The Messehalle in Erfurt, Germany plays host Saturday night to an intriguing bill headlined by the WBO cruiserweight rematch between Marco "Captain" Huck and Britain's Ola Afolabi. The chief support features two European heavyweight prospects, Alexander Dimitrenko and Kubrat Pulev, who'll be contesting the vacant EBU title.
Huck (34-2, 25 KOs) is reprising his December 2009 first WBO title defense, when he handily defeated Afolabi over 12 rounds. This time he's making the ninth defense of the strap, just three months after an abortive assault on Alexander Povetkin's WBA heavyweight title (of sorts), when he swapped punches on pretty much even terms with Povetkin but was narrowly out-scored.
Huck, 27, picked up some plaudits for his brave effort against Povetkin, and the fight was a barn-stormer, if woefully lacking in quality. He'll drop 10 pounds in weight to renew hostilities with Afolabi (19-2, 9 KOs), who has gone 6-0 since their last outing, and has looked like a fighter in development over the period, whereas Huck has remained ... well ... Huck.
There are no airs or graces about the German in the ring -- he's a rough, tough brawler, and he's the darling of German audiences (who tend to get very excited about very little). The 32-year-old Afolabi is a staple sparring partner of the Klitschko brothers, who need him to mimic the much smaller men on whom they generally feast. He's been operating at a higher level since dismantling Enzo Maccarinelli in 2009, not least with regard to his punching power, which has seen him deliver a couple of stunning knockout victories recently. He starched Britain's Terry Dunstan last July in just one round, and in March obliterated one Valery Brudov in five on the farcical Wladimir Klitschko-Jean-Marc Mormeck undercard.
If Huck hangs his chin out like he did for Povetkin, things could get interesting. Afolabi carries enough power, and can execute with far more precision, than Povetkin. I'm picking the Brit to spring an upset.
The heavyweight bout has Ukrainian Alexander Dimitrenko (32-1, 21 KOs) squaring off with Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev (15-0, 7 KOs).
Pulev, 30, has enjoyed a swift rise through the ranks in his two and a half years as pro, and it's pleasing to see that he's been set a few challenges along the way. He stopped former world title challenger Matt Skelton in four rounds in only his fifth fight, and he's beaten Dominick Guinn, Travis Walker and Michael Sprott along the way.
The 29-year-old Dimitrenko represents a pretty significant step up, however, for Pulev. He's held the EBU title previously, and defended with a last ditch twelfth round stoppage of Albert Sosnowski this time last year. The Ukrainian's sole loss was in a WBO title eliminator in 2009, when he was decisioned by Eddie Chambers, who went on to "challenge" the younger Klitschko the following year.
The fight will be an interesting marker in the fighting lives of the two big men, who are both large enough to stand with the Klitschkos. Both fighters, however, have predictable, straight-up styles, in the Eastern bloc mode, and it may be that the European title represents the summit of their abilities. Former British champion Tyson Fury will be looking on closely, and trying to tempt the winner into a defense before the year is out.
Also on the bill Robert Stieglitz features in a hastily put-together defense of his WBO 168-pound title, after original challenger George Groves pulled out of the fight with a mystery illness. Well-traveled Australian Nader Hamden steps in at late notice to provide Stieglitz (41-2, 23 KOs) with some putative opposition, but he'll be expected to do nothing more than make up the numbers. Hamden (43-9, 18 KOs) has won only one of his last four, and was beaten on two previous visits to Germany, most notably back in 2004 when Arthur Abraham stopped him in 12 rounds. At 38 years of age Hamden's best days are behind him.