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18 NOVEMBER 2018

Where am I? Home Columns Paul Upham

Wright Target: Who is Sam Soliman?

Sam Soliman robbed against Anthony Mundine
Sam Soliman robbed against Anthony Mundine

By Paul Upham: As the ring announcer read out the decision signalling that he had lost the fight on points to Anthony Mundine, "King" Sam Soliman still beamed his usual smile, but deep down he was hurt at being screwed over once again. As the bottles and debris came raining down around the ring in disgust at the scoring of the judges in Wollongong on the south coast of NSW in Australia, Soliman walked out of the arena and promised himself that he would not let this happen again. Never again would he take a fight at short notice and be just the opponent. With the support of manager Stuart Duncan and trainer Dave Hedgecock, Soliman promised himself that he would get to the middleweight championship of the world one day. Fast forward four years and two months and as he heads into the toughest test of his career against Ronald "Winky" Wright on December 10 at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, USA Soliman has won nineteen fights straight with eight knockouts.

"That fight with Mundine does seem a while ago," recalled Soliman. "I remember one of the main reason's I got that fight was because of the slogan that Ant Evans at SecondsOut came up with, 'Mundine is mundane but Soliman is King'. Even though I didn't get the decision that night, that fight got me a lot of good publicity."

After basing himself in the UK for two years, Soliman returned home to Melbourne in the second half of 2002 and with Duncan plotted a course which took him to the IBF No.1 middleweight rating and ultimately the fight with Wright, which is basically a world title eliminator for a shot at the winner of Jermain Taylor-Bernard Hopkins II.

"It has been a good run and I plan on making it even better," he said. "I have a great team around me. My promoter Dan Goossen, my manager Stuart Duncan and my trainer Dave Hedgecock. They make sure that the things that happened to me in the past won't happen to me again. All I have to do is remember to punch."

A quick glance at Soliman's record of 31 wins and 7 losses with 12 wins by knockout and you can understand while most people are not prepared to give him even the slightest chance of beating Wright.

But the 32 year-old honestly believes he has only lost two fights in his career. A twelve round unanimous decision loss to Kevin Kelly in August 1997 and a twelve round points decision loss to Howard Eastman in September 2000. Four of his seven losses have come outside his natural weight class of 160lbs. Five times he feels he has been straight out robbed on the judges scorecards.

The following is a list of Soliman's losses in chronological order with his comments on each of them.

L12 - Kevin Kelly, 15th August 1997 - for the vacant Commonwealth and Australian junior middleweight title, (unanimous decision): "I killed myself to make that weight. I learnt my lesson," said Soliman, who took the fight on five days notice. "After originally agreeing to the fight with four weeks notice, the fight was cancelled and I never trained for one week, then the fight was back on again." It should also be noted that Soliman was coming down in weight from cruiserweight where he had won the Australian title two months earlier. This was Soliman's 3rd professional fight. Kelly was making his 26th professional appearance. "We were sparring in a sauna to make weight," added Hedgecock.

L12 - Adrian Bellin, 28th November 1997 - for the Australian cruiserweight title, (split decision): "I scored a lot more punches than him, though he was the aggressor in the fight and I took the fight at short notice," said Soliman. "The fight was in Geelong and he was the local boy and I think the crowd influenced the judges decision."

L12 - Glenn Kelly, 28th September 1999 - for the Australian and IBF Pan Pacific light heavyweight titles, (unanimous decision): "I fought Glenn Kelly on an Angelo Hyder show and that was another robbery," said Soliman, who took the fight on eleven days notice. "They wouldn't even give me a copy of the fight on tape because they know what happened and they know who won the fight."

L8 - Jerry Elliott, 6th May 2000 - held in Frankfurt, Germany at middleweight: "I'd say this was the worst decision of the lot," said Soliman, who took the fight on two days notice. "I rocked him and had him in all sorts of trouble. I won eight out of eight rounds in Germany. Maybe one round was a draw. They were just building him up (Elliott was 25-0-1 going into the fight) and gave him a gift decision. Going in I thought I may need a knockout to win, but every round I felt I won clearly without a doubt."

L12 - Howard Eastman, 16th September 2000 - for the Commonwealth middleweight title in London, England: "I had four weeks notice, but they only agreed on the purse two weeks before the fight," said Soliman. "I have no trouble saying Eastman was my toughest fight, closely followed by Raymond Joval. Eastman won the fight and the referee scored it 117-114, but Howard has never delivered on his promise of a rematch."

L12 - Raymond Joval, 27th January 2001 - for the IBO middleweight title in Amsterdam, Netherlands, (majority decision): "I was robbed in that fight," said Soliman. "I've got the video. I had four weeks notice, but Raymond Joval is one of the most underrated middleweights. He has got guts, but he has got a lot of skill as well"

L12 - Anthony Mundine, 3rd September 2001 - for the IBF Pan Pacific super middleweight title in Wollongong, Australia, (split decision - 115-113, 116-114 and 113-115): "I took the fight on ten days notice and flew in from the UK five days before the fight," said Soliman. "The referee turned a blind eye to all his holding in the fight and I had no doubt I won." Manager Stuart Duncan who watched the fight from Soliman's corner was outraged. "I was pissed off as hell over that decision," he said. "I felt that Sam had done more than enough to win the fight. I felt that he won the fight and the punch count clearly showed that he deserved to win the fight. But it wasn't an opinion formed just by me, it was an opinion formed by a lot of people at the fight and the media. The crowd was throwing missiles into the arena in disgust after they announced the winner."

But that is all history now. Four time junior middleweight champion Winky Wright 49-3 (25) has established himself as one of the best boxers in the world today by doing the basics right, time after time.

"From watching him on videos, he doesn't make any mistakes," admitted Soliman. "But I can make him make mistakes. He is very established in what he has done. He is very exceptional in his ability to adapt to his opponent. Winky has fought good fighters. No question. He doesn't duck anyone. That is why he is fighting me. But he has never fought anyone who has fought their career the way he has. That is someone who has fought anyone, anyplace, anytime. We are very similar."

Indeed, Soliman feels that he shares with Wright a similar philosophy as to how the boxing business should be and he feels proud that he will be sharing the ring with one of the best in the world today. All Soliman ever wanted was the chance to prove himself against the very best boxers in his division.

"It gives you a nice little tingle on the back of your spine which keeps you sharp," Soliman said of Wright's reputation, after his recent wins over Felix Trinidad and Shane Mosley. "It is just another positive to my preparation for this fight. I'm not taking any shortcuts to beat the pound for pound No.2 in the world. In my eyes, maybe he is No.1? If you look at the stats of Floyd Mayweather's opponents, fifteen of them were guns. If you look at Winky's record, thirty of them were guns."

Soliman says he feels no pressure going into such a big fight. He instead relishes the chance to prove himself on such a worldwide stage with the fight being televised in the USA on HBO.

"No, not at all. This is the chance I have always wanted and now it is up to me," he said. "There has been no trash talk. There is respect there. We are both contenders for the middleweight world title and on the night we will both be there trying to make our countries proud. The critics in America will be changing their tune after the fight very quickly. It doesn't bother me what they say before the fight."

Soliman's amazing training regiment even made Kostya Tszyu sit up and take notice. The former undisputed champion used him as a sparring partner for his last two fight preparations and respects his love of hard work in the gym. Soliman's fitness, constant pressure through volume of punches thrown and unusual offensive angles will be what keeps this fight with Wright close all the way.

"Sammy is one of the most underrated fighters in the world today and he deserves the recognition he has worked so hard to achieve," said trainer Dave "the Rock" Hedgecock. "His movement and angles has allowed him to hit and not get hit and a lot of people forget about what the art of boxing is all about."

Flying out of Australia to the USA on Sunday, Soliman's love of the sport and his appreciation for every minute he is able to compete makes him unique. For someone who gets punched in the face for a living, his welcoming smile and outgoing happy personality is a refreshing change amongst the pressure of big time boxing. It is not unusual to see Soliman do a lap of the arena waving to family and friends less than an hour before his fight is due to commence.

"I've done all the hard training and made all the sacrifices for this fight and I am just ready to go," he said. "I've had fights all over the world and I cherish something out of each and every one of them. I love seeing the different sights and people and I really enjoy the fights. This fight is going to be very special as well."

Paul Upham
Contributing Editor

"King" Sam Soliman is planning a surprise for Winky Wright
"King" Sam Soliman is planning a surprise for Winky Wright

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