Forty-year-old Sam Soliman traveled to Felix Sturm's home turf on Saturday and successfully defeated the champion by a unanimous decision of 118-110, 117-111, 118-110. With the victory, Soliman became the new IBF middleweight champion—his first-career title.
Brian Campbell of ESPN tweeted his opinion of the decision:
This highly anticipated rematch finally brought closure to an ongoing saga after Soliman defeated Sturm by unanimous decision in their first bout, only to test positive for a banned stimulant afterward. In the aftermath, the fight was declared a no-contest, forcing Soliman to relinquish the title and undergo a nine-month suspension.
Sturm spoke to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com about the rematch beforehand:
I had to do this fight since he is my mandatory challenger. But that is a good thing because I can make things right. People will forget about the first fight after this one. Back after I fought Soliman last February, I changed my whole attitude towards the sport of boxing. I'm now eating clean and healthy, which makes training a whole lot easier. I now live like an athlete all year around and not only the 10 or 12 weeks during training camp. That pays off as I'm in a much, much better shape than before.
He may have been in better shape, but it was Soliman who put on a better showing on Saturday.
After both fighters prodded with jabs in an attempt to find their range in the first round, each was able to land some shots in the second. Soliman was moving fluidly and began the round well; however, Sturm closed nicely with a pair of jabs.
In the third round, Soliman was the more aggressive fighter but couldn't seem to connect when given the opportunity.
This trend continued into the fourth, as he kept swinging away, while Sturm waited patiently for an opportunity to strike, as their vastly different styles became very apparent.
Soliman landed some nice shots in the fifth, briefly pinning Sturm against the ropes. Sturm was patient to this point but really needed to begin showing some aggression.
Campbell tweeted his take on Sturm's lack of aggression:
The pair traded shots in Rounds 6 and 7, but it was Soliman who continued to be the aggressor and appeared to be getting the best of Sturm to that point.
Through eight rounds, Sturm's title reign seemed to be slipping away due to the combinations thrown by Soliman—and Sturm's inability to counter them.
Over the final minute of the ninth round, Sturm finally showed some signs of life. Soliman appeared to be feeling the fatigue of the fight, which led to some clean shots from the champion.
With the start of the championship rounds came more signs of life from Sturm. Both fighters began throwing a frenzy of punches; however, not many landed cleanly. Still, Sturm would need to finish strong to retain his title.
The champion landed a monstrous body shot on Soliman in Round 11, staggering his opponent briefly. However, Sturm couldn't capitalize, and Soliman looked strong as the round came to a close.
Soliman continued to show aggression in the final round, and it appeared Sturm would need a knockout to retain his title. The challenger's endurance was fantastic, as Soliman looked extremely sharp throughout the duration of the fight. This gave Sturm few chances to land a decisive blow.
Campbell noted Soliman's great finish on Twitter:
The decision came down to the judges, and Soliman was declared the winner by unanimous decision and became the new IBF middleweight champion.
So, where does the new champion go from here?
Well, one idea came via a tweet from Andrew Mikhail—Martin Murray's business manager:
That's an idea; however, Murray already has a pending fight against Max Bursak on June 21. First things first.
Could Gennady Golovkin or Sergio Martinez be an option? Certainly, although, either one may be a bit of a stretch for Soliman's first endeavor as champion.
For now, the belt will reside in Australia next to a well-deserving titleholder.
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