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.
Huck tipped the scales at 198.4 lbs., while Afolabi checked in right at the 200 lb division limit.
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.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox