Ulli Wegner, A German Legend

BY Luca De Franco ON June 17, 2006
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During my 16 years in journalism, I interviewed many ring sports world champions, the greatest Spanish soccer player of his generation, almost every TV anchorman and showgirl working in Milan and a couple of Hollywood stars, and they were all easy to deal with. They were respectful, answered to all the questions, were willing to pose for the photos and adapted to every situation. That’s because they started from the bottom and worked their way up to the top. Anybody who did the same thing, in any profession, learned that the primary rule in life is reciprocity: you get what you give.

When I flew to Germany to meet Sauerland Event’s champions and trainers, I found out that the rule is valid there too. The living legend of German boxing, Ulli Wegner, is a very nice man and you can talk with him like you would a friend. He doesn’t tell you about the accomplishments that turned him into a national star, because he doesn’t need to. He knows that all his countrymen know about his record as a fighter and about the boxers he turned into Olympic medallists or world champions.

If a foreign journalist needs info, Sauerland Event Media Director Heiko Mallwitz will provide them. Ulli Wegner was born on April 26, 1942 in Stettin (which today belongs to Poland) and fought 176 amateur bouts. When he decided to hang up the gloves, he began assisting experienced coaches. Later, Ulli became a coach and built such a good reputation that when East and West Germany unified, he was offered a job inside the national team. His boxers won a total of 122 medals in amateur competitions, both junior and seniors: 60 gold, 30 silver and 32 bronze medals.

Ulli is best known for the job he did during the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta where he led Thomas Ulrich to the bronze medal in the light heavyweight division and Oktay Urkal to the silver medal in the light welterweight division. Right after that, Sauerland Event wanted Ulli Wegner as head coach. That choice paid off. Under Wegner’s guidance Sven Ottke, Tosten May, Oktay Urkal, Markus Beyer and Arthur Abraham made it big in the professional ranks.

Sven Ottke is another legendary character of German boxing. From 1997 to 2004 he built a record of 34 wins (6 KOs) in 34 fights and retired undefeated. He was world super middleweight champion from February 27, 1999 to March 27, 2004. He defended the IBF belt 20 times and the WBA crown 4 times. Among the top-ranked opponents defeated by Ottke, we find well-known names like Charles Brewer (twice), Giovanni Nardiello, Thomas Tate (twice), Tocker Pudwill, Glencoffe Johnson, Silvio Branco, Anthony Mundine and Robin Reid.

Torsten May won the gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in the light heavyweight division, but was getting nowhere as a professional. Then, Ulli Wegner came in and led him to the European cruiserweight title (in 1999). Torsten May retired with a record of 22 wins (12 KOs) and 3 losses.

Oktay Urkal is a pro since 1996 and compiled a record of 36 wins (11 KOs) and 3 losses. He became European light welterweight and welterweight champion. His losses came in his three attempts to win the world light welterweight belt. In 2001, he lost on points to WBA/WBC champion Kostya Tszyu. In 2004, Urkal was beaten twice by WBA champion Vivian Harris (majority decision and TKO 11). As you probably know, Urkal will be the next opponent for WBA welterweight king Ricky Hatton.

Three-time WBC super middleweight champion Markus Beyer needs no introduction, just like IBF middleweight king Arthur Abraham.

In America, Ulli Wegner is famous for what he did after Nicolay Valuev’s victory over John Ruiz for the WBA title: When Ruiz’s former manager Norman Stone didn’t agree with the judges and grabbed back the belt, Ulli stormed across the ring and delivered a right hand to Stoney’s face! When I met Ulli Wegner at Sauerland Event’s huge training center located in Kienbaum, he was willing to talk about his fighters and about boxing in general, with Heiko Mallwitz serving as translator. Ulli was very motivated to talk about the heavyweight division: “I don’t understand why so many people are surprised by the success of Eastern European boxers. They always won many medals at the Olympics and during the amateur world championships. It was just logic that they would have more chances to make it big than the average professional. The same can be said for Cuban boxers, the ones who left the island became world champions. When communism will end in Cuba, the number of high-level professionals will increase dramatically and we’ll see many more exciting battles.”

Always focused on the heavyweights, if you think that Samuel Peter is the next undisputed champion read what Ulli Wegner has to say: “He is not ready to make it big, like his loss to Wladimir Klitschko proved. Samuel Peter has to learn the basics, how to box properly and how to react. He has to fight 6-8 top-ranked contenders before even considering fighting for the world title.”  Then, who has the skills to make it big? Shannon Briggs, Jameel McCline, Oleg Maskaev? Try again. Ulli has another name in mind. “Paolo Vidoz is one of the best heavyweights around. He should be fighting for the world title. He could beat most guys who have a major belt.”  In Italy, not many journalists consider Paolo Vidoz good enough to become world champion. An old Italian saying is that nobody is appreciated in his own city. On the other hand, Germans only care if a boxer is good and pay him accordingly. That’s part of the reason why Paolo’s most recent fights were in Germany. In Kempten, he won the European title outclassing local star Timo Hoffman. In Oldenburg, Paolo defeated on points British Micheal Sprott. In Berlin, Vidoz got a unanimous decision versus Cengiz Koc. Next July 15 in Hamburg, Paolo will face Vladimir Virchis (20-1).

Going back to Ulli Wegner, he has no intention of slowing down even if he is 64 years old. If you look at the corner of any major champion under contract with Sauerland Event, you will find him.

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