- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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The cruiserweight division was created in 1979 by one sanctioning organization with the others following suit not long after. The weight limit was 190 pounds before it was eventually raised to 200 several years ago.
To many, the division was something of a halfway house for guys too small to compete seriously as heavyweights but too big to squeeze down to the 175-pound light heavyweight division.
While the division has never had that much of a profile or respect in the United States, it is a big deal in Europe, where it has a robust fan following and title fights regularly headline cards. It has also produced its share of top fighters.
Evander Holyfield became the division's first undisputed champion before moving on to heavyweight glory. Some of the other more famous fighters to hold cruiserweight titles include Vassiliy Jirov, James Toney, David Haye, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Bobby Czyz and Tomasz Adamek.
But no cruiserweight in history has made more defenses than England's Johnny Nelson (45-12-2, 29 KOs), a southpaw defensive specialist who came into his own late in his career.
Nelson won a cruiserweight belt by knocking out Carl Thompson in the fifth round in 1999, and although he never had a defining fight during his title reign, he made 13 defenses before vacating the title and retiring at age 38 in 2005. Today, Nelson is best known to many boxing fans as a commentator on Sky Sports' boxing coverage in the United Kingdom.
He said he will be watching with interest on Saturday as longtime titleholder Marco Huck of Germany attempts to tie his record for most cruiserweight title defenses when he defends the same belt Nelson once held against Mirko Larghetti (21-0, 13 KOs), of Italy, at Gerry Weber Stadium in Halle/Westphalia, Germany.
"I hope to be there in Germany when Marco matches my career defense (record) and I will cheer him on as a boxing fight fan because he is one step closer to breaking a record that stood for years in the cruiserweight division," Nelson told ESPN.com.
Huck-Larghetti was originally scheduled to take place on March 29 in Berlin, but Huck suffered a fractured right thumb in a sparring session, forcing the fight to be postponed.
Although Larghetti, 31, is a relative unknown, Huck (37-2-1, 26 KOs), of Germany, has faced many top opponents during a title reign that began in 2009 and even took a one-fight trip to heavyweight in 2012 to challenge then-titleholder Alexander Povetkin, who won a highly controversial decision.
Among the opponents Huck, 29, has faced during his reign are former titleholder Firat Arslan (twice), reigning titlist Denis Lebedev and Ola Afolabi (going 2-0-1).
Although Huck was just starting his professional career when Nelson was winding his down, Nelson said he knew of Huck back then and has watched as he has developed into one of the division's best ever.
"Marco is a very tough, capable champion who is on a roll, but he still needs to be tested away from Germany as a champion," Nelson said. "It's not just about being champion, it's believing you are champion and the world believing you are the best in that division, and until he decides to start globetrotting as champion, the question will be there."
Nelson said he would like to see Huck leave the comforts of Germany, where he has fought all of his bouts except for one, in Switzerland in 2007.
Nelson, in contrast, fought in places such as Denmark, Germany, Australia, France, New Zealand, Belgium and Brazil. During his title reign, he made defenses in the United States, Germany, Italy and Denmark, in addition to England.
Kalle Sauerland, Huck's promoter, said at this week's final news conference that a successful defense against Larghetti could lead to a trip abroad for Huck in his next fight.
"Marco gets the chance to write history with his 13th title defense. However, we plan bigger and better things for him, either unification or a step up to heavyweight, on U.S. soil," Sauerland said.
The Larghetti side is planning to ruin those plans.
"The better man is going to win. I am well prepared and thankful for this chance. On Saturday, I will make my dream come true and become the WBO cruiserweight world champion," Larghetti said.
Added promoter Salvatore Cherchi: "Every reign has to come to an end. Marco Huck had a lot of success in the past but come Saturday, a new era is about to start and that will be Mirko Larghetti's."
Huck then had his say to Larghetti and Cherchi.
"I will make spaghetti out of Larghetti," he said, repeating a comment he has made throughout the promotion, and then added: "Listen good to me Salvatore: I will break your fighter to pieces. Mirko Larghetti is still unbeaten and therefore he has a certain kind of self-confidence. But come [Saturday], it will be gone as he is about to witness that I am in a complete different class."
It is a class that has him on the verge of a boxing record, one that he said he would be proud to share with Nelson.
"Nelson was an exceptional athlete who did not back down from any challenge," Huck said. "I am no different. His style of fighting was not the most spectacular but it was successful. It is an honor to get the chance to equal his record. But in contrast to Nelson, I will not struggle against an Italian in my 13th defense. My aim is to beat Larghetti first, then [beat] Nelson's record."
Huck was referring to Nelson's tough final fight, when he got dropped and had to pull out a split decision victory against Vincenzo Cantatore in Italy.
Nelson won that fight, and all of his defenses, but how would he have done if he had fought Huck?
"I do believe Marco would have been made for me," Nelson said. "I would have been a tough fight for him to deal with but he would have learned a lot. So, good luck to him in his 13th defense."
20hDarren Rovell and Dan Rafael