By Lyle Fitzsimmons
It's deja vu all over again. But with one clear difference.
Though 35-year-old Ola Afolabi is preparing for a fight with Marco Huck for the fourth time in a 14-year career, it's the first time that the London-born Californian will be the hunted rather than the hunter.
The elite 200-pounders will meet Feb. 27 at Gerry Weber Stadium in Halle, Germany, where Afolabi will make the first defense of his second reign as the International Boxing Organization's cruiserweight kingpin.
In three previous matches -- which ended in two narrow losses and one draw for Afolabi from 2009 to 2013 -- he'd been vying for Huck's WBO share of weight-class supremacy.
All three fights have taken place in Germany.
The first yielded a unanimous decision in Huck's favor by scores of 115-113, 116-112, and 115-113. The second, a draw, had two even scores of 114-114 and a third for Huck at 115-113. And the third, a majority decision, saw two judges for Huck with scores of 117-111 and 115-113, and a third even at 114-114.
“We have been in this situation on three previous occasions," Afolabi said. "Every time we squared off it was a real barnburner. It will the same on Feb. 27. I am in the comfortable situation that I am the champion this time round and he is the challenger. Marco is the one trying to take my belt. I wish him luck, but that won’t help him."
Afolabi began his first reign as IBO champion five months after the most recent Huck fight when he defeated Lukasz Janik by majority decision at Madison Square Garden in November 2013. He regained the title two years and two days later, this time with a fifth-round stoppage of Rakhim Chakhkiev in Kazan, Russia on Nov. 4.
"I will defend my title because I am at the peak of my career," Afolabi said. "Huck will get what Rakhim Chakhkiev got.”
Huck had won four straight post-Afolabi fights before he was stopped in 11 rounds by Krzysztof Glowacki on Aug. 14 in Newark, N.J. -- in a battle that was nominated for Fight of the Year, Upset of the Year and KO of the Year by this very website.
He enters the February fight as Afolabi's 10th-ranked challenger.
“This is the most important fight of my career," Huck said.
"I want to prove it to everyone who has written me off after the loss. Hence, the theme of the fight is ‘Huck Reloaded.' I will start from zero and have to fight my way back to the top -- where I belong. You can always lose but you have to get back up again, that is how you can show that you are a real champion. I might have lost a battle but I will definitely win the war.”
The fight is presented by the challenger's company, Huck Sports Promotion.
“In my last fight I didn`t show what I able to do," Huck said.
"I beat myself against Glowacki. It won’t happen again. I’m getting ready with my new coach for the fight on Feb. 27. I will be in top condition this time. Ola and I fought three very hard and close fights in the past, which were all decided in the last rounds. But now I want to end this chapter with an early KO victory and end it once and for all.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
Vacant IBF heavyweight title -- Brooklyn, New York
Vyacheslav Glazkov (No. 1 IBF/No. 5 IWBR) vs. Charles Martin (No. 3 IBF/No. 50 IWBR)
Glazkov (21-0-1, 13 KO): First title fight; Third fight in New York (1-0-1, 0 KO)
Martin (22-0-1, 20 KO): First title fight; Twelve straight wins by stoppage (37 total rounds)
Fitzbitz says: There are outliers who suggest Glazkov is markedly better than his No. 5 ranking among the heavyweights suggests. Fewer say Martin is better than No. 50. Do the math. Glazkov in 10
WBC heavyweight title – Brooklyn, New York
Deontay Wilder (champion/No. 4 IWBR) vs. Artur Szpilka (No. 8 WBC/No. 14 IWBR)
Wilder (35-0, 34 KO): Third title defense; First fight in New York
Szpilka (20-0-1, 15 KO): First title fight; Second fight in New York (0-1, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The more the champion fights, the more vulnerable he appears. And somehow, though it wouldn’t be a shock to see him win in two rounds, the upset vibe feels strong. Szpilka in 6
Last week’s picks: None
2016 picks record: 0-0
2015 picks record: 93-26 (78.1 percent)
Overall picks record: 732-249 (74.6 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.