By Anthony Cocks
He may not move as well as he used to, his speed might have diminished and his troublesome right knee may be held together by a brace, but veteran gloveman Sam “King” Soliman 45-14-1 (19) had enough left in the tank at 44 years of age to hold off a late charge from Wes “The Captivator” Capper 19-2-1 (12) to salvage a majority draw in a fight for the vacant IBF International middleweight title at the Melbourne Pavilion in Flemington, Australia on Saturday night.
If there is one thing that the former IBF middleweight champion hasn’t lost it’s his awkward, slippery and unorthodox approach to the sweet science.
Soliman is a well-known commodity both locally and abroad. The proud Melbournian has defied boxing convention to develop a large following despite the lack of a knockout punch, largely off the back of his engaging personality and willingness to make himself accessible to his fans across his 21-year professional career.
Capper meanwhile was largely unknown to the Melbourne audience before Saturday night. The heavily tattooed 29-year-old has fought almost half of his pro fights abroad and all bar one of his local fights have taken place on the west coast of Australia in his hometown of Perth. Melbourne fight fans were keen to get a good look at the well-travelled kid.
Capper entered the ring wearing red trunks, a propeller cap, multi-coloured shoes and pink flamingo socks. It has been said that he doesn’t own a mirror at home and suggested he gets dressed in the dark. But Australia’s clown prince of boxing wasn’t joking around when the first bell rang.
Fighting in front of a capacity crowd that included Roy Jones Jr as guest, Soliman juked and jived his way to an early lead as Capper tried to time him with the jab and read the veteran’s unique movements. In the second round Soliman caught the off-balance Capper with a shot that caused him touch his glove on the canvas to score a flash knockdown.
More embarrassed than hurt, Capper said through gritted mouthguard “Good shot, Sam” when he got to his feet and the action resumed.
As Capper was trying to figure out his tricky opponent Soliman would box and move from the outside, swarm on the inside and clinch. Late in the third a hard right hand from Soliman caught Capper square between the eyes as he moved in to attack.
Soliman, who started his combat sports career as a kickboxer half a lifetime ago, was at his elusive best in the early going, using foot and hands feints to frustrate his younger opponent.
Midway through the fourth round Capper was caught by a headclash during a messy inside exchange that opened up a cut above the inside corner of his left eye. Claret dripped into his eye and trickled down the side of his nose. For the rest of the fight his cornerman and manager Anto Connolly did an expert job to stem the bleeding.
The blood didn’t appear to bother Capper. If anything it seemed to spur him on.
Capper started to have some success by the middle rounds. His jab was a particularly effective weapon, especially when he doubled or tripled it, opening the door for the hard right hands that followed. A triple jab from Capper in the seventh round proved an effective way to break Soliman’s funky rhythm.
Capper kept increasing the pressure as the rounds progressed and with each passing punch, he appeared to be coming closer and closer to unravelling the King Soliman riddle. At the end of the ninth round Capper closed with a snappy left hook, his best punch of the fight.
A renowned fitness freak, Soliman’s athleticism and commitment to conditioning allowed him to soak up the harder shots from Capper that snuck through one or two at a time and rally back with his own lighter, cuffing shots.
The championship rounds were fought apace. Capper kept shooting out his stiff, fast jab like a piston to disguise his right crosses and hooks, while Soliman spent longer and longer in the pocket trying to get the better of the exchanges and capture the judges’ eye.
With just thirty seconds left to go the two brawled it out until the final bell to the delight of the packed house. The feeling at ringside was that Soliman, with the 10-8 round in the second, had done enough to win at home.
The scores at the conclusion were 114-113 for Soliman and 114-114 twice. Remarkably, it is the first drawn on Soliman’s ledger in his 61-bout pro career.
After the fight Capper called for a rematch with Soliman who said he was open to the idea but deferred the final decision to his esteemed manager Dave Stanley.
Soliman, who has never lost to an Australian at 160-pounds, proved he still has enough left in the tank to match it with his compatriots at middleweight.
But they are getting closer.
Popular female boxer Cherneka “Sugar Neekz” Johnson 9-0 (4) claimed the vacant WIBA world bantamweight title with a fourth round stoppage of former world title challenger Rungnapha Kaewkrachang 13-12-1 (1) of Thailand.
The 22-year-old New Zealand-born Australian was too fast, too powerful and too skilled for Kaewkrachang, a veteran over 40 Muay Thai fights, sending her to the canvas three times before the fight was stopped.
Johnson displayed good movement and effective feints as she snapped back the head of Kaewkrachang with stiff jabs and set up some sneaky lead left hooks. At the end of the third round the undefeated Warrnambool resident unleashed a flurry of punches that sent her opponent to the canvas.
In the fourth Johnson continued her stalking attack, sending Kaewkrachang back to the canvas mid-round. The Thai was back on her feet at six but didn’t last much longer as Johnson launched back into a ferocious attack to the body and head that overwhelmed Kaewkrachang and send her down for the third and final time. Referee Malcolm Bulner desiced he had seen enough and ended the contest.
The 24-year-old Thai was coming off a fifth round loss to Melbourne’s Sylvia Sharper for the WIBA super flyweight title.
After the fight Roy Jones Jr, who had walked her to the ring, presented her with her championship belt.
“She definitely has the talent, now it’s just a matter of getting her over there,” Jones Jr said when asked about Johnson’s chances against the best international female fighters.
Johnson’s team have indicated their interest in matching their newly crowned champion with Peru’s WBA super flyweight champion Linda Laura Lecca 13-2-2 (3) later this year.
In his first fight back after seven months on the sidelines due to neck surgery Jayde “J-Mitch” Mitchell 16-1 (9) needed just three rounds to dispatch Argentina’s Ariel Alejandro Zampedri 9-3 (7) in a fight contested at light heavyweight.
Mitchell was in control for the entire fight, using his speed, movement and angles to dominate the action. After the fight he reiterated his willingness to face local rival and fellow world-ranked super middleweight Bilal Akkawy of Sydney on the big Fight Call Out card planned for Hisense Arena mid-year.
Mitchell also repeated his challenge to Anthony Mundine.
Meanwhile at light heavyweight David Drapac 3-0 (1) won a four-round points decision over Jonathan Binet 0-5-2 in a fight that featured some good each-way action.
In an entertaining four round brawl Mitchell Kitson 3-0 (1) and Zac “Bulldog” Bennett 0-7 threw bombs at each other for 12 minutes. Kitson was the more active of the two and was awarded the win on points.
Junior middleweight debutant Nikst Carez 1-0 opened his ledger with a win, outpointing Matthew Smith 2-7-3 (1) over four rounds.
The show was promoted by Big Time Boxing.