By Graham Houston
Boxing is at its best when the top fighters meet each other in bouts where it is difficult to pick a winner, and we have just such a fight in Oberhausen, Germany on Saturday when Germany’s Felix Sturm faces Australia’s Daniel Geale in a battle of middleweight champions. Sturm defends his WBA “super world” title while Geale risks his IBF belt in this meeting of top-notch boxers. The German site — and Sturm is promoting the show — makes Sturm the betting favourite but this bout is, on paper at least, as well matched as it gets. Geale won his IBF title in Germany when he defeated Sebastian Sylvester on a split but well deserved decision, and he seems to be perfectly comfortable with the prospect of boxing there again.
Each boxer is showing respect towards the other in a refreshing absence of trash talk. The fight, of course, doesn’t need any hype — this is a boxing match that stands on its own merits.
Sturm, 33, is the veteran in this fight. He has been a WBA champion for five years, after regaining the organisation’s “regular” title by outpointing Javier Castillejo in their rematch in April 2007. Sturm is unbeaten in 12 title defences (which includes two draws). He has been reliable and consistent, with just two defeats in 41 bouts — a stoppage loss to Castillejo that he avenged and what many consider to have been a contentious defeat on points against Oscar De La Hoya in Las Vegas.
Geale, 31, has just one defeat on his 28-fight record — a very tight, split decision loss to Anthony Mundine three years ago in a fight that could easily have been scored a draw. Geale suffered a flash knockdown in the second round but seemed to have scored a knockdown of his own in the ninth when Mundine touched down after Geale caught him with a right hand followed by a short, jolting left. The referee ruled it was a slip — yet while Mundine’s feet seemed to slide out from under him he had definitely been hit. The consensus scoring of the judges revealed a one-point win for Mundine, which is as close as it gets. Mundine boxed really well in that fight, but Geale is now a bit more of a mature professional, and he has been dominant in most of his fights. Even in the split win over Sylvester, two judges had Geale losing just two of the 12 rounds.
Sturm and Geale each boxed at a high level in the amateurs. Sturm, who is of Bosnian heritage, represented Germany in the Olympics under his birth name of Adnan Catic, losing to Jermain Taylor in the Sydney quarterfinals, and he was a European championships gold medallist; Geale boxed for Australia in the Olympics and world championships and was Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Goodwill Games bronze medallist and a six-time Australian national champion.
While Sturm is the more seasoned professional fighter in terms of championship bouts, Geale boxes with a great deal of self-belief and could be seen as slightly the “hungrier” fighter — Sturm is a superstar in Germany and has been at the top for a long time while Geale is still reaching for glory on the world stage. However, Sturm seems to be taking his training to a new level, boxing four-and-five-minute rounds with 30-second breaks. He said this week that he feels 30 per cent better than he did going into his last fight, the impressive ninth-round stoppage win over Sebastian Zbik. If so, this is not good news for Geale.
Neither man is considered a seriously hard hitter but Sturm clearly packs more authority in his punching and possesses probably the best left jab in boxing — a really stiff, jarring weapon.
Sturm hits hard with the left hook and the left uppercut. Most of his offense is centred on the hurtful deployment of the left hand. He tends to be sparing with the right-hand deliveries but when he throws the right he is very accurate — Sturm rocked Martin Murray with the right hand in the last round of their drawn 12-rounder.
Geale is much more of a high-volume puncher. While Geale wore down a faded Roman Karmazin and stopped the Russian veteran in the last round, usually he doesn’t significantly hurt his opponents. True, Geale knocked out Ian McKillop in the first round, but the Canadian boxer’s punch-resistance had pretty much been shot to pieces by the time he met Geale, McKillop having been knocked out inside three rounds in three of his last four fights. Usually, Geale wins by outspeeding, outworking and outboxing the other man.
In his win over Sylvester, Geale fought the 12 rounds with a high-energy style, and I made the note at the time: “Geale’s workrate, stamina and handspeed very impressive.” The judge who had Sylvester winning — Berit Andreasen, of Denmark, was the “odd judge out” in eight of the 12 rounds. The consensus scoring worked out at 117-111 in Geale’s favour. So, although this officially was a split decision, in reality Geale won the fight rather clearly.
Sturm, of course, also defeated Sylvester, winning a unanimous decision over his German rival in November 2008 in a one-sided fight. Sturm was absolutely hammering Sylvester in some of the later rounds and had him under a great deal of pressure.
As Sturm had the more emphatic victory over Sylvester, the so-called form line favours Sturm.
Geale gave a competent display of boxing in his last fight when he outpointed the tough and willing Osumanu Adama, but Sturm produced one of his finest performances in his last fight when he outclassed and overwhelmed Zbik, who quit on his stool after nine rounds.
Sturm has been involved in some close decisions and even seemed to be slipping a bit when Martin Murray fought him to a draw, but against Zbik we saw Sturm at his very best, moving forward confidently behind his high guard and pounding Zbik with thudding left jabs.
The Sturm who outclassed Sylvester and Zbik is a formidable proposition, very precise with his punching.
Geale might be able to win rounds simply by being active and rattling off combinations while Sturm is moving to him and blocking punches but not throwing very much. Martin Murray and Matthew Macklin won rounds against Sturm by letting their hands go while Sturm waited for perfect openings.
If Geale can get off to a fast start and win most of the early rounds, then hold off the strong late-rounds pressure that will surely be coming from Sturm, then the Australian boxer has an excellent chance of winning.
Sturm is very effective at fighting in spurts and making every punch count, but Geale has the quickness and the ring intelligence to get his punches off and then move around Sturm, or move side to side, to make it more difficult for the German fighter to hit him in a consistent manner.
I make Sturm the physically stronger fighter and the more forceful hitter, but Geale’s movement, punch-volume and long-haul endurance will, I think, make this a very close and competitive contest.
The crowd will reacting to every punch that Sturm lands, but if Geale can win large portions of rounds by letting his hands go — as did Murray against Sturm, for instance — then he can create a favourable impression in the minds of the judges. This is the biggest fight of Geale’s career and I believe him when he says he will be giving everything he has to give.
I think the ambitious Aussie can win this fight, and I started out leaning very slightly towards Geale pulling off the upset, but, as sometimes happens, my opinion has shifted as the fight has drawn closer. Sturm’s preparation indicates that winning this fight means a great deal to him and his performances against German rivals Sylvester and Zbik showed that Sturm can raise his level of performance when the stakes are highest. With the fight less than 24 hours away, I’m fancying Sturm to win a very close decision.
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