By Jake Donovan
Marco Huck entered Saturday evening’s bout with Denis Lebedev as one of the more active top fighters in the sport, fighting four times per year like clockwork.
He wound up leaving Max Schmelling Halle with his title still intact and perhaps the most significant win of his career in taking a 12-round split decision for his fifth successful alphabet title defense.
Scores were 115-113 (twice) for Huck, and a surprisingly wide 116-112 in favor of Lebedev.
The common belief going into the cruiserweight title fight was that Lebedev’s best – if not only – chance of winning would be to land a home run punch that would put Huck to sleep. It was clear from the outset that the Russian southpaw had this in mind, throwing every punch with mean intentions.
Conversely, Huck took a far more cautious approach, boxing in reverse though never to the point of running or shutting down in order to avoid the incoming. It was tactical and intelligent on the part of the defending champion, who kept the fight at his desired distance and pace.
Lebedev was a bit overconfident in the second, constantly moving forward looking for an opening. He dropped his guard just long enough for Huck to nail him with a clean right hand that brought a large portion of the crowd to its feet.
Huck, 199 lb, continued to control the real estate, boxing and moving well in the third and fourth rounds. Lebedev, 198 ¼ lb, was sloppy in his attack, leaving the Russian off-balance and vulnerable as Huck took the lead in hopes of scoring something big.
After a rough start, Lebedev appeared to have settled down in the middle rounds, while fatigue was beginning to set in for Huck, whose lone loss came as a result of his fading and falling behind down the stretch against Steve Cunningham three years ago.
Lebedev enjoyed a strong stretch in rounds seven through nine, controlling the tempo while Huck seemed content to throw one punch at a time while fighting with his mouth agape. The ninth round saw the defending titlist repeatedly clinching, a clear indicator that his gas tank was running low.
However, his fighting heart allowed him to connect with a right hand towards round’s end. His strategy also reaped immediate benefits, as his sluggish performance in the ninth was atoned for by a strong tenth round in which he repeatedly took the fight to Lebedev.
It seemed that he had done enough to mathematically put the fight out of reach, as he was confident to put it in cruise control in the championship rounds. The strategy nearly backfired, as he wound up losing eight rounds on one scorecard, though impressing the other two judges just enough to rack up the fifth defense of a cruiserweight belt he won just 16 months ago.
In the end, it wasn’t the Fight of the Year contender that many anticipated to be the case. But it was enough for Huck to remain near the top of the cruiserweight heap, as he improves to 31-1 (23KO) with his 12th straight win.
Lebedev suffers defeat for the first time as a pro, falling to 21-1 (16KO).
What’s next for Huck isn’t immediately clear, and also entirely dependent on how far promoter Sauerland Event proceeds with plans for a Cruiserweight Super Six tournament.
Perhaps in store is a rematch with Lebedev or even his lone conqueror Cunningham, as the American titlist is now part of the Sauerland fight family.
The most likely scenario is four more fights in 2011, as has been the case for the past several years.
After Saturday’s win over Lebedev – however close or controversial it was perceived to be – he now has the quality win to complement the fight quantity rarely seen these days at the championship level.
Heavyweight contender Alexander Povetkin remained unbeaten though not completely unscathed in his 10-round decision win over American journeyman Nicolai Firtha.
Scores were 100-90, 99-91 and 98-92 in favor of Povetkin (21-0, 15KO), who fought the majority of the fight with a busted right hand. It turned out that all he needed was one hand to get the job done against Firtha (19-8-1, 8KO), who ended a modest three-fight win streak with the lopsided loss.
Despite winning the bout, Povetkin may have ultimately lost the heavyweight war. The injured right hand – which may or may not be fractured – provides a serious hiccup in the plans for the Russian to remain as active as possible before pursuing a title shot.
How much time the 2004 Olympic Gold medalist will need to heal remains to be seen. The longer he’s forced to sit, the longer that trainer Teddy Atlas will be forced to wear egg on his face. It was Atlas’ brilliant idea to pass on a title shot against lineal heavyweight king Wladimir Klitschko, a move that forced Povektin to relinquish his mandatory contender status after having sat on the ranking for nearly two years.
The idea was to build up Povetkin’s rate of activity and add more fights (and wins) to his resume, though none of the selected opposition to date has been qualified to prepare Povetkin even for Klitschko’s feeble challengers of late, never mind the champion himself.
The good news in all of this is that there remains time for Povetkin to heal and possibly build towards a title fight. With fighters such as Oldanier Solis, Tomasz Adamek and (presumably) David Haye in queue for possible shots at either Klitschko in 2011, it’s not inconceivable to envision a scenario where an opportunity wouldn’t surface until later in the year at the earliest.
Still, Povetkin and his team would be wise to pick up the pace and actually build towards a title run, rather than continue to tread water in fights where even winning can mean losing.
Cuban cruiserweight Yoan Pablo Hernandez earned a mandatory title shot under bizarre circumstances, scoring a controversial first round stoppage over Ali Ismailov (18-4-1, 13KO).
The knockout sequence came when Ismailov fell out of the ring after being rocked by a left and a right. The Ukrainian-born challenger was left with his feet tangled in the ropes as he was counted out, giving Hernandez his ninth straight win as he improves to 23-1 (12KO).
Where controversy sets in is that fighers who fall out of the ring are entitled to a 20-count. Ismailov was never afforded such opportunity, nor the chance to free himself from the ropes.
Who exactly Hernandez faces next is even more complicated the means in which he won the bout. The Cuban southpaw became mandatory challenger for a sanctioning body in the habit of handing out championships to more than one fighter per weight class. His opportunity will come either against Steve Herelius or long-reigning – though grossly inactive – titlist Guillermo Jones.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected].