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‘Fighting Words’ — Alexander Povetkin: In with a Bang, out with a whimper

Photo by Dave Thompson/ Matchroom Boxing
30
Mar

If this is indeed the end of Alexander Povetkin’s career, then this was not at all what he envisioned — reeling across the ring in the first minute of the first round, teetering again in the first minute of the fourth, ineffective in between. A bad start, bad middle and bad end.

He was off-balance, off-kilter, just plain off. He was staggered by a right hand early in Round 4, wobbled by a one-two combination some two minutes later, dropped with a left hook shortly afterward. His body got up, but his legs had a mind of their own. His head was in it. His chin was not. He was more than willing and less than able.

It was an inevitable ending — this is how most careers conclude, when talents can no longer compete against time — but it was an ignominious end. That, too, is normal. Fighters rarely go out on their own terms, not when they wanted, nor how they hoped.

There had been great hopes and grand visions from the early years of Povetkin’s professional career. He’d had an excellent run as an amateur, topped off with gold in the 2003 World Championships and another gold in the 2004 Olympics, each won as a super heavyweight.

Olympic success doesn’t necessarily predict pro success. Some medal winners don’t even join the paid ranks. Povetkin turned pro in 2005 and quickly earned attention at a time when it wasn’t as easy for boxing fans to follow the fights worldwide.

Barely two and a half years into his career, and after just 15 pro fights, he had entered and won the International Boxing Federation’s four-man mini-tournament at heavyweight. By stopping former titleholder Chris Byrd and widely outpointing previously unbeaten contender Eddie Chambers, Povetkin earned a shot at Wladimir Klitschko.

That was January 2008. Their meeting was eventually scheduled for that December.

That fight wouldn’t come until nearly five years later.

That is the frustrating story of Alexander Povetkin, one that began with so much potential, only to be derailed by changes in his corner, by delays due to disagreements among his team, by self-sabotage due to multiple failed tests for banned substances, and by suffering disappointing defeats. 

He came close to reaching the top, holding secondary title belts but never beating the best, losing two bouts against Klitschko and Anthony Joshua, and losing out on a fight with Deontay Wilder.

The Klitschko fight was initially slated for December 2008. Povetkin suffered a foot injury in a roadwork accident and was replaced by the shell of Hasim Rahman. Then the Klitschko fight was expected to take place in September 2010. There were signs ahead of time that it might not actually happen.

“I’m not thinking that far down the road. This is a tremendous task we have in front of us,” said Teddy Atlas in July 2010, speaking with Fightnews.com, reprinted on Boxnews.com.ua. By then, he’d been training Povetkin for about a year. “I’m not even thinking like the promoters are thinking, like those guys think about just getting my fighter to a title fight or to a money fight. 

“I’m thinking about how can I make my fighter better, can I make him better, with more time, with more teaching, with more time in the gym, with more experience, can I make him better? And the answer is yes. So how do I do that, how do I look out for my fighter, be responsible for my fighter and make my fighter a better, more effective athlete and performer in the ring? That’s what I’m thinking about.”

A week later, after Povetkin failed to show up at a press conference, he was replaced. Klitschko wound up meeting Samuel Peter in a rematch instead.

“I told him from the beginning I wanted more time,” Atlas told boxing writer Dan Rafael, then of ESPN.com. “I was never really for the fight right now. Let me have more time with him. Does the mandatory dictate when he fights, or do the circumstances of him having the best chance to win the fight?”

Povetkin instead stepped up a year later, in August 2011, defeating Ruslan Chagaev by unanimous decision to win the World Boxing Association’s “regular” heavyweight title, a secondary belt given that Klitschko was the WBA’s “super” titleholder. By early 2012, Povetkin and Atlas had split due to a disagreement over where they would train and when. Povetkin wanted to be in Russia, while Atlas wanted to be in the United States due to his commentary duties for ESPN’s boxing broadcasts.

Povetkin won a majority decision over rising cruiserweight titleholder Marco Huck. He made short work of Rahman and Andrzej Wawrzyk. By October 2013, Povetkin and Klitschko finally stood in the same ring, headlining an event in Moscow.

If only the wait had been worth it. Even with four knockdowns, it was among the most aesthetically unpleasing fights I’ve ever seen. Klitschko won a lopsided unanimous decision. It didn’t do him any favors beyond a payday and holding on to his world titles. The stench stuck to Povetkin as well.

He quickly went to work trying to shake it off.

Povetkin rebounded by beating several contenders and former (or future) title challengers. He knocked out Manuel Charr in seven rounds, took out Carlos Takam in 10, went through Mike Perez in 75 seconds, and finished Mariusz Wach in the 12th.

He’d become the mandatory challenger to Deontay Wilder’s World Boxing Council title belt. In interviews, Wilder spoke of his suspicions about Povetkin and called for strict drug testing. This was, mind you, a time before Wilder was one for wild allegations and excuses about his two fights with Tyson Fury. The Wilder-Povetkin fight was scheduled for May 2016. And Wilder, both fortunately and unfortunately for him, turned out to be correct. He was en route to Russia when word came out that Povetkin had tested positive for a banned substance.

Photo from Matchroom Boxing

Later that year, Povetkin tested positive for another banned substance less than 24 hours before a fight with Bermane Stiverne. (Stiverne had also tested positive weeks before; his banned substance was believed to be from a tainted supplement.)

Povetkin still fought that night anyway. In lieu of Stiverne, Johann Duhaupas stepped in and was put away in the sixth. There weren’t the kind of significant repercussions for another failed drug test that you’d hope for in boxing — sadly, we’ve learned not to expect that kind of accountability in boxing. Although the WBC suspended and fined him, Povetkin kept fighting. 

Andriy Rudenko was shut out on the scorecards. Christian Hammer was one point away on one judge’s sheet from the same fate. David Price was gone by Round 5.

All of which led to Povetkin in another huge fight against another huge heavyweight. This time it was Anthony Joshua, at Wembley Stadium in London, in September 2018.

Povetkin was 34 when he fought Klitschko, ostensibly still in his prime years. He was 39 and past his prime for the Joshua match, and yet this performance was far more pleasing, even if it once again ended with the other man’s arms raised in the air.

Povetkin had Joshua stumbling from a combination in Round 1 and bloodied his nose as well. He continued to fight well over the opening rounds. Joshua adjusted, hurt Povetkin in Round 7 and dropped him twice for the technical knockout.

There was talk that Povetkin might fight a couple more times and then retire. Povetkin had surgery on elbow injuries and returned nearly a year after the Joshua fight, defeating Hughie Fury by unanimous decision in August 2019. Three months later, Povetkin and Michael Hunter had a spirited battle that ended in a draw.

Povetkin wasn’t quite done. He was at a crossroads, though.

Povetkin was just shy of his 41st birthday going into a fight against Dillian Whyte last August outside of London. Whyte had lost a battle with Anthony Joshua back in 2015, months before Joshua went on to win his first world title. Since then, Whyte had won 11 straight and picked up a secondary “interim” world title. The winner would be in a position to either challenge for the real thing or vie for it if it were vacated. The loser would suffer another setback. And at Povetkin’s age, another setback would be hard to recover from.

That’s what looked likely in Round 4. Povetkin went down twice, the first time from a pair of right hands followed by a left hook, the next time from a counter left uppercut. Povetkin made it out of the round, though it seemed as if Whyte had more power than Povetkin’s faded punch resistance could handle.

Less than 90 seconds later, the fight was over.

With Povetkin as the winner.

After a minute’s rest between rounds, Povetkin came out for Round 5 and soon threw a jab. It was the beginning of a trap. Whyte started to throw a right hand. Povetkin had expected it, ducked to his left and gave himself an angle for a surprising left uppercut underneath Whyte’s arm. Whyte was out before he hit the canvas.

It was an incredible finish.

It was Alexander Povetkin’s last hurrah.

He and Whyte fought a rematch this past Saturday in Gibraltar. They were originally supposed to meet again last November. The rematch was postponed when Povetkin contracted COVID-19 and was hospitalized. The fight was rescheduled for January and then delayed again after Povetkin returned to the hospital.

“We underestimated the consequences of the virus,” Povetkin’s promoter, Andrey Ryabinsky, was quoted as saying. “Everything did not go as smoothly as we thought.”

We don’t know for certain how much COVID-19, and its lingering consequences, affected Povetkin.

“While most persons with COVID-19 recover and return to normal health, some patients can have symptoms that can last for weeks or even months after recovery from acute illness,” reads a website by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the long-term effects of the novel coronavirus. “Even people who are not hospitalized and who have mild illness can experience persistent or late symptoms.”

Whether it was COVID-19, age, time, wear and tear, or any combination of them all, Povetkin did not look good against Whyte last weekend. He was stumbling from grazing and clubbing blows at times, but he took flush punches with surprising grit on other occasions. 

Whyte was the one throwing and landing, controlling the action, scoring with impressive accuracy. CompuBox showed Whyte going 57 of 131 overall (a 44 percent connect rate), including 30 of 60 with power punches (50 percent).

Povetkin was inactive and ineffective. He threw only 72 punches in total over the course of four rounds and landed just eight, an 11.1 percent connect rate. He landed 1 of 20 in Round 1, 4 of 18 in Round 2, 0 of 15 in Round 3, and 3 of 19 in Round 4. 

There was still the suspense in fight two that carried over from fight one. All Povetkin needed to do was land that one great shot again. 

He did score with a couple of good, hard punches. Nothing dented or damaged Whyte. It was Povetkin whose chassis could no longer hold up after so much mileage.

Once again, it was Povetkin hitting the canvas in Round 4. This time, there was no making it to Round 5.

Afterward, Ryabinsky said he would speak to Povetkin about retiring.

If this is indeed the end, and it should be, then Povetkin will wrap his career with a record of 36-3-1 with 25 KOs. 

Time, however, remains undefeated.

The 10 Count

1 – I really enjoyed Amanda Serrano’s performance last week in the main event of “Ring City USA,” which aired on NBC Sports Network and Twitch. She boxed well, showed good technique and power, and scored a body-punch knockout in the ninth round over three-division titleholder Daniela Romina Bermudez.

Bermudez had won belts at 115, 118 and 122. Serrano has picked up titles in seven weight classes. This fight was at 126. And although she was asked about hopping through the divisions again to face Katie Taylor — the undisputed champ at 135 — Serrano says she wants to stay at featherweight for now.

“I want to become undisputed,” Serrano said afterward.

Serrano came in with the WBC and WBO titles at 126; she had previously been the WBC’s interim beltholder but was elevated after Jelena Mrdjenovich was named “champion emeritus,” because, well, boxing.

That could all work out anyway, given Serrano’s unification plans and given that Mrdjenovich is the WBA titleholder. The IBF, meanwhile, belongs to Sarah Mahfoud.

Serrano doesn’t yet have the name recognition of Claressa Shields or Taylor, who both won gold medals in the Olympics. But she has a ton of talent and a lot of entertainment value. I hope we see her again soon in another prominent spot.

2 – In the middle of the fight, Serrano’s trainer, Jordan Maldonado, was ejected from ringside for yelling at the referee.

That’s something you don’t often see in boxing. It might be even rarer than the double knockdown.

The last time I can recall a trainer being booted from the corner was Norman Stone, infamous trainer to former heavyweight titleholder John Ruiz. Stone, never shy with his feelings, apparently crossed the line with referee Randy Neumann during Ruiz’s 2004 win over Andrew Golota.

There is a phenomenal video on YouTube featuring the best of the worst of Stone.

In my city, there is a neighborhood called Normanstone. It is much calmer and quieter than Norman Stone…

I will say that as much fun as it is to look back at highlights and lowlights of Norman Stone, he also deserves more respect than he gets.

“John Ruiz got knocked out in 19 seconds [by David Tua]. No one wanted nothing to do with him. I mean nobody,” Stone told Christopher Anderson of the Lesley Public Post, a college newspaper in Massachusetts, back in 2017. “Every time we went into an arena after he got knocked out, they booed him. I got into a lot of fights because of that. He came from being knocked out to being the heavyweight champion of the world.”

Stone has continued to work with kids and young pros at the Somerville Boxing Club. Boxing lessons are free.

“My goal is to try to keep the kids away from drugs and alcohol, and keep them off the streets,” Stone said. “I know that I won’t be able to save everyone. I don’t know if I am going to save anybody. But one is one less dead body out there. That’s my only goal. I already did all those things, you know, being [trainer to the] heavyweight champion of the world. My goal is try to keep the kids in the gym, keep the kids away from the drugs and the alcohol, and let ’em go straight.”

3 – I need an artist who’s willing to join me in creating a set of greeting cards featuring the face and quotes of Norman Stone.

Just picture his drawing on the front.

On the inside, one of his tirades toward referee Randy Neumann:

 

“What a piece of shit you turned out to be.”

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

4 – The line of the week belongs to Ricky Hatton, interviewed last week as his son, Campbell, made his pro debut. The 20-year-old won a points decision over some 0-10 dude named Jesus Ruiz.

“He’s took to the boxing like he’s took to the shagging, hasn’t he?” Ricky told iFL TV before the bout. “I’m a granddad now at 43.”

If he’s feeling old, well, so am I. I started writing this column a few months before Ricky Hatton upset Kostya Tszyu.

Now Campbell Hatton is a pro. And junior middleweight prospect Tim Tszyu (17-0, 13 KOs) faces Dennis Hogan this Wednesday.

At this rate — given the Hatton family’s proclivity for, well, virility — I may end up covering four generations of fighting Hattons before I go.

And lord help me if one of them ends up being named after the patriarch of the family. I don’t know what I’d do in a world where there are two Ricky Hattons… 

5 – Surprising Standards, Part 1: Former light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver won’t be competing on the upcoming Jake Paul vs. Ben Askren sideshow pay-per-view due to health and safety measures set forth by Georgia’s athletic commission.

“Tarver was not approved for a license based on a state bylaw having to do with his age,” wrote ESPN reporters Marc Raimondi and Ariel Helwani. “The Georgia code states that anyone 50 years or older must have participated in at least 10 pro fights in the immediately preceding 10 years, ‘including at least four professional matches or contests of boxing in the immediately preceding four years.’”

The 52-year-old hasn’t fought since August 2015, failing the second part of the criteria. And he only had a total of five fights between 2011 and 2015, failing the first part of the criteria.                                                          

There was no indication that Tarver’s match with former UFC champ Frank Mir on April 17 would’ve been an exhibition, unlike last November’s heavily controlled bout featuring Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. in California.

I appreciate the existence of Georgia’s safety measures to protect older fighters who’ve been inactive and haven’t taken much punishment of late. I do wonder what would happen in the case of an older fighter who kept competing and continued to take unnecessary punches to the head.

If Roy Jones had fought just two more times over the past few years, he’d potentially be allowed to compete in Georgia, essentially being rewarded for continuing to lace up the gloves long after he should’ve hung them up.

Georgia’s code does provide another potential layer of protection. To get a license, a fighter who is at least 50 years old must also be “declared medically and physically able to participate … by a physician who has conducted a more rigorous examination” than younger fighters would otherwise receive.

6 – Frank Mir will instead face Steve Cunningham. Although the former cruiserweight titleholder also hasn’t fought at least four times in the past four years, he’s only 44 years old, so the criteria don’t apply. Cunningham’s last appearance was in August 2017, when he lost to Andrew Tabiti on the undercard of another lucrative sideshow — Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Conor McGregor.

Cunningham is 29-9-1 with 13 KOs. Judging by his social media posts, he’s spent much of his time away doing two things: staying in incredible physical shape and espousing conspiracy theories.

 

Cunningham and Tarver fought to a draw in 2015. Tarver tested positive for two banned substances afterward.

Given that, it’s kind of nice that Cunningham will benefit at Tarver’s expense. Though it’s also been sad seeing the spiral Tarver has gone down in recent years. While he can blame himself, I’d always prefer redemption and recovery rather than continued suffering.

Tarver tested positive for a banned substance after his draw with Lateef Kayode in 2012 and was suspended for a year. He was jailed in 2014 because he owed $200,000 in gambling debt. He had additional legal issues over hundreds of thousands of dollars he owed in child support payments.

And in 2018, Tarver was arrested and accused of punching his 18-year-old stepson. As part of a plea deal, the battery charge was reduced to one count of disorderly conduct, according to TMZ.

7 – Surprising Standards, Part 2: Meanwhile in Bolivia, an athletic commission that helped create the legend that is Saul Farah finally decided that an opponent was too hopeless to share the ring with him.


We dove deep into Farah in this space last year (click here and then scroll down to Item 7 in The 10 Count). He’s 72-25-3. Most of his wins have come by facing the same opponents again and again. A total of 66 of his fights came against just 23 opponents. And his losses tend to come when he fights outside of Bolivia — he’s 1-22 when competing in other countries.

Farah was apparently hoping to face someone named Pedro Guanichaba, but the fight was canceled, according to hardcore boxing follower @TimBoxeo.

“The Bolivian commission stated Guanichaba lacked experience for more than a six-round fight,” TimBoxeo tweeted. “Then, Farah said he gave him the fight anyway.”

That tweet includes video from a press conference announcing the cancellation. A brief brawl broke out between Farah and Guanichaba. Farah threw a title belt and missed, but he later landed an expert headbutt in a clinch.

How inexperienced do you have to be when the athletic commission will sanction Saul Farah vs. all those other dudes, but not you?

Guanichaba isn’t listed at all on BoxRec. All I could locate was an article from 2017 announcing that the local athletic commission had expelled Guanichaba for his participation in an unauthorized event.

8 – And now we transition from commissions with surprising standards to commissions with an unsurprising lack of standards.

Last week’s column mentioned an event in the Dominican Republic that was slated to feature a significant number of female fighters (click here and scroll down to Item 7 in The 10 Count).

“It’s a good step for getting more eyes on women’s boxing, although it must also be said that a few of the listed fights look like potentially dangerous mismatches,” I wrote.


I watched the show, which is available on YouTube. Almost the entire card, both men’s and women’s fights, turned out to be incredibly one-sided:

  • Carlos Bonilla (1-0 entering this fight) knocked out Elias Polanco (0-18) in the first round.
  • Cesar Sanchez (making his pro debut) stopped Jose Vidal Sanchez (4-56) in the second round. Jose Vidal Sanchez has now lost 29 in a row. His last win, nearly seven years ago, came against some dude named Gregory Estevez who was 0-1 at the time and is now 1-42.
  • Angel Cruz, a junior middleweight prospect who was 1-0 coming in, scored a second-round TKO over Willie Franklin Morillo, who was 5-7 and whose previous fights were at junior welterweight and below.
  • Cristian Christopher Duverge, who was making her pro debut, stopped Zuleidy Diaz (0-21) in the first round. Diaz went down from the first right hand and was soon dropped again. Nothing that landed on Diaz was overly notable.
  • Liliana Martinez (22-18) beat Mirna Elizabeth La Hoz (0-20) in a bizarre TKO1. Martinez landed a left hook, and then in a clinch threw a few of the quick, minor right hands that you tend to see boxers throw before a referee breaks them. La Hoz dropped to her knees, then got up and walked to her corner. The referee waved the fight off.
  • Claribel Mena (3-1) beat Maritza Alcantara (0-1) in a rematch. Mena had won their first fight by four-round decision in 2019. On Saturday, Alcantara called it a night after the third round, perhaps out of exhaustion. Mena’s other wins came against the aforementioned La Hoz and Diaz. The other time she fought someone with a pulse, a 14-30 foe named Diana Carolina Garcia Dominguez (more on her below), Mena lost a decision.
  • Yenebier Guillen, a 6-0 fighter who competes between junior middleweight and middleweight, beat Jean Mary Martinez, a 3-0 fighter who has fought between featherweight and lightweight. Martinez appeared to retire in her corner after the fourth round.
  • And in the main event, Dahiana Santana (36-13) won a six-round decision over the previously mentioned Diana Carolina Garcia Dominguez (15-31). According to BoxRec, this was the seventh meeting between the two over the past 19 years. Dominguez won their first fight in May 2002. Santana won the rematch three months later and added victories again in 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2015.

9 – Fortunately, it looked like the B-sides weren’t seriously hurt. And it should be noted that this isn’t an indictment solely of the matchmaking and level of competition in the Dominican Republic. 

Rather, it is commonplace and worldwide. Countless club shows and prelim fights are dedicated to building up records, recycling designated opponents who never stand a chance of winning.

It’s still frustrating and dangerous, both for the losers as well as the winners. The winners can end up with inflated records based almost completely on taking out no-hopers. Ideally, they would gradually step up the level of competition and continue to develop along the way. But sometimes they’re just sacrificed against even more dangerous opponents. They are fish who feed on plankton and then are thrown straight in with the sharks.

This is what happened with Taryel Jafarov, a cruiserweight from Azerbaijan who was 6-0 before being dangled in front of dangerous cruiserweight contender Olenrewaju Durodola.

That was… not a good idea, given that Jafarov won his first six pro fights against opponents with a combined record of 3-45-3. In his last win, back in February 2020, Jafarov faced an opponent named Allah Bakhsh, who BoxRec says had fought only once (a loss, of course) before entering the bout.  

That much is clear based on the video. Jafarov throws a one-two, landing the right hand. Bakhsh takes it but soon turns away, his gloves at his sides. Jafarov fortunately realizes what’s going on and hugs Bakhsh. The referee soon waves the fight off.

Some of Jafarov’s other fights are available on video. His fourth fight (against some dude with a 1-26 record) ended with the first thrown combination. His fifth fight was bizarre. Jafarov and Arif Ovchiyev (0-3 entering the bout) seemed to be pulling their punches and aiming almost exclusively for each other’s arms and gloves for three rounds. Jafarov finally began to punch in earnest in Round 4 and scored two knockdowns and the stoppage.

 

Jafarov was woefully underprepared to step in earlier this month with Durodola, a warrior with a record of 34-8 (32 KOs). Durodola was coming off a seventh-round TKO loss last December against titleholder Ilunga Makabu. Despite all those defeats — which tend to come against top 200-pounders — Durodola isn’t at all a shot fighter. Jafarov was overmatched and dropped twice in Round 1. He wisely refused to come out for Round 2.

10 – Now that Georgia’s said no, I can just picture Antonio Tarver traveling from state to state, looking to fight:

“You got any exhibitions tonight? You got any exhibitions tonight?”

Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2. His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is available on Amazon.