France's Jean Marc Mormeck narrowly defeated Timur Ibragimov of Uzbekistan by split decision in a back-and-forth WBA heavyweight boxing encounter tonight at the Halle Carpentier in Paris.
While not unwatchable, the fight was marred at times by too much holding, as both fighters tired going into the later rounds. Suffice it to say that neither of the recognized heavyweight champs Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko will be shaking in his boots after viewing this bout; nor will WBA paper champ David Haye.
Ibragimov, 35 and the WBA's No. 7 ranked challenger for Haye's belt, started off well, using his size advantage (being 6'3" tall compared to Mormeck's 5'11") to bully the smaller fighter and lean on him whenever the opportunity presented itself. He also fought nicely behind the left jab, and his overall style was reminiscent of Wladimir Klitschko's usual modus operandi.
The 38-year-old Mormeck, ranked No. 12 by the WBA, came out aggressively, bobbing and weaving in Joe Frazier-like fashion, but in Rounds 1 and 2 Ibragimov kept him at bay with a snappy left jab and some nice combinations to the body.
The third round saw both men warming to the task, with Ibragimov landing a hard right cross to Mormeck's head and Mormeck, still moving well, finally getting inside the jab to land a hard left hook of his own. This seemed to inspire Ibragimov, who answered with an aggressive Round 4, bulling Mormeck into the corners and landing some crisp combinations to the body. Mormeck did connect with a hard overhand right near the end of the round, which has been too infrequent an occurrence for him thus far.
Rounds 5 through 7 saw Mormeck change the momentum of the fight. The shorter man began landing solid left and right uppercuts to Ibragimov's chin with regularity, as the Uzbek retreated to ropes. Although Ibragimov had not been seriously hurt, the cumulative effect of the French fighter's blows had him in disarray, and it seemed a stoppage win for Mormeck might be in sight.
The tide turned yet again in Round 8, however. With the Parisian crowd sensing that a stoppage was close, they began chanting "MOR-MECK, MOR-MECK," and their fighter tried to respond. Ibragimov, however, had other ideas, opening with a solid combination to the head and body and leaning heavily on the now tiring Frenchman. Ibragimov's strategy of working over Mormeck's body finally began to pay off, with the latter man visibly wilting by the end of the round.
The ninth was Mormeck's last effective round. Still looking gassed, he nevertheless rallied, with some Tyson-esque determination enabling him to again slip inside and stun Ibragimov with an uppercut.
The pendulum swung back yet again to the Uzbek in the tenth: A hard right to Mormeck's ribs saw the Frenchman visibly sag, and a hard right cross to his jaw had him reeling.
With Ibragimov now coming on strong, French referee Jean-Louis Legland interestingly picked this time to stop the fight and deduct a point from him for hitting behind the head. Undaunted, Ibragimov continued to press, ending the round with a hard right to Mormeck's by now bruised torso.
The last two rounds saw both fighters tiring, with Mormeck definitely showing his age as he appeared utterly exhausted in his corner before heading out for round twelve. Amidst a lot of holding mostly initiated by Mormeck, Ibragimov continued his focused assault to the Frenchman's body, finally moving upstairs to land a combo to the head as Mormeck waited for the final bell to sound.
This writer had it 115-113 Ibragimov, reduced to 114-113 with the point deduction. Judge Juan Manuel Garcia Reyes saw it much the same way (113-115 ), but Erkki Meronen (116-112) and Steve Weisfeld (116-111) disagreed, giving Mormeck the split decision win as the crowd went wild and Ibragimov pondered his first loss in 10 fights.
Mormeck wins the previously vacant WBA International Heavyweight title with this victory -- but of course, that is not the title coveted by heavyweights with any degree of ambition.
Mormeck's name has been tossed around as the next opponent for world heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko after his upcoming bout with England's Dereck Chisora, but based on this performance—one where he was often either eating the larger man's left jab or getting pushed around by him—the 215-pound former cruiserweight champion would be in a world of trouble against the much bigger Ukrainian star.
Ibragimov, because of his larger frame and more defensive style, might actually fare a little better than Mormeck against Wladimir. But with this loss, that matchup now appears highly unlikely.
Fans of the heavyweight division, then, can only hope this Saturday's Alexander Dimitrenko-Albert Sosnowski matchup provides a bit more clarity as to who might ultimately provide a real challenge to the Klitschko brothers, as Mormeck-Ibragimov ultimately left things as muddled as ever.