This Saturday in Germany, WBO super middleweight titlist Robert Stieglitz will defend his belt against former middleweight titleholder and super middleweight contender Arthur Abraham. Tom Craze is back today to break down the fight from a bettor's perspective.
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After the various scoring controversies of the Olympics, it's reassuring that this weekend's main event -- the highest-profile fight since the Games -- is to be hosted by what is undoubtedly one of the last remaining bastions of integrity and fair officiating in boxing.
If there's any consolation in Saturday's all-German world title bout, though, it's that neither the beltholder, Robert Stieglitz (42-2, 23 KOs), or Arthur Abraham (34-3, 27 KOs) -- cast in the unfamiliar role of challenger for a fight in Berlin -- are likely to be the on the receiving end of yet another questionable hometown decision. That may just be an optimistic viewpoint, however.
While this may be a low-key pairing anywhere outside of Germany, it is, in many ways, a fairly interesting fight. Stieglitz's humdrum WBO reign - Saturday marks a seventh defense and three years in - has typified much of what's wrong with the splintered, multi-title makeup of the sport: a succession of relatively low-risk opponents comprehensively fended off in a string of unexciting displays. Granted, the Super Six robbed Stieglitz and his handlers of some potential challenges, but on the basis of his last outing -- a whitewash of an entirely undeserving Nader Hamdan (one win in five coming into that particular title shot - Stieglitz was a -2000 favourite) -- there's little to say he's been desperately seeking to test himself against the best around.
It's refreshing, then, that not only does the challenge of Abraham buck that trend, but it also marks one of those rare occurrences in the world of the carefully-matched titleholder - a fight where the champion is a considerable underdog.
Not since the Balzsay fight (a +400 dog going into that), where he won the belt, has Stieglitz been available to back at anything odds-against. In sequence, he's been -1000 (Acosta), -275 (Gutknecht), -350 (Ornelas), -270 (Gevor), -2500 (Weber), -2000 (Hamdan). If nothing else, that really only serves to underline how insipid his reign has been. At a best price of +280 to overturn Abraham (-275), how will a persistent heavy favourite -- although, in fairness, one that has kept winning -- perform when back in the role of outsider?
In many ways, there are worse ways for Stieglitz to step up than this. Abraham brings power and some pedigree -- albeit at 160 -- but also has a style that's seemingly set in stone and there's a lasting, plodding predictability about his work. Abraham isn't, and won't, be difficult to figure out. Given that the lower-reward Groves fight fell through -- and a quicker, more varied, fresher opponent it would have been for him, too -- Stieglitz has a challenger that scores highly on name value, but has been shown up as being painfully limited against the true elite of the division.
From what we've seen, it seems highly unlikely that Stieglitz belongs with that kind of company either. Abraham may have been outclassed against the likes of Froch, Ward and Dirrell -- whether too small, too slow or simply not smart enough -- but he has at least fought the very best at super-middle. A couple of get-well fights later, a rejuvenated Abraham is, on paper, Stieglitz's toughest outing yet.
His cause isn't helped by the fact there appears to be only one way he can win this fight. 23 stoppages in 42 fights tells a story, and that 52% KO rate could well be his undoing against an iron-chinned Abraham who, even on the rare occasions he drops his customary high guard, simply refuses to budge. A Stieglitz win by way of stoppage is a huge +1600, but even at that price it's hard to argue the case for an outcome not seen in a Stieglitz fight since January 2010. The titleholder has gone UD, UD, DQ, UD, UD since the Acosta fight and, quite frankly, if you're not knocking out guys when a -1000 favourite, you should probably start thinking about a new occupation anyway.
The rationale for the Abraham stoppage is easier to present. Although Stieglitz has enjoyed a useful run since picking up the WBO strap, it's notable that the two losses on his record both came early -- blitzed inside three by Alejandro Berrio and beaten in eight by that once-reliable super-middleweight yardstick, Librado Andrade. Stieglitz may well be an improved fighter, but he's wide open defensively and Abraham will likely have some joy with his hook -- which, though crude, is largely effective against lesser opposition than he found in the Super Six. There's still some +250 available for Abraham inside the distance and, all things considered, that looks much too big.
It's difficult to write off Stieglitz completely though. Barring a major sea change in Abraham's tactics, an effective jab and a reasonable output should be enough for Stieglitz to bank most, if not all, of the rounds in the first half of the fight, on the basis that he stays out of harm's way. A best price of +420 to take another decision should really be viewed here as the Stieglitz price outright - and you have to say there has to be a point not far off that which begins to look appealing for him to continue his winning streak. The shortest-priced outcome is Abraham on points, which assumes much of Stieglitz's durability should his opponent look sharp, and the lines varies from slight odds-on (-125) to +150 for the challenger to pound his way to a decision.
One interesting option may be the draw, widely available at +2500, but up to +3000 in places, which can never be ruled out on German soil. With both Felix Sturm and Marco Huck recently emerging with neither a win nor a more damaging defeat, it's a big enough price to grab the attention of those looking for a longer price, and with two largely contrasting styles and no huge gap in ability, it's not difficult to envisage each fighter picking up a share of rounds and splitting opinion, should it go that far.