By Graham Houston
Last March in Britain, Ola Afolabi, the Nigerian cruiserweight who lives in Los Angeles, pulled off a big surprise in a fight for the interim title when he knocked out Enzo Maccarinelli in the ninth round. On Saturday in Germany, Afolabi will attempt to achieve his second consecutive upset when he challenges Marco “Käpt’n” Huck for the WBO’s “full” title in the 200-pound division. It would be a stunning achievement should the London-born Afolabi upset the odds twice in a row in Europe although Yonnhy Perez, the Colombian bantamweight, beat two favourites in a row this year with his wins over Silence Mabuza and Joseph Agbeko.
Afolabi achieved the win over Maccarinelli by means of patience and cunning. After rocking Maccarinelli in the third round, Afolabi spent several rounds in a row covering up on the ropes and opening up in spurts, allowing the Welsh boxer to punch himself out, as it were. After eight rounds, Maccarinelli was in front on two judges’ cards and even on the third card, but he suddenly seemed overcome by fatigue and Afolabi came on strongly in the ninth, hurting and hammering his opponent for a dramatic, come-from-behind victory.
This wasn’t the first time that Afolabi has won by means of covering up, rolling with punches, letting the other man wear himself out and then cutting loose to pull out a late-round stoppage — he did it when ending the unbeaten record of Eric Fields 20 months ago.
Unfortunately for Afolabi, though, he is meeting a different calibre of fighter entirely on Saturday. Huck is big, strong, technically capable, heavy handed and smart — he isn’t an inexperienced fighter like Fields and he hasn’t shown the chin and stamina problems that have blighted Maccarinelli’s once-promising career.
Afolabi can punch, and I’m sure he is capable of hurting Huck, but this is one fight where I don’t think his method of laying back in the Muhammad Ali rope-a-dope manner is going to get the job done for him.
Huck’s camp will have studied Afolabi and I think the German fighter’s tactics, at least in the first half of the fight, will be to stay alert, use the jab and launch sporadic bursts of punches while keeping something in reserve for the later rounds.
I do think that Afolabi will have his moments with his hand speed and sharp punching, but Huck is likely to be the busier and more insistent fighter. I can picture Afolabi losing rounds by not throwing enough punches, and I feel that it will be very difficult for him to produce another of his closing-rounds KOs in this fight. In fact, I think that Huck’s artillery, including the German fighter’s hefty thumps to the body, might have Afolabi worn down by the later stages.
Huck is unlikely to commit himself to throwing too much, too soon, but if he senses that Afolabi might be weakening he might well decide to pour on the pressure towards the end of the fight, as he did when knocking out the sturdy and game French fighter Jean Marc Monrose in the final round.
A win on points by Huck seems the logical outcome against a durable opponent who isn’t easy to hit cleanly. I think, though, that Huck just might be able to get Afolabi out of the fight in the later rounds. I’m thinking along the lines of a Huck win by referee’s intervention at some point after the start of the ninth.