On Friday, May 17, in Moscow, undefeated Russian heavyweight Alexander Povetkin will meet undefeated Polish prospect Andrzej Wawrzyk. The WBA is billing it as a world title fight, but for reasons I will discuss shortly, nobody who follows the sport closely really agrees with that.
Nevertheless, it is a very significant heavyweight fight. Povetkin would have to be reckoned as among the top five heavies in the world, and Wawrzyk is a popular young fighter in his native country. He has some potential and is overdue for a serious step up in competition.
This fight is a pretty big deal in Eastern Europe, though among North American boxing fans, interest in it will be considerably overshadowed by the junior welterweight showdown that occurs the next night in Atlantic City, N.J., between Lamont Peterson and Lucas Matthysse.
Still, for hardcore fans interested in the future of the heavyweight division, this one is worth at least a glance.
At a glance, these two appear to have a very similar level of experience, but the numbers don't tell the real story here.
Povetkin has fought a far higher level of competition. He's beaten former world champions and highly rated contenders such as Eddie Chambers. Wawrzyk's record has been built entirely against trial horses and lower-level journeymen.
Povetkin is not a particularly large heavyweight by contemporary standards, but he is thick and powerfully built. Wawrzyk is a long fighter and for the most part boxes in a manner that suits his frame.
It's a bit of a shock to see Alexander Povetkin listed as 33. If you had told me five years ago he would reach this age without taking his shot at either of the Klitschko brothers, I wouldn't have believed you.
Alexander Povetkin Andrzej Wawrzyk
Record: 25-0, 17 KOs 27-0, 13 KOs
Height: 6'2" 6'5"
Weight: About 228 pounds About 230 pounds
Reach: 75" 76.8"
Age: 33 25
Stance: Orthodox Orthodox
Hometown: Chekhov, Russia Krakow, Poland
Rounds: 144 147
Poland is a great boxing country with passionate fans, so if Wawrzyk can bring any version of the heavyweight title home to Krakow, it will be treated as a cause for national celebration. But, like I said in the introductory slide, Povetkin's WBA world title is not held in very high esteem or reckoned as credible by most writers and fans.
He received it when the WBA vacated their "regular" title by promoting Wladimir Klitschko to "super" championship status. Povetkin then captured the newly vacated "regular" title by beating Ruslan Chagaev in August of 2011.
So nobody views that as a real world title, at least not outside of Russia. As Chris Arreola colorfully put it in an interview with B/R last month, "That's not a title. That's like a watch or something somebody gave him."
Most fans expected Povetkin would eventually fight one of the Klitschko brothers, but since winning his belt, he's fought two 40-year-olds and a cruiserweight: Cedric Boswell, Hasim Rahman and Marco Huck. And the 200-pound Huck gave him serious trouble.
Last month, Russian boxer promoter Vladimir Hryunov put up a record $23.2 million purse bid for Povetkin to finally fight Wladimir Klitschko. So the fight fans have been waiting half a decade for should happen later this year.
But Povetkin has to get by his Polish challenger first.
Wawrzyk has a solid amateur boxing background, and it shows. He was the 2006 European Union Junior Champion at super heavyweight. He has very good movement and is an accurate puncher.
Wawrzyk isn't exactly a giant by modern heavyweight standards, but he is big. He has looked like a reasonably durable fighter so far, and he will need to be against Povetkin.
Povetkin was the 2004 Olympic gold medalist at super heavyweight. He is a skilled boxer-puncher who excels at cutting off the ring and keeping his opponent in front of him. He has a solid body attack, very good head and shoulder movement and changes levels well.
Povetkin has a fine jab, though he has not shown it as much in recent fights. Against older, slower opponents such as Boswell and Rahman, he has been content to simply slip punches and move into range.
Wawrzyk has a tendency to be very lazy with his jab. If he flicks it out casually against Povetkin like he did against journeyman Denis Bakhtov, the more experienced Russian will slip inside and crush his ribs.
In the fights I have watched with Wawryk, he has had a tendency to punch like an amateur. He will throw quick combinations from up on his toes rather than sitting down on his punches to load up. He sometimes looks like he is more interested in scoring than in hurting.
Povetkin is a very solid professional boxer with no obvious flaws. But in recent fights, he has not looked like the same crisp, exciting heavyweight who beat Chris Byrd and Eddie Chambers back to back in 2007 and 2008.
Cruiserweight Marco Huck gave Povetkin all the fight he could handle last year by maintaining steady pressure and a quick pace. Povetkin's opponents since winning his belt against Chagaev have been a step down from who he was fighting a few years ago, so I wonder if he is taking his conditioning as seriously as he might.
Andrzej Wawrzyk must establish a stiff, active jab. Povetkin is very good at cutting off the ring, and if Wawrzyk is lazy with his jab, Povetkin's job will be that much easier. Wawrzyk has pretty decent footwork, so if he can put a stiff jab in Povetkin's face, he might be able to control distance and keep the fight at a range he is more comfortable with.
I really feel like Povetkin's conditioning has been off in recent fights. Against 40-year-olds like Boswell and Rahman, it wasn't a problem. Against the tough cruiserweight Marco Huck, it nearly cost him his belt.
The 25-year-old Wawrzyk needs to force a quick pace and sustain it. He needs to put Povetkin's conditioning to the test.
Alexander Povetkin should be able to win this fight simply by being himself. He is a more powerful and skilled fighter than Wawrzyk with far deeper experience.
But Wawrzyk is an undefeated and hungry young fighter. He's showing up in Russia this week with the intention of shocking the world. Povetkin can't get lazy in this fight.
He needs to establish a brisk. active jab. If he does, he shouldn't have too much trouble cutting off the ring and getting inside to attack Wawrzyk's body. He should try to put a hurt on the young challenger early to shake Wawrzyk's confidence and deny him any chance to seize the momentum.
I think Andrzej Wawrzyk is at least a slightly better fighter than Francesco Pianeta, and I don't think Alexander Povetkin is quite as good as Wladimir Klitschko. Still, this one has echoes of last month's Klitschko-Pianeta fight.
Wawrzyk might be able to make this one slightly competitive for awhile, but I just don't see any way he takes a decision from Povetkin in Russia in a fight being promoted by someone who has already put up more than $23 million for a Povetkin-Klitschko showdown later this year. And I don't think Wawrzyk has the power to knock Povetkin out.
I think Povetkin will fight a smart but aggressive fight. He is going to try to make a statement here, to demonstrate that he deserves to be viewed as a world title-caliber fighter.
He's going to attack the body and break Wawrzyk down. In the second half of the fight, Povetkin will put him away.
Prediction: Povetkin by TKO in Round 8