Welcome back, Ruslan.
Chagaev, for me, is the number three heavy of the Klitschko era. At his best he was mobile, two- handed as a boxer, carried legitimate power in his trailing left and led with a fine southpaw jab; a great chin and no small amount of heart capped off a fine package that lacked only a single extraordinary offensive attribute – size, speed, power – to make it an exceptional one.
The double blow of hepatitis-B and a debilitating Achilles injury laid him low, unfortunately in good time for his shot at Wladimir Klitschko but not before he had demonstrated his relative excellence against the likes of Nikolay Valuev and John Ruiz. Now the veteran of two beatings, having dropped a unanimous decision against Alexander Povetkin in 2011, Chagaev has eschewed the path of the warrior in favour of the path of least resistance; Povetkin was the last ranked opponent he has met ring centre.
So faded was he that no small number of people suspected that Francesco Pianeta, out of Germany via Calabria, Italy would be too much for him. Six inches taller than Chagaev at 6’5, the size advantage enjoyed by the lengthier Pianeta was not disguised by the extra four pounds his opponent was carrying to the ring. Chagaev is overweight at 246lbs, and arguably at 230lbs. The combination of Pianeta’s size and Chagaev’s pronounced fade made Pianeta seem a difficult match for him, to the point where German television has bizarrely been hyping Pianeta, who was born in Italy, as potentially the “first German heavyweight champion of the world since Max Schmeling”. This is because Chagaev holds something called the “Regular WBA heavyweight championship”, while the “super championship” is snuggly protected by one Wladimir Klitschko. Fortunately, Germany was spared the embarrassment of crowning her first heavyweight champion in eighty years in these circumstances by Chagaev’s surprising first round knockout of Pianeta tonight in Magdeburg, Germany.
Chagaev, out of Andijan, Uzbekistan, thirty-six years old, opened quietly, attempting to jab Pianeta back with the right while Pianeta tried to dial in his own right and I settled in for twelve long rounds. Then, suddenly, Pianeta was on the ground looking up. Two booming overhand lefts, Chagaev’s dangerous punch, had found their mark and Pianeta seemed broken. Literally appearing to have had the air let out of him he deflated to the canvas and I was surprised to see him regain his feet; Chagaev rushed himself at first but soon regained his boxing and despite shipping a nice uppercut (the only meaningful punch the thirty-year old Pianeta would land in the short 2:50 the fight lasted) he soon cornered Pianeta square and dropped him with a double-left hand to the temple. Pianeta, who has been stopped on just one previous occasion, in six versus Wladimir Klitschko, regained his feet but was correctly waved off by referee Jean-Louis Legland. Carried to his corner like so much loose meat he was soon in tears as Chagaev celebrated, ebulliently.
Chagaev (now 34-2-1) was once an excellent prize-fighter and although I expect this to be something of a false dawn it is hard not to be impressed by the quick work he made of the younger, bigger Pianeta here; a shot at fellow strap-holder Deontay Wilder or some other name-heavyweight may be looming somewhere in his immediate future, although Chagaev’s unfortunate propensity for avoiding contenders in this decade may make such a match impossible. Either way, the show goes on for the gutsy Ruslan.
And for Pianeta (drops to a deceiving 31-2-1)? Well, he didn’t manage to crown himself the first German heavyweight champion since Schmeling; but nor has Chagaev crowned himself the first Uzbekistani champion in forever. The belt he holds is as meaningless as the media bluster in Germany.
Congratulations Ruslan Chagaev; but as you were, gentlemen.