Dan Rafael: Cruiserweight



When it comes to cruiserweight titleholders moving up to conquer the heavyweight division, many have tried. Most have failed.

In recent years, cruiserweight champions such as Tomasz Adamek, Juan Carlos Gomez and James Toney have made the attempt. Adamek and Gomez were both dominated and knocked out by Vitali Klitschko when they got their shots. Toney outpointed John Ruiz in a title bout, but the result was negated because Toney tested positive for steroids after the fight.

Other cruiserweight titleholders have fought at heavyweight but had only middling success and never even got a title opportunity, including Vassiliy Jirov, Bobby Czyz and Orlin Norris.

Only two have made the successful jump.

Evander Holyfield was the undisputed cruiserweight champion and eventually the undisputed heavyweight champion. He was the real deal at both weights. Many years later, David Haye, who won three of the four major alphabet belts and was generally considered the real cruiserweight champ, also moved up to heavyweight and claimed a belt in 2009, even though he was never the legitimate champion (and made more news with his mouth and sore toe than his actual heavyweight fighting ability).

Next up to try is Germany’s Marco Huck (34-1, 25 KOs), who I regard as the No. 1 cruiserweight in the world. He won a belt in 2009 and has made eight defenses.

Now Huck, an aggressive crowd pleaser and a good puncher, is doing what other cruiserweights have done before him -- moving up for the opportunity to win a heavyweight belt. Huck challenges Russia’s Alexander Povetkin for his title Saturday (Epix and EpixHD.com, 4 p.m. ET) in Stuttgart, Germany.

Even though Povetkin holds a second-tier tissue-paper thin WBA belt (the WBA loves to give out multiple titles in the same division to collect a few extra bucks) when we all know the legit champ is Wladimir Klitschko, it will be still be an accomplishment if Huck can topple Povetkin (23-0, 16 KOs), a 2004 Olympic gold medalist and legitimate top 5 heavyweight.

"I know this is a gigantic task,” Huck said through a translator. “It can write boxing history and following the path of superstars like Holyfield and Haye would be fantastic. It’s going to be tough though because Povetkin is a very accomplished fighter. But I will win.

“I’m ready to become heavyweight champion. I would not have taken the fight if I didn’t believe in myself. Povetkin is good, but I can beat him. We once did sparring together and he has bad memories of me.”
Huck is even boldly predicting a knockout.

“I plan to show my fans a great fight, which will end in a KO victory for me,” Huck said. “Povetkin is a great champion but I will defeat him and finally accomplish my goal of becoming word heavyweight champion.”
Povetkin will be making his second title defense. When he was presented with Huck as a possible opponent, he didn’t expect it.

“At first I was surprised about Huck’s challenge because he has never fought at heavyweight before, but I am happy to defend my title against anybody out there,” said Povetkin, also through a translator. “I am in great shape and I will win.”

I think the match has all the makings of an exciting fight. Although Huck is moving up in weight, Povetkin isn’t a giant like the Klitschko brothers, so I think it will be competitive. Promoter Kalle Sauerland agrees.

“This is what the heavyweight division needs. It will be very exciting,” he said. “Both are fast, aggressive, strong and full of confidence. And both do not always have the best defense.”

Povetkin will enter the fight with a new trainer. Gone is Teddy Atlas, who is also the ESPN2 “Friday Night Fights” analyst. Atlas was very critical in helping Povetkin navigate tough moments in his title-winning effort against Ruslan Chagaev in August, so his absence could be a factor.

Atlas’ deal with Povetkin required him to train in the United States while Atlas was in season for “FNF.” Atlas would go to Europe to train him during the show’s August-January hiatus. Povetkin didn’t honor the commitment to train in America for the Chagaev fight, so Atlas, only a few weeks before the fight, went to Russia and missed the final few “FNF” cards last season. Atlas was not happy about it and, understandably, refused to do it again.

That means Alexander Zimin -- who trained former heavyweight titlist Nikolai Valuev -- is now in charge of Povetkin’s corner.

“I have had a very good preparation with Alexander Zimin, all went very well,” Povetkin said. “I am ready for Saturday. I am here to defend my title. I will win.”

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