On Friday, Feb. 22, the IBF is scheduled to crown a new #1 contender to Yoan Pablo Hernandez's cruiserweight crown. Will it be Alexander Alekseev, or will Garrett Wilson triumph as the underdog yet again?
If you knew nothing about Garrett Wilson and looked up his stat sheet, you may be easily deceived. On paper his record stands at 13-5-1, he's 30 years old, and he's a 5'9" cruiserweight. What the sheet doesn't tell you is that he's one of Philadelphia's best kept secrets.
After a rocky career start going 7-5, Wilson hasn't lost a fight since. The tide changed with a crushing overhand right, resulting in a 1st round knockout of Reshawn Scott. That highlight reel KO set the bar for what to expect from Wilson in fights to come.
Wilson first met Scott in 2008, defeating him by 4 round majority decision. It was Wilson's 3rd pro fight back when he trained under the tutelage of Rev Thompson. The rematch 2 years later saw Wilson working with new trainer Rodney Rice, and they've been rolling ever since.
Of course, it hasn't always been easy for this new dynamic duo. Immediately following the Scott rematch Wilson had to settle for a draw against Andres Taylor, which Wilson describes as a hometown decision. The most experienced of the 3 judges that night, Pat Casey, gave the fight to Wilson by 4 points. The one "judge" that gave it to Taylor really had no business submitting a scorecard.
Greg Sirb, who scored the bout 77-75 for Taylor, is the executive director of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission. He filled in for one of the judges that apparently never showed, although it's far more common for a referee to score a fight. Sometimes, and often the case in the UK, the referee is the only person to score a bout.
But for whatever reason referee Vic de Wysocki's input was not asked for on this night, perhaps because he was too qualified for the job. Wysocki may have judged more fights between 1996 and 1997 than all of the official judges have in their entire careers, combined. Although Wysocki has primarily focused on refereeing since then, he's judged fights sporadically between 2008 and most recently this month (February 2013).
Nonetheless, following the controversial draw to Taylor, Wilson stopped the highly regarded Aaron Williams in 7 rounds. As an amateur Williams was a 9 time national champion with 90 wins and only 8 defeats.
In any event the Ohioan crowd was not pleased that their hometown fighter lost. In fact, Garrett needed a police escort just to leave the ring safely.
Next on Wilson's hit list was a rematch with former 4 time world title challenger Omar Sheika. In their 1st encounter Wilson had Sheika ready to go in the 2nd round but was neither conditioned nor refined enough to finish him off. Sheika came back strong in the second half of that round and arguably stole it. The 3rd round went much the way of the 2nd except that Sheika took Wilson's early bombs better.
Wilson was tiring.
After hurting Wilson with a left hook in the 4th, Sheika threw everything but the kitchen sink at him before the referee eventually stepped in. Yet despite the amount of punishment that Wilson took, he was still fighting back and was probably capable of continuing. It was a very entertaining fire fight from start to finish. It's no wonder the rematch was made; it was an easy fight to sell.
However, to Sheika's dismay the rematch went quite differently. In the span of a little more than a year, now under the tutelage of Rodney Rice, Wilson became a different fighter. His gas tank did not deplete and he easily secured a dominant 12 round decision victory. He even picked up the vacant USBA cruiserweight title in the process.
But alas, all work can't be easy work. Chuck Mussachio, Wilson's next opponent, truly came to win...a decision. Wilson even acknowledged after the fight that Mussachio out jabbed him and won every round.
Garrett was overly generous.
Make no mistake about it, Mussachio did in fact out jab Wilson, but by no means was the fight a white wash. Mussachio clearly landed the cleaner punches, but they were simply not as effective as Wilson's partially connected blows. The difference in power between the two warriors was tremendous.
Wilson's haymakers had Mussachio noticeably hurt as early as round 5. Mussachio then came back to control rounds 6, 7, and most of 8 before Wilson hurt him again moments before the bell. Mussachio immediately returned fire and dominated the 9th, with some effective power shots of his own, but Wilson retook control in the 10th.
Spectators were witnessing a see-saw battle. Ringside commentator Marc Abrams expressed his opinion of a "very close" fight after 10 rounds, and he was absolutely right.
Wilson's body shots were slowly breaking Mussachio down. A case could be made that Mussachio still deserved to win rounds 10 and 11, but it was clear who was doing the most damage. By the 12th round Mussachio was basically in survival mode, but without holding.
He should have held.
Instead an overhand right caught Mussachio while he was trying to get off the ropes and put him down for the count. And just like that, the bout was over 41 seconds into the 12th and final round. Wilson retained his USBA cruiserweight title.
When interviewed after the fight Mussachio was as humble as his opponent and expressed his belief that he was losing, "maybe by a round or a draw." I also had him losing by a round. But at the end of the day the scorecards were rendered irrelevant by "The Ultimate Warrior", who scored yet another highlight reel knockout. Mussachio, reportedly 101-9 as an amateur and now 18-2-2 as a pro, returned to the light heavyweight division.
Three months later, enter journeyman Pedro Martinez. I can't lie; this was neither a tough fight on paper nor in the ring. Wilson dispatched his overmatched opponent inside 3 rounds.
And then there was the Andres Taylor rematch, which ironically was the first pro boxing event I ever covered for Bad Left Hook. If you want to read more about that fight, check out my recap. I truly have no words to adequately explain the way the fight ended, so just have a look:
It just doesn't get much sweeter than that. I personally rated it the 4th best KO of 2012. Garrett Wilson has one of, if not the best 1 hitter quitters in the cruiserweight division today. If Wilson lands one of his bombs flush, his opponent will fall. The only question is will he get back up?
Enter Alexander Alekseev, the former EBU cruiserweight champion. Alekseev is 23(20)-2(2)-1. As of today, Feb. 21, he's the IBF's #4 cruiserweight behind #3 Wilson. Wilson-Alekseev will fill the #1 vacancy, thus making the winner the mandatory for the world title (currently held by Yoan Pablo Hernandez). The IBF's #2 cruiserweight, Pawel Kolodziej, was originally scheduled to meet Wilson late last year to fill the mandatory position but injured himself during training.
Injuries are unfortunately a part of boxing, but the show must go on. Unfortunately for Wilson, the show now goes on against a more seasoned opponent. Kolodziej has a shiny 30-0 resume, but against fairly week opposition. The same can't be said of Alekseev.
However, winning when it matters most has seemed to escape Alekseev. Once upon a time Alekseev was an amateur sensation. Most notably he was a 2004 Olympian and a 2005 World Amateur Champion. He finished 2nd in the 2003 World Amateur Championships and lost in the opening round of the Olympics as a result of close decision defeats to the then ultra-talented Odlanier Solis.
As a professional his luck only got worse.
After compiling a 16-0 pro record Alekseev challenged for the interim WBO world cruiserweight title against Victor Emilio Ramirez only to retire in his corner after 9 rounds. Alekseev was supposed to win, but he lost.
A year and a half later Alekseev met arguably the best cruiserweight today, Denis Lebedev, before he was so highly regarded. The winner would immediately get a WBO world title shot but Alekseev was stopped again, this time in 2 rounds. A counter left hook that came over Alekseev's jab did the trick.
Wilson, who has also seen the Lebedev KO of Alekseev, is looking forward to landing a devastating left hook of his own. If he does, game over. Alekseev is supposed to win once again, but the stakes are high, and history certainly seems to have a way of repeating itself.
I'll end with a Wilson quote from his media day:
Game plan is the same as it's always been. Go in there on somebody else's home turf...only difference is they speak a different language. Go in on home turf and come out with a win...I mean...can't get much simpler than that.
Garrett Wilson: a man of few words but big dreams. Inspired by his loving wife and 4 children, he will do whatever it takes to achieve his goals and provide his family with a bright future.
So tune into Eurosport on Friday, around 8 PM GMT (3 PM ET), to catch Wilson-Alekseev live. If you can't get the fight on TV, just follow my tweets to get an online stream, live or on demand.