- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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Two significant middleweight title bouts are on course to take place within one week of each other, albeit not with the matchups that were expected.
Titleholders Felix Sturm of Germany and Daniel Geale of Australia will meet to unify their 160-pound titles Sept. 1 at a site to be determined in Germany, organizers announced Thursday.
Also, titleholders Dmitry Pirog of Russia and Kazakhstan's Gennady Golovkin, who lives in Germany, are close to finalizing a deal to meet Aug. 25 in the main event of an HBO "Boxing After Dark" card at a site to be determined in the United States.
Both are notable fights in the 160-pound division, but originally it was supposed to be Sturm facing Golovkin in a mandatory fight and Geale against Pirog before they wound up switching opponents.
Sturm, the WBA's so-called "super champion," owed Golovkin, the organization's "regular" titlist, a mandatory fight which was due by Sept. 30.
However, Sturm had no intention of facing Golovkin and secured a waiver from the organization to take the optional fight with Geale. Golovkin's team knew getting Sturm into the ring would be virtually impossible and targeted Pirog once it heard that he would be available with Geale in negotiations with Sturm.
"This event is what boxing is all about," Gary Shaw, Geale's co-promoter, said of the fight with Sturm. "When you get two world champions agreeing to fight each other with no hesitation, you know the fans are going to be witnessing an unbelievable bout. Both guys are hungry to keep their titles and they're going to leave everything in the ring. Words can't describe how excited I am about this event. Geale and Sturm are true warriors who are going to bring it come fight night. It's going to be an incredible night of boxing. The true winners will be the fans."
The 31-year-old Geale (27-1, 15 KOs), who will be making his third title defense, is no stranger to fighting in Germany. He is one of the few foreign fighters to go there and win a decision against a hometown fighter.
In May 2011, Geale won a split decision against Sebastian Sylvester of Germany to claim his world title. He has made both of his defenses in Australia but did not hesitate to return to Germany.
"I'm truly thankful to be fighting in this unification bout with Felix Sturm," Geale said. "My promoter, Gary Shaw, has promised me the biggest fights and he's kept his word. Fighting in Germany is a very difficult task, but I was successful there once before when I captured my first world title against Sebastian Sylvester. My goal will be to beat Sturm in his homeland and bring his title back to Australia once again. I'm fighting for my country and all the kids I train at the Grange Old School Boxing gym."
Said Shaw, "I have a lot of confidence in Daniel Geale. I was there when he won the fight against Sylvester. He didn't let the crowd get in his head. He came to do a job and he accomplished the job. Daniel Geale is a very underrated fighter and this fight will shine a light on him."
The 33-year-old Sturm (37-2-2, 16 KOs) has made all 12 of the defenses during his third title reign in Germany, where he is a star. He scored one of his most impressive victories in his last fight, a ninth-round knockout of countryman and former titlist Sebastian Zbik on April 13.
"Fighting in my native land of Germany is incredible and I can't wait to show the German fans, once again, what I'm made of," Sturm said. "Daniel Geale is a worthy opponent, but he's never been in the ring with a fighter like me. I fight for the people of Germany and I'm not going to let them down. I will be victorious on Sept. 1."
The 30-year-old Golovkin (23-0, 20 KOs), a 2004 Olympic silver medalist, will make his fifth defense against Pirog assuming they can finalize the match.
"It's not signed yet but everything from our side is fine and we look forward to the fight going ahead," K2 Promotions managing director Tom Loeffler, Golovkin's promoter, told ESPN.com. "We can't force Felix Sturm into the ring with Gennady even though it's the mandatory fight, and we also can't be held up if he won't fight Gennady. If we couldn't make the fight with Sturm, we were looking for the next biggest fight we could make and that's with Dmitry Pirog."
The fight with Pirog also achieves something else Golovkin has been seeking -- a fight in the United States with American television exposure.
"Pirog is a world class fighter and Golovkin is willing to take a risk like that to prove he is as good as we've been telling everyone he is," Loeffler said. "Assuming we get this fight done, whoever wins the fight should go to that next level because it's two top guys willing to face each other.
"Golovkin wants to fight the best. He wanted to fight Sturm but he couldn't get him. When it became apparent that Sturm was going to go in a different direction and fight Geale, fighting Pirog on HBO, in the United States, was our next best choice. We're certainly taking short money to get this fight and the exposure."
The 31-year-old Pirog (20-0, 15 KOs), burst onto the world boxing scene in July 2010 by knocking out red-hot American prospect Daniel Jacobs in Las Vegas to win a vacant title. He has made three defenses in Russia. It is unclear, however, if Pirog's belt will be on the line because he has been ordered by the WBO to make a mandatory defense against interim titleholder Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam (27-0, 17 KOs) of France.
Shaw said the driving reason for Geale to drop out of the fight being planned against Pirog was because there was no guarantee that Pirog's belt would be at stake.
"We had the fight with Pirog but the Sturm unification bout came about and there was talk that the WBO would not sanction Geale-Pirog," Shaw said. "The Geale team didn't want to fight Pirog without him having a title. Geale wanted to be on HBO very, very badly but they wanted to be a unified champion."
Geale also will make more money against Sturm than he would have against Pirog, although Shaw insisted that was not the reason for switching opponents.
"Daniel Geale wanted to unify titles. So the fact that he can now unify with Sturm was the biggest factor," Shaw said.
Shaw said that the opening HBO fight is also set for Aug. 25: former junior middleweight titlist Sergiy Dzinziruk (37-1, 23 KOs) of Ukraine against 22-year-old Puerto Rican prospect Jonathan Gonzalez (15-0, 13 KOs), who is taking a massive step up in competition.
Dzinziruk has not fought since moving up in weight to challenge lineal middleweight champion Sergio Martinez in March 2011 and suffering his first loss, an eighth-round knockout in which he was knocked down five times. Dzinziruk is the linchpin of the card because HBO is overdue in meeting its contractual obligation for a return fight that was stipulated in his deal to face Martinez.
Titleholders Felix Sturm and Daniel Geale will meet to unify their 160-pound titles Sept. 1 at a site to be determined in Germany. Also, titleholders Dmitry Pirog and Gennady Golovkin are close to finalizing a deal to meet Aug. 25.