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Familiarity, it is often said, breeds contempt. Something Arthur Abraham (42-4, 28 KOs) and Robert Stieglitz (47-4-1, 27 KOs) may well identify with.
Saturday night will be the fourth time the two have met in the ring in a world title fight, and depending on how you choose to look at it; the opening bell can either signify the start of round one or round 29 between the pair.
Abraham, who will be defending his WBO super-middleweight title, will begin the evening in Halle, Germany with a 2-1 series lead over his domestic rival, in a fight billed as ‘The Final Showdown’.
The pair have shared the WBO title solely between themselves for the past six years, the belt changing hands on each of their three previous meetings.
If this is indeed the closing chapter of this consuming rivalry, and both fighters have already asserted that it will be, then German boxing fans will hope this final stanza will match the high standards of what has preceded it.
It’s a rivalry that began in 2012. At the time Stieglitz was the reigning WBO super-middleweight champion and had successfully defended his title six times since defeating Hungary’s Karoly Balzsay in 2009.
Much of the media attention during the build up to the opening bout focused on the contrasting styles of the pair, Stieglitz being very much thought of as a boxer, Abraham a puncher.
Stieglitz began the fight as the favourite with the bookmakers, hardly a surprise considering the Magdeburg fighter’s numerous successful title defences, whilst Abraham had experienced a run of indifferent form since making the move from middleweight up to 168lbs.
His record at super-middleweight stood at 4-3 on fight night – his three losses incurred as part of the ‘Super Six’ against Andre Dirrell, Carl Froch and Andre Ward.
Yet despite the doubts Abraham produced an excellent performance on the night to claim a unanimous decision, the judges scoring the bout 116-112, 115-113 and 116-112 in his favour.
How they’ve technically matched up before
Whilst Stieglitz looked to press the action throughout much of the fight, and his punch output was undoubtedly greater, Abraham’s power, counter punching and exceptional defence were too much for him.
After withstanding the early, high intensity pressure of Stieglitz, Abraham took the wind from his sails with a number of solid body shots, slowing Stieglitz’s pace to something more suiting the challenger.
By remaining on the back foot and drawing Stieglitz onto him, Abraham was able to counter with leading, powerful shots, at times punching through the champion’s guard, discouraging his opponent to remain in the pocket and trade at close range.
Stieglitz’s orthodox, straight punches weren’t enjoying much success against Abraham’s infamous high-handed defence and thus Abraham was the far more efficient of the two, landing with greater regularity.
Whilst the fight was always competitive, Abraham seemed to be in control for the vast majority, controlling the distance and limiting the Magdeburg fighter’s effectiveness. Abraham was simply too cunning and wily for Stieglitz on the night, who faded gradually as the fight developed.
Fortunately, as far as Stieglitz and his promotional team at SES were concerned, he wouldn’t have to wait long for his revenge. Seven months later the pair fought a rematch, this time in Stieglitz’s home city of Magdeburg.
Abraham, who arrived as the defending champion, produced one of the poorest performances of his career as Stieglitz claimed a fourth round TKO victory.
From the outset Stieglitz fought at a blistering pace, roared on by a partisan crowd. The intensity of his attacks, though at times not pretty on the eye, were too much for Abraham, who was given no room to breathe.
Stieglitz swarmed his opponent from the opening bell, laying into him with as many shots as he could throw. Abraham, for his part, seemed sluggish and unable to find any rhythm or utilise his jab.
Bereft of footwork, the Berliner was consigned to defensive mode. In the second round Stieglitz landed a huge right hand around the left eye of Abraham, which immediately began to swell.
By the end of the third round, having been deducted a point for hitting behind the head, Abraham’s left eye had almost completely swollen over and his team consulted the fight doctor.
When he failed to answer the bell for the start of round four, the fight was waved off and Stieglitz had reclaimed his WBO super-middleweight title.
Over the twelve months that followed, whilst Stieglitz defended his title against Yuzo Kiyota and Isaac Ekpo, Abraham rebuilt with a controversial decision against Namibia’s Willberforce Shihepo, a victory which saw him re-instated as the WBO’s mandatory challenger, and Giovanni De Carolis.
Styles and their best fight
In March 2014, returning again to Magdeburg, Abraham-Stieglitz III was arguably the best of the trilogy. Stieglitz once again began proceedings at a blistering pace, peppering Abraham with shots throughout much of the opening four rounds.
Abraham was forced to box off the back foot, countering when possible but predominantly covering up against the surging Stieglitz charge.
As the fight wore on, and Stieglitz’s pace began to drop, Abraham was able to find his rhythm for the first time and eat into the points lead that Stieglitz had built for himself, despite having a point deducted in round 8, again for hitting behind the head.
Whilst both men were more than prepared to let their punches go, the quality of Abraham’s defensive work meant he fared much better in the exchanges and as a result took many of the close rounds.
Stieglitz suffered for a lack of variation to his approach. He failed to use his jab effectively enough to set up his attacks and close the gap to Abraham in a fight that was largely contested from the outside.
With Stieglitz attacking in bursts and from range, his attacks became predictable and were thus far easier to counter and nullify.
In round 12, with Stieglitz requiring a stoppage to win, he charged forward relentlessly in the hope of landing something big. However it was Abraham who, having spent much of the round on the back foot, scored the first and thus far only knockdown of the series in the final minute.
Stieglitz beat the count and made it to the end of the fight, the knockdown the icing on the cake for Abraham in a lopsided split decision victory.
And that should really have been that. The public had had their deciding fight, the series had reached a natural conclusion, or so it seemed. However, the WBO had other ideas.
All signs pointing to a great fight
Stieglitz was installed as their mandatory challenger last October after defeating Belarus’s Sergey Khomitsky, though owing to the controversy following Abraham’s first victory over British fighter Paul Smith, and the subsequent rematch, this fight has until now been delayed.
With the two men already being so well acquainted, there will likely be few surprises in terms of style on fight night. Tactics as opposed to attributes will likely be the deciding factor.
Stieglitz and his trainer, Dirk Dzemski, have talked of only small tweaks being required to their game plan as opposed to wholesale changes.
For his part, Abraham, who has spoken of his desire to seek out a unification fight should he win at the weekend, has appeared full of confidence throughout the build-up, secure in the belief that his best has already been proven good enough to handle anything Stieglitz can throw at him.
Abraham will begin the fight as the favourite and will certainly carry the better form to the ring. He’s been marginally the more active of the two since their previous meeting, securing three unanimous decisions over the past 16 months against Montenegro’s Nikola Sjekloca, and the two victories against Smith.
Stieglitz on the other hand will be making his first outing of 2015. He bounced back from his loss to Abraham with a tenth round TKO of Khomitsky, before fighting compatriot Felix Sturm to a draw in November last year.
Regardless of the outcome on Saturday this will, almost certainly, be the final chapter of what has been an enthralling series of fights.
It is a rivalry that has dominated the landscape of German boxing over the past three years, particularly given the absence of Germany’s other potential super-middleweight match-up, Abraham v Sturm.
If it can live up to what has gone before, it can only mean a great fight.