Ruslan Chagaev of Uzbekistan, the mandatory contender for David Haye's WBA heavyweight title, barely got by tough American journeyman Travis Walker Friday night in a fan-friendly, eight-round "tune-up" scrap in Hamburg, Germany.
Those who like to loudly bemoan the lack of back and forth action in today's heavyweight division surely would have been silenced by the aggressive tactics of both Chagaev and Walker. Chagaev, who has been talking up an upcoming 2011 contest with Britain's controversial "Hayemaker," had the most to lose coming in to this bout, and Walker did his best to take advantage of that.
Chagaev started well in rounds one and two, showing why he formerly held the belt that now resides around David Haye's waist. Showing fast hands and moving well, the southpaw Chagaev established a pattern of landing flush lead lefts to Walker's face, and also backed up the American with some lightning fast combos.
Walker, as round two progressed, eventually started to get some rhythm going, and connected with a cracking uppercut into Chagaev's sturdy chin in what would become a pattern of his own.
With Walker's excitable and vociferous corner yelling for "right hands!" to the point of distraction in round three, it was Chagaev who landed a nifty uppercut of his own, followed by a flurry of lefts and rights. Round four saw both fighters winging hard shots, most of which were blocked by gloves, with Chagaev again landing a thudding lead left near the end of the round.
The fifth round was one of the best in the fight: Walker came out aggressive, landing those "right hands" his corner had been begging for. In what could be seen as an ominous sign for a future matchup with Haye, Chagaev proved vulnerable to repeated uppercuts, as Walker bullied the smaller man around the ring. Yet another hard lead left from Chagaev only momentarily halted Walker's progress, and both men flurried to end the round.
Rounds six and seven saw Chagaev, who looked a bit soft at 232, rapidly tiring from the fight's hectic pace, while Walker got a second wind. The superior upper body movement Chagaev displayed when handing giant Russian Nicolay Valuev his first loss (lifting the WBA title from him to boot) was now nowhere to be seen, and Walker took full advantage, muscling Chagaev into the corners and teeing off on him with hard blows.
The fight was very close (I had it dead even) heading into the last round, and Walker tried to keep up the pressure. Chagaev, sensing that his title shot against Haye could be in jeopardy, started winging wild punches in the hope of taking Walker out. Finally, both men were exhausted, having given the heavyweight division the kind of competitive fight it could use more of.
Chagaev (now 27-1-1, 17 KOs), as the "hometown" favorite (he fights out of Germany), got the benefit of the doubt from the judges, who saw it 78-75, 77-75 and 77-76 in his favor (I scored it a draw). Walker (34-6-1, 28 KOs), however, gave a very good account of himself on this night.
The result now sets Chagaev up for a showdown with Haye . . . or does it?
According to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com, "I don't see Haye going to Germany for that fight. He has the title and is much bigger in the UK than Chagaev is in Germany."
"However," Rafael continued, "I would be surprised if Chagaev is licensed in the UK because of his positive hepatitis tests. The medicals are tougher in the UK than Germany. That would make this a big mess. It may have to go to a purse bid and if Chagaev's side wins, it would probably be put in Germany, but I'd be surprised if Chagaev's side won a purse bid if there was one. Haye can bid much more because of the greater revenue he supplies from UK television."