Saturday night in Berlin showed how the German scene is still waiting for another big star to break through. The event, held in the big ballroom at the Maritim Hotel, was headlined by a rematch between Nick Hannig and Ryno Liebenberg, supported by twelve other fights providing a showcase for younger boxers.
Boxing in Germany is currently in a downswing, and there are few, if any, major bankable stars. Those that were are either retired or are facing the final two and three fights of long careers: Arthur Abraham is thirty-nine and his last bout came a year ago, with him barely getting through on a controversial split decision against the 29-2 Patrick Nielsen; both the Klitschkos have retired; and Marco Huck is trying to make the most out of whatever is left of his career (he is currently slated to fight the UK’s Joe Joyce for the European belt at some point before Christmas, probably in Germany).
At a lower level of stardom, Felix Sturm and Robert Stieglitz are also retired, and Jurgen Brahmer, at forty-one, has not fought since June when he could only outpoint the 11-1 Erdogan Kadrija. His last significant fight came two years ago when he outpointed Rob Brant. Sandwiched between them was a TKO win over the 33-16-1 Pablo Daniel Zamora Nievas. Although he is currently slated to face either Emre Cukur, 14-0 (2), for the EBU title or David Benavidez, 22-0 (19), for the WBA strap, there is not much of his road left at forty-one years of age.
Of those that were being groomed to be big names, no one has yet broken through. And the indications are that they will not: Tyron Zeuge, who fought out of the Sauerland stable, lost in four rounds to Liverpool’s third-best super-middleweight and has fought no one of significance since, while Jack Culcay has found himself wanting at the top level.
Across the whole of the country, the situation is similarly frail. According to BoxRec, the best-rated German boxer across all weight divisions is the practically-unknown Sebastian Formella. He is currently undefeated, but not a huge puncher and rated only #21 in the world in the welterweight division. There is little to suggest that he’s about to start filling the big arenas and stadiums. His last five bouts have taken place in medium-sized venues in Hamburg, but he is yet to make a real dent on the worldwide scene.
More disturbingly, there are reports out of Berlin that Sauerland, once Germany’s top promoters, are going through difficulties. The decision was made earlier this year to dispense with the gym they ran in the capital, citing a move to cut costs. As quoted in Bild, Wilfried Sauerland, said, “We just cannot afford to spend so much money on a coach for so few boxers.”
In an interview with Suddeutsche Zeitung, coach Ulli Wegner, who had worked out of the gym and for the Sauerlands for twenty-three years, said that he had been approached to stay on, but only if he was paid by the fighters themselves, rather than through the promoters. Berliner Zeitung, one of Germany’s leading papers, recently ran a story outlining more of the woes currently being undergone by Sauerland.
Going into Saturday night, the card was filled with twelve fights, the home side of which was stacked with German fighters. Of those on the red side, only two—Petar Milas and Tatyana Zrazhevskaya—came from abroad. The blue side, the away fighters, largely came from Eastern European countries and had records with lopsided amounts of defeats. Collectively, the red side came with a record of 99-15-1. Their opponents were 137-182-11.
With one exception, every single fight was won by those in the home corner. The one bout that went against the grain was when Jose Luis Rodriguez Guerrero of Mexico took an easy decision against Roman Belaev.
The three ‘headline’ fighters of the night were Denny Heidrich and Nick Hannig of Berlin, and Petar Milas of Split, Croatia. Their bouts were the final three of the evening.
Heidrich fought first, facing Ibrahim Osobasic for something called the International German Championship. Odobasic, according to the bout sheet, comes from Sarajevo, so it is something as a mystery as to why he would be fighting for such a belt. He came to the ring first and looked out of shape, a slight stomach spilling over his shorts. He brought with him a 3-9 record, with one knockout victory. Of those nine losses, five had come by knockout. His two most-recent knockout losses had come in April and August this year, both in Germany, to fighters that were 14-0 and 6-0.
His opponent, Heidrich, brought with a 5-1 record, with three knockouts, and a loud and passionate fanbase that occupied one corner of the upper tier in the hotel’s ballroom. Heidrich is big and muscular. His sole loss was on points against Istvan Kun, who had a record of 6-9-1.
As soon as the bell went, Heidrich went to work, knocking down Odobasic three times in the first round before the referee waved it off. His fans went home happy.
Next up was Milas, a 14-0 heavyweight from Croatia with eleven knockouts. His opponent was Johnny Mueller of South Africa, who came with a record of 21-8-2, with fourteen knockouts. Milas is a tall, handsome fighter whose two signature wins have been a decision over Francesco Pianeta and a stoppage over Kevin Johnson.
Milas moves well for a heavyweight but he does not plant his feet enough to generate real power on his punches. In between his constant movement, he switches frequently between orthodox and southpaw, which is a sign often of a fighter who has run out of ideas and is trying to confuse their opponent. Against Mueller, who seemed to be a bulked-up cruiser, that happened in the fifth round. Swelling formed quickly beneath Milas’s left eye and the corner had to work, after round four, on it with an endswell. As the fight went on, and Mueller continued to land, Milas’s instinct was to move and, when the punches came, to go backwards rather than blocking and countering. The judges gave him the verdict. It was a victory he worked hard for, although he may not have deserved it.
Milas looks bankable but far from a big star. He is defensively suspect and probably not big enough to trouble the top names in the division. But on the plus side, he is good-looking, likes to fight, and can bang a little despite his technical flaws.
The main fight of the night was a rematch between Nick Hannig and Ryno Liebenberg, following a twelve-round majority draw in Wiesbaden in July this year.
…is 7-0-1, with four knockouts. His most-significant opponents have been Liebenberg and Ryan Ford. The rematch would mark Hannig’s second defense of whatever the World Boxing Council International Light Heavy Title is. He is currently ranked the sixth-best light-heavyweight in Germany and the forty-sixth best in the world. He is also undefeated and robust for a light-heavyweight listed at an optimistic 6’0”.
..came into the bout with a record of 19-6-1, with thirteen knockouts. Prior to this bout, he had been knocked out twice, by Vincent Feigenbutz and Eleider Alvarez. He had also tallied two defeats to Enrico Koelling, and losses to Erik Skoglund and Thomas Oosthuizen. Those fighters came with an average record of about 18-1, indicating that Liebenberg is a b-level fighter and a stepping stone for boxers on the way up.
The initial match was supposed to be a developing fight for Hannig, who was expected to defeat Liebenberg. The question was whether, three months on, Hannig would have improved enough to switch the last time’s result into his favour.
It is a myth that being taller gives you an advantage in a fight, which is why you often hear people say, “So-and-so is giving away three inches to his taller opponent.” But the difference is only useful if you know what to do with it. If you are a taller fighter than does not jab or move around, and prefers instead to crouch and go to the inside to work the body, your greater height works against you. Likewise, a short fighter who knows how to widen his stance and bend his knees, accentuating his shorter height, will gain more leverage on his shots.
Put simply—a short fighter who fights in a style suiting his physicality will have a better time of it than a tall one who does not.
It was a brutal, ugly, sweaty, beautiful fight. Hannig came into the ring with the crowd behind him and, smiling, went to everyone in the ring and bumped fists with them, including his opponent. It was a nice touch. Both fighters went to the inside from the beginning of the first round. It was an approach that favoured the shorter Hannig and worked to the detriment of Liebenberg. The first four rounds were the stories of two fighters feeling each other. There was also a torrent of warnings from the referee, all directed at Liebenberg, for various offences, most of them for hitting behind the back of the head. It was hard for Liebenberg to do much else as Hannig continually came in low, ducking and inadvertently presenting the back of his neck to his opponent. Liebenberg faded in the fifth and nearly went down at the end. The next round saw the balance shift towards the German and Liebenberg tried to move backwards, as if trying to adopt a different gameplan in the later stages. Unfortunately, it was too late.
The seventh round saw Liebenberg come back into the fight, but he was still landing too little and taking too many. At this point, Hannig seemed comfortably ahead. During the eighth, it became apparent that he had opened a cut over Liebenberg’s eyebrow. The ring doctor came in and examined it. There was blood, too, on the bridge of his nose, and there was a well of red around the eye. The open scoring at the end of the eighth saw Hannig announced as being at least six points ahead. The warnings continued to flow throughout rounds nine, ten, and eleven.
If Liebenberg was to win, that chance came in the closing seconds of the last round. Hannig went down in the final seconds of the fight and any relief was shortlived as the German got easily back to his feet. As the referee waved them back into action, the fight ended.
Afterwards, the South African’s corner were furious, shouting at anyone they thought had some influence. But Hannig still retained his WBC International light-heavyweight championship.
Hannig is obviously a fan favourite in Berlin but the torrid nature of his victory against Liebenberg, being drawn into such a war in just his ninth fight, does not bode well for a long career. He is also thirty-two and there is little hope of him having a long career at the top, even if he has the skills to get there. Unfortunately for him, he does not. Nor does he have the height, size, or power to make a serious impact.
There was a healthy crowd at the Maritim Hotel, although it was unclear whether the event had been a sellout. What was apparent, though, was that with a capacity of around 600 people, there was little on display to suggest that big-time boxing will be returning to the larger venues in the city such as the 10,000-plus seater Max Schmeling Halle; the 12,000 capacity Velodrom; or the 17,000 Mercedes Benz Arena.
Introduced throughout the night were the fading stars of German boxing. The crowd cheered Arthur Abraham, Jurgen Brahmer, and Marco Huck when they were announced over the PA system. The cheers were long, passionate, and genuine, but were for more about what was than what is.