Dan Rafael: Firat Arslan

Hernandez ordered to face Afolabi

August, 20, 2014
Cruiserweight titlist Yoan Pablo Hernandez (29-1, 14 KOs) won a split decision against former titlist Firat Arslan (34-8-2, 21 KOs) to retain his title for the fourth time on Saturday in Germany and the next day was ordered by the IBF to begin negotiations for his mandatory defense against Ola Afolabi (21-3-4, 10 KOs).

According to the organization, the fight must take place by Dec 31.

Afolabi, who is from England and living in Los Angeles, was supposed to face Pawel Kolodziej of Poland in a title eliminator to earn the shot. But when Kolodziej pulled out of their July 26 fight that was scheduled for the Gennady Golovkin-Daniel Geale undercard in New York, Afolabi instead smashed substitute Anthony Caputo Smith in the third round. That fight was not an eliminator but Afolabi is getting the shot because Hernandez’s mandatory defense is due and Afolabi is the IBF’s leading available contender.

“I’m thrilled to be challenging for the IBF world title,” Afolabi said. “[K2 Promotions managing director Tom Loeffler] and K2 have done a great job promoting me and putting me in this position and I will take the title from Hernandez.”

Said Loeffler: “We’re excited that Ola is now the mandatory challenger. Ola has proven to be one of the best cruiserweights in the world and we strongly believe that he will bring home the IBF world title in this fight.”

The fight will be Afolabi’s fourth shot at a world title. He is 0-2-1 against Marco Huck fighting for another organization’s belt.

Hernandez, Arslan in title fight

August, 14, 2014
Cruiserweight titlist Yoan Pablo Hernandez returns to action after a nine-month layoff to defend his title for the fourth time when he faces former titleholder Firat Arslan on Saturday in Erfurt, Germany.

Hernandez (28-1, 14 KOs), the slick 29-year-old southpaw from Cuba who defected to Germany, was supposed to defend against Pawel Kolodziej on March 8 before the fight was postponed until March 29 and then canceled altogether because Hernandez was suffering from gastritis (a stomach lining infection) and unable to train.

Hernandez also has had other physical problems, including needing surgery to repair a broken hand that caused him to be out of action for 14 months, including most of 2013, when he fought just once.

Now Hernandez is back and said he feels good and is happy to have the issues behind him.

"I have trained careful with my focus being completely on the task ahead this Saturday night. I did not have this kind of focus for my last fights, as I had to battle many problems outside of the ring," Hernandez said at this week's final news conference. "I almost give up but my wife and my coach motivated me not to let myself go. Now, I am stronger than ever. [Saturday] will be my proving point."

Germany's Arslan (34-7-2, 21 KOs) is looking to regain a piece of the title at age 43. He gave titleholder Marco Huck a very tough fight in a highly competitive and action-packed November 2012 points loss but then was knocked out in the sixth round by Huck in their January rematch.

After rebounding with an eight-round decision win against a low-level opponent in June, Arslan landed the shot against Hernandez -- an easy fight to make because they are both promoted by Sauerland Event.

"I want to become the oldest cruiserweight champion of all time. I know that this is my last chance to glory and I did everything in preparation to make my dream come true," Arslan said. "Coach Fritz Sdunek is going to be my key factor against Hernandez. When I fought Huck for the second time, I made many mistakes, which are not going to happen again. You will see my best performance ever on Saturday."

Notes: Stevens-N'Dam in works

June, 23, 2014
A few notes from the boxing world:

• Middleweight contenders Curtis Stevens (27-4, 20 KOs) of Brooklyn, New York, and France's Hassan N'Dam (30-1, 18 KOs), a former titlist, are close to a deal that will see them meet in a title eliminator in the return of boxing to NBC on Sept. 20 at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut. The winner of the fight -- which has good potential to be action-packed -- will become the mandatory challenger for newly-crowned titleholder Sam Soliman of Australia. N'Dam has won three fights in a row since losing a decision in a world title fight to Peter Quillin in 2012. Stevens has won two fights in a row since being stopped in the eight round challenging titleholder Gennady Golovkin in November.

[+] EnlargeCurtis Stevens
Larry Levanti/Main EventsCurtis Stevens, fresh off a win over Tureano Johnson, is close to a deal to face Hassan N'Dam.
• Cruiserweight titlist Yoan Pablo Hernandez (28-1, 14 KOs), the German-based Cuban defector who has been out since November, will make his fourth defense on Aug. 16 in Erfurt, Germany. According to promoter Sauerland Event, Hernandez will face former titleholder Firat Arslan (34-7-2, 21 KOs) of Germany. Sauerland is waiting for the final approval of the match from the IBF. In January, Arslan was stopped in the sixth round of his rematch with titleholder Marco Huck but bounced back for a low-level win on June 7. Hernandez was supposed to fight Pawel Kolodziej on March 8, but the fight was postponed to March 29 and then canceled altogether because Hernandez was suffering from gastritis (a stomach lining infection) and unable to train.

• Welterweight prospect Jose Benavidez (20-0, 14 KOs), a star amateur who has disappointed Top Rank with some uneven performances as a pro, not to mention fighting just once in 2013, will fight for the third time this year on July 26 when he headlines a UniMas-televised card in his hometown of Phoenix. He has no opponent yet for his scheduled eight-rounder. Top Rank also announced that junior lightweight blue chip prospect Oscar Valdez (11-0, 11 KOs), the two-time Mexican Olympian, will fight in the co-feature, an eight-rounder against an opponent to be determined.

• Golden Boy announced that its card on July 18 (Fox Sports 1/Fox Deportes) at the Longshoreman's Hall in San Francisco will be headlined by former lightweight title challenger Mercito Gesta (27-1-1, 15 KOs) of the Philippines, who will take on Luis Arceo (28-12-4, 19 KOs) in the 10-round main event. In the junior welterweight co-feature, Jonathan Chicas (13-1, 6 KOs) of San Francisco will face Emanuel Robles (10-0-1, 3 KOs). Also on the card is Chinese heavyweight Taishan (yes, he goes by one name and is nearly 7-foot), who will make his pro debut in a four-rounder.

Huck, Arslan set to tangle again

January, 24, 2014
Marco Huck, Firat ArslanMartin Rose/Bongarts/Getty ImagesIf the first Marco Huck-Firat Arslan fight was any indication, Saturday's rematch should be a smash.

American boxing fans will have an opportunity to watch one of the hottest fights in recent German history, the rematch between cruiserweight titleholder Marco Huck and former titlist Firat Arslan.

The bout will be streamed live from Hanns-Martin-Schleyer Halle in Stuttgart, Germany at 5 p.m. ET on Saturday on ESPN3.com, ESPN announced Friday after finalizing the deal with Sauerland Event.

Huck and Arslan put on a classic fight the first time they met, in November 2012. Huck won a highly competitive and disputed unanimous decision on scores of 117-111, 115-113 and 115-113. Spurred by significant public demand for a rematch from German fans and media, the sequel was signed after both fighters won interim bouts, their only fights of 2013.

The fighters were originally supposed to meet in the rematch on Sept. 14, but Huck suffered a hairline fracture of his left elbow in his final sparring session the week before the fight, which was then postponed.

Huck (36-2-1, 25 KOs), 29, a native of Serbia living in Germany, will be making his 12th title defense in the rematch with Arslan (33-6-2, 21 KOs), a 43-year-old German southpaw who held a version of the cruiserweight title from 2007 to 2008.

The fight caught the fancy of the German public, making Saturday's rematch one of the most anticipated in recent years in the country.
Promoter Kalle Sauerland said he hasn't seen such interest in an all-German fight since the two light heavyweight title fights between Henry Maske and Graciano Rocchigiani in 1995.

"Without doubt the closeness and split opinions of the public after the first fight provide a great build-up here," Sauerland said. "However, there is more: The two used to be friends, and they clearly are 'best of enemies.' The two styles mixed perfectly in the first fight and this one has a real sense of anticipation."

Both fighters believe they will leave no doubt about Saturday's winner.

"I am the champion and I will still be champion after Saturday night," Huck said through a translator. "Although Firat has unmatched stamina, he cannot box, and I will prove that on Saturday. My preparations have been excellent. From the start of my training I have had to miss a lot of parties, and for that Firat must pay."

Said Arslan, also speaking through a translator: "I believe in justice. As fate would have it, justice was not given to me in the first fight. On Saturday, I will finally get some justice. Marco can talk all he wants, but at the end of the day this won't help him.

"I am feeling like the world champion since my first fight against Marco, which I actually won. Now it is time to collect my belt from him."

New opponent for David Price

January, 10, 2014
British heavyweight hopeful David Price’s opponent for his Jan. 25 comeback fight changed on Friday.

Price (15-2, 13 KOs), originally scheduled to face Russia’s Evgeny Orlov (14-12-1, 10 KOs), will instead face Konstantin Airich (19-7-2, 15 KOs) in Stuttgart, Germany, in a scheduled eight-round bout on the undercard of cruiserweight titleholder Marco Huck’s rematch with former titlist Firat Arslan. Airich is a native of Kazakhstan living in Germany.

Sauerland Event, which recently signed Price, gave no reason for the change in opponents.

Price, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist and the 2012 ESPN.com prospect of the year, is looking to rebound from back-to-back upset knockout losses to American contender Tony Thompson in 2013.

Price’s return had been scheduled for Dec. 14, but he became ill and the fight was postponed until later this month. The fight also will be Price’s first under new trainer Tommy Brooks.

Afolabi moving on from Huck

June, 21, 2013
Cruiserweight contender Ola Afolabi isn't giving up on his dream of winning a world title in the wake of his June 8 loss to Marco Huck.

Afolabi and Huck fought three times in all, with Huck going 2-0-1 in three excellent fights. Last year's rematch, one of the best fights of 2012, ended in a draw. The third bout was another really good fight, but Afolabi, who had been the interim titlist, just couldn't get over the hump and lost on scores of 117-111, 115-113, 114-114 in a majority decision.

Afolabi, who is from England but lives in Southern California, is putting the Huck trilogy behind him.

"I congratulate Marco, he fought a very good fight," Afolabi said. "This is the third time we've fought, so I'm ready to move on to other challenges. I'll be back in the gym shortly, fully focused on fighting my way back into world title contention."

Although Afolabi couldn't come up with a win, he made a lot of fans because of the spirited efforts he gave against Huck. He spent some time last week making the rounds in England with appearances on Sky Sports and BoxNation.

While Afolabi (19-3-4, 9 KOs), 33, takes a break, K2 Promotions managing director Tom Loeffler will work on plans for his next bout.

"Ola and Marco have very different styles, but are very similar in talent so that every time they fight it is always an exciting and close battle," Loeffler said. "Ola and I have spoken and we're going to work hard towards getting him back for another title shot in the near future. He was in excellent shape for this bout and we believe he will still accomplish his goal of being a world champion."

Germany's Huck (36-2-1, 25 KOs), meantime, is moving on to his 12th title defense, a Sept. 14 rematch with former titlist Firat Arslan (33-6-2, 21 KOs). In Huck's fight prior to the third bout with Afolabi, he outpointed Arslan in a highly competitive, action-packed fight in November.

Arslan angling for Huck rematch

April, 2, 2013
Huck-ArsianThomas Starke/Bongarts/Getty ImagesFirat Arslan, right, pushed Marco Huck to the brink last year, and now he's a step closer to a rematch.

In November, former cruiserweight titlist Firat Arslan of Germany engaged titleholder Marco Huck in a brutal slugfest, one of the most action-packed fights of 2012. Huck won a highly competitive unanimous decision, but Arslan, who looked as good as ever at age 42, fought very, very well.

Frankly, the fight could have gone either way, but Huck got the decision.

A rematch was clearly warranted, but it was unlikely to happen because Sauerland Event, Huck's promoter, didn't promote Arslan and had other plans for Huck.

But on Tuesday, the possibility of a rematch became more realistic when Sauerland Event announced that it has signed Arslan (32-6-2, 21 KOs) to a promotional contract. Now that Huck and Arslan are with the same company, a rematch is far more likely.

"A rematch is definitely something I look forward to," Arslan said of a potential sequel.

Arslan's first fight with Sauerland Event will take place April 27 against an opponent to be determined at the Sporthalle in Hamburg, Germany, on the undercard of Juergen Braehmer's European light heavyweight title defense against Tony Averlant.

Arslan wants another world title after first winning a cruiserweight belt against Virgil Hill in 2007 (which he lost in his second defense 10 months later, to Guillermo Jones).

"I became a world champion at the age of 37. Now it's my goal to win a world championship again," Arslan said. "Team Sauerland is the perfect partner to fulfill that goal. They already have some world-class cruiserweights under contract."

Besides Huck, Sauerland Event also promotes titleholder Yoan Pablo Hernandez, who would be another potential opponent for Arslan.

Huck offer to W. Klitschko a stunt

November, 2, 2012
Marco HuckAP Photo/Jens MeyerMarco Huck is No. 1 at cruiserweight, but he would be out of his depth against Wladimir Klitschko.
Cruiserweight titlist Marco Huck has a defense against former titleholder Firat Arslan on Saturday in Germany so, naturally, promoter Sauerland Event is trying to drum up interest.

And what better way to hype Huck's fight -- one he should win, and quite comfortably -- than by telling everyone that a big-money offer has been made to heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko to fight Huck next, even if it has no basis in reality.

That is exactly what Kalle Sauerland and Saturday's event organizer, Ralf Weber, did on Thursday when they sent out a media release filled with a lot of exclamation points that proclaimed they had offered Klitschko -- who has his own defense against Mariusz Wach on Nov. 10 -- 5 million euros (about $6.5 million) to fight Huck.

It's a pure PR move, in my view. Sauerland and Weber know the fight isn't likely to happen, which is no great loss because it would be an epic mismatch.

But let's give the Huck side its chance to make the case.

"Bernd Boente, Klitschko's manager, has been talking to Marco directly about the possibility of fighting Klitschko," Sauerland said. "Now we have used the official channels to approach them with an offer."

Sauerland said that the offer was declined 20 minutes after it was made.

"Of course, we are now expecting them to come up with a counteroffer," Sauerland said. "We are always willing to hold personal talks to discuss the terms for such a fight. Then we will see if they will actually put their money where their mouth is. We definitely want to make this fight happen."

The Huck side would want the fantasy Klitschko-Huck fight to happen at the Gerry Weber Stadium in Halle/Westphalia, Germany, where Huck-Arslan will take place and where Ralf Weber is the general manager.

"We have been working with the Sauerlands for 18 years now and been hosting great fight nights at the Gerry Weber Stadium," Weber said. "A fight between Huck and Klitschko would be the absolute highlight. We will do everything possible to make this fight happen. We have made a serious offer to the Klitschko management, which we believe should make everyone involved happy."

Ah, if only it were that simple. Maybe they do really want to make the fight happen, but Sauerland and Weber knew darn well there was no chance of their offer being accepted.

That's because Klitschko -- as well as older brother and fellow heavyweight titleholder Vitali Klitschko -- fights exclusively on German network RTL. The brothers have had a deal with RTL since 2006. Sauerland Event has a contract with ARD to televise all of its cards in Germany.

Boente agreed that the offer was a promotional ploy.

"Every time there is a Huck fight coming up, they want to use the Klitschko name to help promote it," Boente said.

Boente also took issue with Sauerland's comment that he had gone around Sauerland to talk directly with Huck.

"They said I approached Huck regarding the fight, which is complete nonsense," Boente said.

Boente said he saw Huck and Wilfried Sauerland, the company chief and Kalle's father, at a non-boxing event not too long ago and that Huck came over to him and asked him if they could put together a fight with Klitschko.

"I said, 'No problem, we can do it.' And [Thursday] Sauerland sends out that press release as a PR stunt. He could have offered us 100 million euros, but he knows we have had a contract with RTL since 2006 and, therefore, it makes no sense to discuss it unless they want to come to RTL. Any fight that happens between one of the Klitschkos and Huck can only happen on RTL, our TV partner. Sauerland wants to do it on ARD, which will never happen. So it's only a PR stunt.

"I sent them an email saying we can do the fight any time, but it has to be on RTL and the promoter has to be K2 [the Klitschkos' company]."

Klitschko is the champion, with his own lucrative German TV contract. He doesn't need Huck or Sauerland for a fight, especially one for which there is no public demand.

But let's give Sauerland and Weber credit for getting Huck the publicity they were looking for.