Muhammad Ali was 32 years old when he Rumbled in the Jungle in 1974. His victory considered all the more miraculous given his veteran status and the power of youth presumed to reside with George Foreman. There are many who feel he should have retired at that zenith. How times change. On Saturday night another 32-year-old, Alexander Povetkin, he of the callow face and quiet demeanour, will belatedly try to step from the shadows of the brothers Ukraine.
Discard the entirely meaningless WBA belt he will defend – a vacuous title he won beating Ruslan Chagaev last August – and the contest represents another holding step in Povetkin’s painstakingly slow-moving career. Lest we forget, he won a final eliminator fully 4 years ago by beating Eddie Chambers.
The implied criticism is not intended to besmirch Povetkin’s courage or willingness to fight the best. It would also be naive not to recognise the wisdom of strategic planning when maneuvering a talented and marketable heavyweight toward a world title shot but one must ponder the faith his management team have in their charge given the four years that have now lapsed since he edged past Eddie Chambers back in January 2008.
Nobody seems in a hurry these days. One redeeming aspect of David Haye’s now maligned quest for the top prize was the urgency he employed getting up the ladder. No such haste for Povetkin. Povetkin first emerged to the wider boxing audience when he comprehensively beat Larry Donald over 10 rounds and followed that up with an 11th round stoppage of Chris Byrd later the same year. That was 2007.
Such was the public clamour for an alternative to the ponderous giants that even Povetkin’s pastiche of Mike Tyson; tight gloves, squat stance, aggressive style and an affection for the right of opponents rib cages was enough to send message board fanatics into a tizzy. More astute judges noticed the lack of head movement and slower feet of course but there were certainly some raw material to work with.
Those barely audible echoes of Iron Mike were amplified by the appointment in 2009 of Teddy Atlas as his trainer. Atlas famously trained Mike Tyson through his climb to prominence of course. Perversely, rather than inject confidence and urgency into Povetkin’s work, with Atlas came caution. A mandated shot at Wladimir Klitschko was declined on the premise that Povetkin simply wasn’t ready for the challenge and so ensued another protracted apprenticeship. Speaking to Ron Borges, Atlas rejected the criticism of the decision.
I didn’t want him to fight for a title,’’ Atlas said. “I wanted him to win the title and then defend it. The end game is Klitschko but when we took that fight I wanted him to be ready to win it and he needed more time. He’s gotten better each fight. He has an identity now.’
Critics recognise the input of Atlas; Povetkin has improved and in his comprehensive victory over Ruslan Chagaev finally acquired all the seasoning Atlas could surely demand. The footwork is now smoother and he has greater patience in his work too. A subsequent stoppage over American veteran Cedric Boswell leads him to this fight with Marco Huck, he of the Brian London mandibles. The Serbian, by way of Germany, is an aggressive fighter who traded on work-rate and power as a successful Cruiserweight. Nobody would conceive of using the words sophisticated and Huck in the same sentence. There should, therefore, be few surprises for the fighter, known as ‘Sasha’ to his friends and colleagues, he is after all, now a 7 year-pro and 32 years young. But Huck does bring an audience in Germany and a showcase for Povetkin’s talents. And his aggressive style offers Povetkin a chance to engage and enthuse those who have forgotten him in the glare of David Haye’s all consuming self-promotion.
It is a shame circumstance and ego have detached Atlas from the Povetkin story; I’m sure there would have been many who would have liked to see Atlas fine-tune a fighter to the ultimate prize. But like Tyson before him, perhaps enough lessons and wisdom have been imparted to get Povetkin there anyway.
At 32, he cannot afford to wait too much longer.
[NOTES - Wilfried Sauerland (Sauerland Event) is the promoter of Saturday's show and the event will be available to BoxNation.tv subscribers on Sky channel 456 here in the UK. It is unlikely this weekend's heavyweight bout will be free to air in the way Klitschko v Chisora proved to be last weekend
For an insight into the relationship Atlas had with Povetkin before their January split, read Adam Berlin's exceptional piece at thesweetscience.com. Click Here]