Felix Sturm (23-1) has fought most of his professional career behind the spotlight rather than in front of it. And judging by the way he’s been taking out his frustrations on his opponents, he doesn’t seem too happy about it.
Finally considered a top-rated middleweight, the German-born fighter, still bitter from his controversial decision loss to Oscar De La Hoya last year, let his fists do the talking Saturday as he destroyed stable mate Bert Schenk (36-2). Once classified as a light-hitting mover, Sturm has now blown out his past two opponents (Schenk KO 2 and Hassine Cherifi KO 3) in impressive fashion. Consider that Cherifi lasted twelve rounds versus William Joppy, four rounds against Felix Trinidad, and nine rounds when he faced Howard Eastman – before being so soundly dismissed in less than nine minutes by Sturm. (Schenk had only lost once, to Armand Krajnc, in his nine-year professional career prior to meeting Sturm.)
Until proving to be much more than De La Hoya had bargained for, most boxing fans outside of Germany were clueless as to what the then-WBO middleweight champion could do in the ring. What Felix Sturm showed us was a stylish boxer who threw a high volume of punches, used angles very well, and was not intimidated at all by the mega-fight atmosphere. Now, three straight victories since suffering the first loss of his professional career while challenging the Golden Boy, Sturm again finds himself ready to invade the title ranks.
While Bernard Hopkins remains the undisputed ruler of the middleweight division, the consensus top three challengers to his crown, whether he abdicates the throne or is unceremoniously thrown from it, are Trinidad, Jermain Taylor and Sturm. Trinidad had his shot at Hopkins and was rewarded with a one-sided beating that looked as though it would take Tito from the sport for good. Taylor is doing all the right things and beating the people his management put in front of him. Who they put in the ring with him has been the problem.
Sturm, on the other hand, seems to be doing all the wrong things. He’s looking good and more and more like a legitimate threat to the championship. That’s not the way to get a title shot, because now he may seem too dangerous an opponent. When matchmaking for title shots, part of the job of the promoters/managers of the champion are to find the highest drawing opponent in order to make the most money for all parties involved, and to accomplish that with the opponent who represents the least risk. Considering the three fighters mentioned as possible opponents for Hopkins, Sturm would seem to represent equal risk but with less reward.
Felix Trinidad looked fine punishing Ricardo Mayorga in his comeback fight back in October of last year, but we have to remember that Mayorga is a fighter with very crude skills who had never fought at middleweight and only once at junior middle. Tito simply did what he was supposed to do: overpower an opponent who was in way over his dyed red head. Trinidad makes a most likely opponent for Hopkins, because he has an excuse to fall back on with the events of September 11th disrupting training for the bout with Hopkins. The rematch would be a huge draw due to the great following Tito has acquired and for his great successes in the ring. Marketing would be a dream and all parties involved would make a lot of money. For Bernard Hopkins the fight makes dollars and sense, as he punished Trinidad in that first meeting and would surely believe a rematch would end much the same way. The minor detail of Trinidad having a May date with Ronald “Winky” Wright could be a major stumbling block however. Wright just might win that fight.
Jermain Taylor is too risky and has yet to develop a big enough fan base on a national level, because he has yet to make a major statement on the division. While looking good in disposing of Daniel Edouard (16-1-2) last weekend, Taylor was less than impressive against a shopworn William Joppy. Prior to that Taylor had been tossing aside blown up welterweights and junior middleweights. There may much work ahead before Team Taylor is in a position to take on the best 160-pounders.
Twenty-six year old Felix Sturm may be the right guy at the right time. The fact that he looked so good in beating – sorry, losing to – De La Hoya, has raised his profile from “just another European” to “that German who nearly beat the Golden Boy.” He is a guy who can be brought in as a worthy opponent because the buying public will remember how good he looked against Oscar and for what he has done since – going 3-0 with 2 victories by knockout, and in impressive fashion. Sturm is a fine physical specimen, muscular and defined, decent looking on a poster and, heck, he’s German. An American versus a German has to be an easy sell! I can see Hopkins now, throwing down the German flag and making inflammatory remarks to promote the bout. Even Sturm’s manager, the usually protective Klaus-Peter Kohl, would see the win-win for his fighter. As for losing to De La Hoya, Sturm could either raise his stock by being gallant in defeat or pull the major upset over a fighter fourteen years his senior.
With little to lose and significant economic rewards to reap, a match with Bernard Hopkins is a leap Felix Sturm would definitely take. But if an offer doesn’t come his way, it may just be that Sturm has no one to blame but himself.
He’s just too good.