Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Felix Sturm, Comfortable in his Cocoon

Jermain Taylor.  Arthur Abraham. Kelly Pavlik. Sergio Martinez. 

These are the middleweight champions that Felix Sturm has failed to meet in the ring since he captured the WBA middleweight title in 2006.  Over the last five years, he has defended his title 10 times.  His most notable opponent was the top-ten ranked contender, Sebastian Sylvester.  The rest of his title defense list is composed of a bunch of second or third-tier fighters (including American Randy Griffin, who fought Sturm to a draw but lost in a rematch), a slow, old and blown-up Spaniard with a punch (Javier Castillejo, who knocked Sturm out but lost in a rematch) and two tough but limited fighters (Giovanni Lorenzo and Khoren Gevor).    

Sturm's most notable moment in boxing occurred in 2004 when he lost a tight battle to Oscar de la Hoya.  Brought in as a tune-up for de la Hoya's upcoming fight with Bernard Hopkins, Sturm, a massive underdog, showcased his blistering jab and his high work rate to win his fair share of rounds.  Many observers thought that he did enough to secure the decision.  Sturm, who prior to the fight was an obscure middleweight titlist from Germany, “an opponent,” garnered a lot of good will in the sport with his performance. 

Since the de la Hoya loss, Sturm has received countless offers from American promoters, trying to get him to return to the U.S. to make large fights in the middleweight division.  He has refused all advances.  To this day, the de la Hoya match is the only time as a professional that Sturm has left Germany to fight. 

Lou DiBella has been chasing Sturm for years, offering him generous terms to face Jermain Taylor (who beat Sturm in the Olympics) and current middleweight king Sergio Martinez.  Top Rank made a couple of runs at Sturm during Kelly Pavlik's reign.  Golden Boy also tried to match Sturm with Winky Wright.  All were rebuffed.

Meanwhile, Sturm has fashioned a lucrative career in Germany, becoming  a successful ticket seller and a huge TV attraction. 

He didn't just reject American offers for mega-fights.  He also turned down a highly lucrative unification match in 2008 with fellow German titlist Arthur Abraham, who was promoted by Sauerland Event, the chief rival of Sturm's then-promoter Universum Box-Promotion.

In 2009, Sturm decided to leave Universum.  Ensuing litigation followed and he spent more than a year out of the ring.  He returned with a co-promotional deal with Arena Box.  Eventually they split, leading to more billable hours for attorneys (according to Arena Box, Sturm walked away from a $25M offer; Sturm disputes this).  

Sturm now promotes himself.  Even though he was a promotional novice, he brought many significant assets to the table.  His 2008 fight with Sylvester sold over 20,000 tickets and was watched by 6.6 million people on channel ZDF.  For a little perspective, Bernard Hopkins' last fight against Jean Pascal drew 1.8 million people on HBO, which was the network's highest-rated World Championship Boxing broadcast in two years.  Additionally, Sturm’s 2010 fight against Lorenzo drew 5.71 million viewers and his 2011 fight against Ronald Hearns drew 4.74 million viewers.

Earlier this year, Sturm extended a lucrative deal with German cable station Sat. 1.  By most accounts, he will make at least $3M per fight.  There are only a handful of boxers in the world that can consistently make that amount each fight (the Klitschkos, Mayweather, and Pacquiao). 

Sturm's popularity in Germany is entrenched.  He has matinee-idol looks and can be an engaging interview out of the ring. As a fighter, he features an energetic, if somewhat workmanlike, high-volume style. He has an excellent jab, a high work rate and a good left hook. Although he possesses limited power, his style is appreciated by German boxing fans.  

In 2010, Sturm teamed up with Fritz Sdunek, Germany's most famous trainer.  Sdunek coaches Vitali Klitschko and previously trained Wladimir Klitschko and former long-reigning, light heavyweight champion Dariusz Michalczewski.  The matching of Sturm and Sdunek, who rarely takes on new fighters, further affirmed to many in German boxing circles that Sturm possessed unique gifts.     

Sturm fights English boxer Matthew Macklin later this month.  Macklin is a live body and is a top-ten ranked middleweight.  Even though Sturm will be a significant favorite, Macklin is a serious opponent.  Sturm's flaws as a fighter (his lack of power, lapses of focus within fights, inability to fight well going backward) will be tested by Macklin, the boxer-brawler.  It might be a compelling fight, but Sturm should win.   

Over the years, Sturm has been quoted as saying that he wants to return to America and fight the best boxers in the world.  Most recently he talked about the possibility of a fight with Sergio Martinez.  To this point, his actions have consistently belied his rhetoric.  

It is not uncommon for a fighter to be reluctant to travel because of a bad decision that he received earlier in his career.  Roy Jones is perhaps the most well-known example.  After losing the gold medal in the Seoul Olympics, Jones refused to go to Europe to fight Michalczewski and didn't fight abroad until he started to hit the down slope of his career.  However, unlike Sturm, Jones at least faced some of the top talents in boxing, including Bernard Hopkins, James Toney, Mike McCallum and Antonio Tarver.  He also fought top challengers such as Glen Johnson and Clinton Woods.    

Already 32, Sturm has exactly one high-profile name on his ledger – de la Hoya.  At this point, it is not clear that he wants a second one.  With his cushy contract with Sat. 1 and the affinity of an adoring German boxing public, the reasons for remaining in his protective cocoon are quite well understood.  

However, in that one long-ago night against Oscar de la Hoya in 2004, Sturm demonstrated that he is capable of fighting on the world-class level.  He captivated the boxing world as an anonymous boxer who fought valiantly under the bright lights of Vegas.  Yet since that time, Sturm has deprived the boxing public of the biggest fights at middleweight.  Although he is celebrated in Germany, his refusal to face the best has created a bitter aftertaste.  He seems set in his ways.  Boxing's money and accolades have afforded him a charmed life.  But when he wakes up in ten years, watching the fights from a distance in his swanky mansion, will he be filled with pangs of regret because of missed opportunities or will he feel satisfaction in that he milked the fight game for all it was worth?

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1 comment:

  1. Maklin is the one to dethrone him - Maklin will then have a few low key defences in the UK before heading out to Vegas for some big fights.