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Azad Championship Report: Geale Ventures into the Eye of the Sturm


When I lived in Key West, Florida, every time a hurricane approached, the Navy launched a plane that flew into the center of the storm to measure its strength. That is what Daniel Geale does tomorrow, facing off against Felix Sturm in an IBF and WBA title unification bout. Those are a rarity in today’s game and as such, is notable even if it does not take place on American soil or television. The titles are of little significance in the big scheme of things but the boxer who emerges victorious will have proven himself a worthy challenger to the middleweight throne currently occupied by Sergio Martinez, who, ironically, is recognized as the king without possessing a single alphabet belt.
Over the last 10 years, the middleweight division has been morose and lacked the vitality that showdowns between elite boxers delivers. However, by the end of September, the entire middleweight division could be turned on its head. The top four middleweight fighters are facing each other this month, which I do not remember ever happening in this century. Tomorrow, the number two (Felix Sturm) and three (Daniel Geale) middleweights clash for the right to face the winner of next week’s Sergio Martinez vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. pay-per-view event. At the bottom end of the top 10, Gennady Golovkin and Grzegorz Proksa engage each other in an intriguing battle of rising stars. That makes for six of the 10 best middleweights fighting one another, an uncommon treat for boxing fans of this generation.

Azad Championship Report
Azad Championship Report

The Felix Sturm – Daniel Geale match-up is a fine treat as well, matching versatile boxers with proven track records. Sturm is the visibly bigger man during face-to-face meetings but neither man has shrunk before the cameras and microphones. “I have not been this strong in seven years; I have improved 40% since defeating [Sebastian] Zbik (his last victory five months ago).” Sturm told The Bild newspaper. Sturm thinks he needs that boost in performance given his challenger. “Daniel is a world champion and has achieved a lot. There is a big difference between a boxer who has a big mouth and a true champion.” The latter, a veiled reference to rival Arthur Abraham, who called out Sturm after winning the WBO super middleweight title against Robert Stieglitz. That is, perhaps, the future but the Geale fight is selling well with 7,000 of the 12,000 seats sold by midweek and a full house expected.
Daniel Geale became a champion in Germany, winning by decision, no less, and is not intimidated by the atmosphere having experienced it defeating Sebastian Sylvester. Geale believes Sturm is past his peak while he is maturing into his prime. “It’s coming at a good time for me; Felix hasn’t performed that well recently where as I feel I am improving with each fight.” Geale added, “I simply like to fight here; the better the opponent, the better I fight. My chances are extremely good.” Most importantly, Geale understands how he must win. “I have to go out there and win big. It being in Germany, I have to make sure I do it convincingly, especially if it goes down to a decision.”
It is no secret, and it has been an unspoken undercurrent during the fight’s buildup, that Felix Sturm has gotten the judges’ benefit of the doubt in Germany, especially in 2011, when a decision over Matthew Macklin and draw against Martin Murray were roundly criticized by observers outside of Germany. There was no denying Sturm looked refreshed and lively stopping Sebastian Zbik in his last outing, a fighter who lasted the distance against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and some thought did enough to beat him. Sturm changed his training camp for the Zbik fight, concentrating on speed and movement to accentuate his jab, one that might be the best in boxing when in form. Against Zbik, Sturm no longer allowed his opposition to build momentum through his own passivity. Nor did he lack volume coming forward, pressing when he saw advantages.
Sturm admits preparations have not been optimal for this fight, with his trainer missing large stretches because of commitments to WBC heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko. World-class trainer Fritz Sdunek is unconcerned, explaining, “Vitali has priority because it could be his final fight. Felix knows exactly what he has to do.” Sdunek spent five weeks of preparation with Sturm at the outset and, as Sturm tells it, there was little concern going forward. “We talked about everything in detail, we also stay in touch over the phone and Fritz knows he can trust me. Actually, this situation has given me additional motivation.” Sturm has faith in assistant trainer Magomed Schaburow, who is overseeing the final stages of training camp and with whom Sturm has trained for 15 years. Sdunek will leave Vitali Klitschko’s training camp to be with Sturm the evening of the fight.
Preparations in Daniel Geale’s homeland were not ideal either, with the fighter openly talking about a lack of quality sparring partners at his camp’s opening. “We’ve tried extremely hard,” Geale told the AAP news agency. “At different times, my team have secured different sparring partners and, unfortunately, we’ve had about three or four that have fallen through on us.” Finding someone to mimic Sturm is a difficulty in itself. “There’s not too many fighters around the world that are too similar to Sturm. He is a very good defensive fighter with very good basic skills but we have been using a few different guys that have been really good for us.” There could be acclimatization issues as well. Geale left Australia on August 23rd, leaving some to question whether Geale gave his body enough time to adjust to time differences.
Jeff Fenech, arguably Australia’s greatest boxer, wholeheartedly supports Geale. “On a world scale, this fight is huge. I just hope the entire country gets behind ‘Gealey’ because, right now, he’s the only Australian boxer who is genuinely keen to go overseas and fight anybody, who is basically saying, ‘Line them up.’” Fenech told Nick Walshaw of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph. “He’s undoubtedly the one taking all the risks to get himself the biggest fights and keep Australian boxing alive. But I believe this is the biggest fight of the lot - and Daniel can win it. Yes, it’s in Germany. Yes, Sturm has been defending his title for years. But Daniel Geale is about to prove to the world exactly how good he is.”
Co-promoter Gary Shaw sees this fight exactly as Fenech. “This event is what boxing is all about. When you get two world champions agreeing to fight each other with no hesitation, you know the fans are going to be witnessing an unbelievable bout.” Shaw believes this pairing has the ingredients to produce a special event, one that brings out the best in both boxers. “Both guys are hungry to keep their titles and they’re going to leave everything in the ring. Words can’t describe how excited I am about this event. Geale and Sturm are true warriors who are going to bring it come fight night. It’s going to be an incredible night of boxing. The true winners will be the fans.”
I believe the winners are the boxing fans but do not see the Sturm – Geale fight as having the potential to explode into an all-out war. Both champions are tacticians at heart, who analyze and deconstruct opponents with a scalpel rather than chop them up with a meat cleaver. I envision shifts in momentum as each fighter counters the other’s changes in strategy, with neither boxer winning three rounds consecutively. The fight will difficult to score and the judges need to be at their best to adjudicate which man was superior in the always controversial “ring generalship” category. Graham Shaw, Daniel Geale’s trainer, gave a sensible evaluation of the match-up. “Daniel Geale is a thinking fighter and so is Felix Sturm. I’m sure there will be things that happen in the fight that they both have to respond to that’s not in the game plan.”
At month’s end, the current middleweight top 10 could have flipped and flopped in more ways and with more variations than a 50 Shades of Grey novel provides. There could be a new “real” world champion if Julio Cesar Chavez defeats Sergio Martinez and the winner of the Sturm – Geale fight has earned the right to throw down an immediate challenge to that supremacy. No matter how it ends, it all starts with the Sturm – Geale clash on Saturday.
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