“The dream is made real! Ricky Hatton rocks the world!”
“Corrie Sanders has absolutely destroyed Wladimir Klitschko!”
“Is it Oliver McCall all over again? It is! And Lewis is gone! Lewis is gone!”
Remember those moments? Moments like an earthquake in the boxing world. Moments that go down in history. Moments you’ll talk about forever.
It seems we don’t get as many seismic shocks at the world title level as we used to. Could that change in the coming weeks? Between February 21 and April 25 three dominant world champions will look to ensure they are not on the receiving end of such a disaster and three hopeful challengers will try to make it happen. And as Hasim Rahman proved 14 years ago in South Africa, a single punch is all it takes.
Madness in Monte Carlo?
In two weeks Martin Murray is the first of three world title challengers, along with Jean Pascal and Bryant Jennings, who will look to defy the odds and achieve something just as remarkable as Hatton beating Tszyu, Rahman blasting Lewis and Sanders battering Wladimir Klitschko. The 32-year-old Murray will stare down the barrel of a boxing gun when he climbs through the ropes to face, Triple G, the Terminator, a Kazakh machine who appears to have few weaknesses: Gennady Golovkin.
The Brit, who treats boxing as strictly a business, has already been up against the odds on more than one occasion in and out of the ring. Four spells in prison (for fighting and robbery) and two underdog tags against Felix Sturm and Sergio Martinez, both away from home, mean there will be little that GGG has to offer that will intimidate the challenger.
Murray is a resilient and legitimate world-class middleweight. His tag might read “underdog” once again, but it will also read “acid test.” His defensive technique, punch-picking ability and mental capacity to handle the big occasion are just three ingredients that, while not giving Golovkin sleepless nights, should provide him and trainer Abel Sanchez with plenty to think about.
What chance of a Murray upset? Well, in my opinion, he has the best shot out of the three underdogs we’re considering here. That said, what will Murray do when his opponent is throwing unorthodox punches that are just as hard the orthodox ones? What will he do when Golovkin cuts off the ring and lands him in one of those traps that have seen the likes of Matthew Macklin cut down like a tree? It’s not as simple as stating that Murray has to get to the later stages to have a chance. His defense must be tighter than ever before or else he is likely to succumb inside the distance, the same as 28 out of 31 “Triple G” opponents.
Have a war with Golovkin? Stupid. Just because he’s in Monte Carlo doesn’t mean Murray has to go for bust.
Keep it tight, frustrate the champion, land clean shots and avoid the traps. Sound simple? It isn’t. Murray doesn’t need a 90 or 95 percent performace; it must be 100 percent. He needs to be perfect and hope the champion has an off night. Only then will he have a shot at being middleweight king. And giving us maybe the biggest “shocker” of 2015.
Mayhem in Montreal?
Jean Pascal. You just can’t keep a good man down, eh? Despite injuries and inactivity the 32-year-old has always kept himself relevant at light-heavyweight, even after losing his WBC world title four years ago to Bernard Hopkins and “The Executioner’s” in-the-ring push-ups.
Since then the Montreal-based Pascal has gone ten rounds with Aleksy Kuziemski (a man stopped by Nathan Cleverly), five with George Blades (a man stopped by Zsolt Erdei), 12 with Lucian Bute (well, you all know his story) and a two-round farce of a contest against Roberto Bolonti (who has lost to the likes of Juergen Braehmer and Tony Bellew). Compelling evidence to show he has a chance of winning against Sergey Kovalev on March 14 in Montreal’s Bell Centre? Not!
Kovalev is on a roll right now, particularly after comprehensively out-pointing the evergreen Bernard Hopkins last November, though the Russian didn’t need that win to convince many boxing fans he’s unstoppable. But while his previous knockout wins have won him many supporters, against Hopkins he showed he isn’t another Eastern European who refuses to go past eight rounds. His performance surprised many as he actually out-boxed one of the sport’s shrewdest and most capable technicians.
What chance of a Pascal upset? The challenger has already said, “He showed us he can box (against Hopkins) so let’s see him box against me.” Thus, we know what we’re going to get from Pascal. The former champion is smart and experienced enough to know that a Canada-Russia war is best saved for the hockey rinks than for a boxing ring on the night in question.
Pascal is going to have to use every ounce of the crowd’s energy next month just to keep him in contention during the fight and his once renowned speed will have to be back on full throttle just to keep him out of trouble. Box and move, box and move, and somehow last 12 rounds, not taste the canvas and win rounds against a fighter who at this point looks like potentially one of the greatest light-heavyweights of all time. This is boxing, anything is possible. But is this?
Miracle in Madison Square?
Maybe Wladimir Klitschko had watched ‘Gladiator’ just before the entertaining (yes, that word) defence of his IBF world heavyweight title against Kubrat Pulev last November. Maybe he fancied himself as a Maximus Aurelius for one night. Hell, after the valiant Pulev was stopped in his tracks in round five I half expected the champ to shout to the assembled throng, ‘Are you not entertained?!’
Now, the most dominant heavyweight of recent times is making another pilgrimage to America, his first in seven years since his ‘fight’ with Sultan Ibragimov. This time he returns to New York’s Madison Square Garden where, hopefully, he’ll entertain us again with another show of risk and reward against Bryant Jennings.
Since defeating Calvin Brock at MSG in 2006, Klitschko has fought six American opponents in his last 16 defences. Rarely has the champion thrilled us in those contests and rarely has an American put up any sort of fight.
So what makes Jennings different? Unbeaten, ok. Home advantage, ok. Hungry, I should hope so.
The 30-year-old Philadelphian’s most recent contest came in July last year when he earned a SD against one of the division’s enigmatic characters, Mike Perez. It was a fight that Jennings could easily have lost and that he described as a ‘learning process’. Jennings did a good job of tiring out the soft 242lb frame of Perez. He landed some good counters, some powerful shots and occasionally connected effectively to Perez’s body.
What chance of an upset against Klitschko? It would appear very little. Jennings is going from facing a man who will likely be a case of what might’ve been, to a supremely conditioned athlete who at best can be devastating and at worse can act as a sleeping tablet but still do enough to negate anything his opponent does. The champion’s mindset will be fascinating. Does New York mean new Klitschko?
This looks like a showcase for the 38-year-old champion. A chance to show his American friends that Europe still possesses the heavyweight top dog, despite what Deontay Wilder might think. Jennings goes in with a wing and prayer but never forget: as so many shocking boxing upsets have demonstrated, sometimes that’s all you need.
— Shaun Brown