HEAVY MUDDLE – Boxing’s resurgent heavyweight division has gained considerable prestige recently. Critics who previously bemoaned most prospects have now joined a lively debate about potential matchups among probably the strongest top-twenty field in many years.
Those would-be Cinderella men clamoring for a title shot have created a second-tier logjam of big boys. Thus, many rated heavyweight boxers have faced off against each other, with plenty of solid matches still to be made.
One such case in point is Saturday’s Alexander Ustinov – Manuel Charr fight in Oberhausen, Germany. At press time Friday it was still unclear whether or not the fight was actually for the vacant WBA “regular” belt or Charr’s regional laurels, but the organization’s hardware was displayed.
Whatever the sanctioning stakes, Charr-Ustinov is an intriguing, elimination type matchup. The winner’s recognition may produce another top-tier contender, so 33-year-old “Diamond Boy” Charr, 30-4 (17), and 40-year-old Ustinov, 34-1 (25), are meeting to jump into that mix.
Joseph Parker and Deontay Wilder hold recognized alphabet belts, while multiple-titlist Anthony Joshua is generally considered the weight’s apex predator. Facing Joshua offers by far the most money and prestige, but rewards from meeting Wilder or Parker would not be inconsequential.
Each of Saturday’s contestants has been relatively inactive lately. Much of Ustinov’s lull could be due to typical business snags in management or matchmaking.
Charr had to navigate more dire straits, including a double hip replacement last April. Even that pales in comparison to other medical procedures he had the year before that, after being shot in what may or may not have been a public ambush.
Charr ignites fanatical responses from both fans and haters. Before Charr’s fight with Kevin Johnson, German military troops were positioned outside the arena as rival rappers escalated a much publicized potential shoot-out beef.
“I feel good now,” an animated Charr told the media. “I was able to start training immediately after my hip operation. I won’t underestimate Ustinov. This is another chance at a world title.”
“I came here to win a title and I know what I have to do,” said a cheerfully relaxed Ustinov through loose translation.
The fighters’ pro debuts came just one day apart back in May 2005. Charr appears to have gathered more debilitating mileage since then but also acts more motivated. Ustinov looks trimmer and slicker than during his early campaign, while Charr seems to have improved his overall skill set.
Charr’s best showings aren’t earth shaking yet, but he earned the WBA International belt in September of 2016 against Sefer Seferi, who was 21-0 at the time.
In May 2015, Charr topped Alex Leapai by UD10 in Moscow, and beat a long-faded Michael Grant a year before that. Charr was stopped by Alexander Povetkin in May ’14.
Charr’s best effort may have been when he lost a 4th round TKO from a cut against Vitali Klitschko in September 2012. Charr was dropped and catching a shutout, but he managed to back Klitschko up with clean punches, something few had done before; even if the thuds were comparatively harmless in the busy brawl.
Ustinov’s slate doesn’t have as many recognizable names as Charr’s resume but the Belarius-based Russian, nicknamed “The Great” does have only one loss, with a couple dozen KOs.
The huge Ustinov weighed nearly 300 pounds when he took a UD 12 over David Tua in November of 2013. A stoppage loss to Kubrat Pulev in September 2012 was probably Ustinov’s first real competition versus an “A” level fighter, but his size presents problems for almost any opponent.
Title at stake or not, fans have responded to this event. Available seating the week of the fight showed less than a hundred tickets remaining at Konig Pilsner Arena, a good venue for boxing that usually seats over 10,000.
It seems unlikely Joshua, Wilder, or Parker will sign for a unified contest anytime soon. That means plenty of potential paydays for the winner of Charr – Ustinov, whether they’re legitimate championship threats or not. Besides, an even bigger purse opportunity could arise.
The winner in Oberhausen could become linear champ Tyson Fury’s perfect comeback foe, especially if a title comes into play. Ustinov was actually set to meet the Gypsy King in 2014, as a substitute after Dereck Chisora fractured his hand. Fury taunted Ustinov all the way through a press conference and weigh-in, only to withdraw on fight night with the reason cited as a family medical emergency.
Ustinov got a bit of karmic payback when he stood in the ring with the UK crowd cheering him on and mocked “Come out Tyson, where are you?” Promoter Frank Warren said he was informed Fury “wasn’t mentally there for the fight.”
So, with all that potential on the horizon, who wins Saturday night?
For Charr, a Lebanese transplant now fighting out of Cologne whose namesake team is the primary promoter, this is a basically a hometown fight. Those friendly confines could prove a serious advantage. Still, Charr’s manager Christian Jager and Ustinov’s promoter Vlad Hrunov are on excellent terms so any resulting controversy seems unlikely.
Based on most recent form, Charr will likely try to weave his way in behind compact hooks while 6’ 7” Ustinov works to employ his four inch height and reach advantage.
If Ustinov fights with his typical reserve, the much busier Charr will win on points. But if Ustinov finds the range to drop straight rights, he could win big. Charr’s chin looked fragile against the likes of Povetkin and Maris Briedis.
Judging from the vibes at a very brief press workout 48 hours before fight night, Ustinov definitely has the size and efficiency to stifle Charr’s attack and must be considered the favorite. But Charr seems to have an intangible spark, and don’t forget that crucial, hometown thing.
The chances of a mauling, 12 round waltz may be much more likely than a classic slugfest, but if it turns out the battle is indeed a thriller, don’t be surprised.
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