): A big part of Huck’s record-tying title reign was finding a way to beat – or not lose to – Afolabi! And I have no doubt that if Afolabi cannot knock him out, Huck manages to win a title once again with a debatable decision in his favor.
Shawn W. Smith (Huck Dec. or late TKO): Huck should win here, and might be able to find a way to finish.
Alexey Sukachev (Afolabi KO10): I'll go with an upset here. But again what is the upset? Afolabi looked mediocre against Chakhkiev right until the time he felt it was necessary to uplift his game. He got a knockout one round later. Huck will be the lead here but when it comes to going rough Afolabi is up to the task. He will be losing, then produce a comeback stoppage the way he often does. Huck is vulnerable with the knockout loss to Glowacki also permanently went his aura of invincibility.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox