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The State of the Heavyweights: Two Top 10ers, at Last!

By Mikko Salo: Question: What has not happened in the heavyweight division since 10th September 2011? Answer: Two fighters ranked in the Ring Magazine Top Ten squaring off against each other.


Since last September`s Vitali Klitschko vs Tomasz Adamek we haven`t had a top ten heavyweight match-up, even though Helenius vs Chisora, Povetkin vs Huck and Klitschko vs Chisora have provided some good action in the ring and a sufficient amount of controversy out of it.


The Top Ten match-up drought is going to end on Saturday 5th May when The Ring #4 contender Alexander Dimitrenko (32-1, 21 KO) and #9 contender Kubrat Pulev (15-0, 7 KO) step in the ring in Messehalle, Erfurt, Germany. The belt at stake is the vacant European one, but more importantly the winner will score the most significant victory of his career and vault his way closer to legitimately challenging the Undisputed Champion Klitschko Brothers. The loser`s marketability and future earning potential suffers a serious blow.


Alexander Dimitrenko is a bit of an enigma to most boxing fans. He has the size (6`7, 250lb) and the tools to be a true force in the heavyweight division and he is still only 29 years old. The Ukrainian-born German has fought his whole 11-year pro career in his adopted homeland with one exception, a 2002 appearance in Las Vegas on the undercard of Mayweather Jr. vs Castillo II.


Despite being the #4 contender Dimitrenko desperately needs a signature win to up his market value as a possible Klitschko opponent. His opposition has mostly been mediocre and the only time he was matched against a legitimate top heavyweight resulted in a clear majority decision loss against Eddie Chambers in an alphabet title eliminator in July 2009 (Chambers then went on to get KOed by Wladimir Klitschko). During the following nearly three years the big fella has fought only three times capturing the vacant European crown against Yaroslav Zavorotnyi and defending it against Albert Sosnowski and Michael Sprott. Dimitrenko`s European reign ended last November, when he got stripped for citing injury and not facing Robert Helenius.


Kubrat Pulev has traveled a different career path to this crossroads fight. He turned pro at the late age of 28 in 2009 after completing a successful amateur career, medaling three times in major international tournaments with a Super Heavyweight European Championship gold medal in 2008. Like his foe, Pulev possesses good size (6`4½, 250lb) and has fought mainly in Germany with two trips to Denmark and one to Belgium. In his short pro career the Bulgarian has rather quietly but steadily improved impressively enough to earn a ranking among the top contenders in boxing`s marquee division.


Dimitrenko is fairly mobile for a big man and possesses a decent jab, a weapon that has to work to perfection against Pulev if he is to beat the Bulgarian. In many ways Dimitrenko is a poor man`s version of Wladimir Klitschko, doing a lot of things well for his size, but lacking the Champion`s fearsome power and defensive prowess. Since losing rather one-sidedly to much smaller Chambers he has also been characterized too soft to be able to prevail in adverse circumstances.


Pulev has a calm and effective ring demeanor. He throws good left-right combinations, uses his size well and moves pretty effortlessly for a big man. Sometimes his offense seems a bit one-dimensional, but he has not faced an opponent competent enough to solve his style with effective counter punching. Pulev has been able to get off first and take command of his fights from the early going.


The stakes are high for both fighters, but who will prevail? Dimitrenko and Pulev have fought four mutual opponents. During years 2007-12 they both have scored wins over Danny Batchelder, Yaroslav Zavorotnyi, Derrick Rossy and Michael Sprott, Dimitrenko KOing all but Sprott and Pulev KOing all but Zavorotnyi. British journeyman Michael Sprott is the last opponent on both men`s list. Dimitrenko beat him via a unanimous decision in September 2011, Pulev made Sprott retire in his corner after nine rounds in January 2012.



When looking at both men`s Sprott fights, Pulev was definitely the more dominating winner. Against Pulev, Sprott wasn`t able to mount any kind of offense and eventually his corner stopped the one-sided affair. Pulev was simply too big, strong and fast for the Brit. Dimitrenko had Sprott under control for most of their affair, but there were times when the smaller man penetrated Dimitrenko`s suspect defence and was able to score some big shots that had the bigger man reeling a couple of times.


What Pulev lacks is experience against mobile big men with boxing skills. If Dimitrenko finds his range with the jab, Pulev, whose lateral movement isn`t that great, might be in for a long night. But I doubt it. Chambers was able to get through to Dimitrenko`s chin with relative ease and although Pulev might not be as fast and elusive as Chambers, he is big enough to come in and bully the German. To do this, Pulev needs to make his attacks more versatile than what he is used to against the upper-tier journeymen he has been fighting.


The first top ten match-up in the heavyweight division in eight months is here, and it will be a good one. My prediction is that Kubrat Pulev will take home the decision and keeps moving closer to challenging for the Heavyweight Championship.    


May 3, 2012

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