Felix Sturm turns 34 the day before his fight with Sam Soliman on Friday, but the former three-time middleweight beltholder hasn’t lost any hunger or ambition as Anson Wainwright learned during an extensive Q&A with the German star.
The last time fans watched Felix Sturm in the ring, the Germany-based veteran dropped a razor-thin split decision to Daniel Geale in a rousing WBA/IBF middleweight title unification bout last September. Many believed that Sturm would fade into the background after the setback but that has never been his style.
Sturm, along with his new promotional firm, quickly negotiated a matchup with former super middleweight title challenger Sam Soliman in a scheduled 12-round IBF middleweight title elimination bout that takes place this Friday at the ISS Dome in Dusseldorf, Germany.
A day before the fight, Sturm (37-3-2, 16 knockouts) turns 34 years old, although he hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down. Sturm, who has had three middleweight title reigns during his 12-year career, believes he still has a good few years left in him and can win a fourth world title.
Sturm turned pro in 2001 following a decorated amateur career that included European junior and senior titles, plus appearances at the 1999 world championships and the 2000 Olympic Games. Inside three years in the pro ranks, he won the WBO 160-pound title when he stepped in at late notice to best Hector Javier Velazco. Unfortunately, after just one title defense, he lost the belt to Oscar De La Hoya in a controversial 2004 decision that many believed he deserved to win. Sturm bounced back to win the WBA title by outpointing Javier Castillejo, only to lose it (via late stoppage) and win it back from the Spanish veteran, making 12 successful title defences during his second reign, notably against the likes of Sebastian Sylvester, Matthew Macklin and Sebastian Zbik before losing to Geale. Sturm has engaged in 19 world title fights altogether.
Ticket sales have reportedly gone well for the Soliman fight with between 12,000 to 14,000 patrons expected to attend. That’s no surprise to Sturm, who is regularly featured in the press and on TV in Germany with only the Klitschko brothers exceeding his popularity and ratings. He has averaged 4.48 million viewers for his six fights for SAT1, a free German cable channel.
His fight with Geale claimed 24 percent of the German TV market share, more than super middleweight titleholder Arthur Abraham and cruiserweight beltholder Marco Huck drew in their last fights.
RingTV.com caught up with Sturm recently and here’s what he had to say about his upcoming ring return.
RingTV.com: What can you tell us about your preparation for Soliman and what your thoughts are about him as a fighter?
Felix Sturm: My preparation is going very well. We started sparring (the week of Jan. 15) with Lolenga Mock and two other guys. I did a great conditioning program with my fitness coach Joschka Grimm and Magomed Schaburow (before) working on my game plan with my coach Fritz Sdunek. I feel great and I will be ready on fight night. And I have to be, Sam Soliman is a great fighter with lots of experience. He is coming to fight and he deserves his no. 1 ranking with the IBF. But it doesn’t matter. I want to become champion for a fourth time, a record in Germany, and to archive this, I plain and simple have to beat Soliman.
RTV: Looking back on the Geale fight, how do you see it now? Do you feel you won?
FS: It was a close fight that could have gone either way. I wasn’t at my best that night due to numerous reasons. However, I did not want to cancel the fight beforehand. It was the shot I’ve been waiting for. But I made my choice and I have no excuses. I believe the judges could have awarded me the fight but it is what it is. You win some and you lose some. That’s boxing. And believe me; I’ll try my best to get revenge.
RTV: The Soliman fight is also an IBF title eliminator, so presumably you have one eye on the upcoming Daniel Geale-Anthony Mundine fight?
FS: Sure, I’ll look into who’s hopefully my next opponent.
RTV: How do you see that fight going?
FS: It’s a tough fight but I believe Geale will win a decision. He has gotten much better since they last fought and Mundine, I believe, is on the decline. But this will be a close affair.
RTV: You turn 34 the day before your fight. Without overlooking Soliman what are your plans for this year?
FS: Like I said, I want to become the first and only four-time world champion from Germany. And I want to get the rematch against Daniel Geale this summer. But I’m completely focused on Soliman right now. He is the only one on my mind and I will not make the mistake to overlook him at all. He is a dangerous challenge and I have to be focused for him.
RTV: What about going forward, how much longer do you currently feel you will fight professionally?
FS: If everything goes according to the plan and I stay away from injuries, I believe I can fight for a couple more years. I currently have 42 professional fights and I think 50 would be great number to retire.
RTV: You promote your own fights now. Is this something you are looking to do more of and when you retire you want to build a stable of fighters and promote them?
FS: Yes, my promotional firm is there to stay, even after my retirement. We are looking into some exciting possibilities and have some very promising fighters on our radar. We might have some big announcements in the near future.
RTV: Other fighters have managed to promote whilst fighting. Ricky Hatton did it recently, Oscar De La Hoya also did it but mixing the two is very difficult. How do you find it?
FS: It is difficult, indeed. I noticed that when I staged my first fight card last December in Dusseldorf. I didn’t think I would have to be on the phone so much and would have to deal with so many problems, ranging from little ones to big ones. As you know, we had to deal with two cancellations on short notice. First, Ruslan Chagaev pulled out and then Firat Arslan, who agreed to fight as a last minute replacement but pulled out on even shorter notice. It was a mess and not a perfect evening, but everybody has to start somewhere and we will just get better from here on in. I have a great team and we learned a lot from our first event.
RTV: Can you tell us a little about your promotional firm?
FS: I first founded it when I decided to promote my own fights. But I always planned to stage events as the promoter only. We currently have former world champion Susi Kentikian under contract, as well as Maurice Weber, a light middleweight with a bright future. And as I told you, we are looking forward more and exciting signings in the near future. We are here to stay.
RTV: Going back to your boxing career, how much more do you want to achieve?
FS: I believe I had a great career so far. It’s every fighter’s dream to become world champion and I’ve been champion three times now. I bounced back from defeat and showed character. I fought great champions over the years and defeated most of them. There is nothing I should be ashamed off. But I’m far from done. I have many goals left and I believe I have the tools to reach them. It’s a tough sport but hard work and dedication always pay off. And I love the sport of boxing with all my heart.
RTV: You have fought many middleweights over the years. What fight is there or was there that you would most like and why?
FS: Back after the De La Hoya fight, I was really eager to get a rematch with Oscar or a fight with Bernard Hopkins. That never happened, unfortunately. It would have been a shot to showcase my skills in the States again after I, in my opinion, beat Oscar in Las Vegas. But politics prevented me from getting that win. Today, I’m aiming for another fight with Daniel Geale for obvious reasons and I want to unify the 160-pound class afterwards. It didn’t happen last September, so I have to give it another go. (RING champ Sergio) Martinez would be a cracking fight and I truly believe I can beat him to reign supreme at middleweight. But like I told you earlier, I have to focus on Sam Soliman first; and only on him. Feb. 1 is all that counts for now.
RTV: The middleweight division is very hot at the moment. THE RING magazine’s top 10 is as follows, could you comment on each of the fighters.
FS: Sure, no problem.
C - Sergio Martinez
He is a great champion and the definite No. 1 – at least for now. I would love to fight him though, since I believe I can beat him.
1 - Daniel Geale
Daniel is a hell of a fighter and I hope we will do the rematch sometimes this year.
2 - Felix Sturm
3 - Gennady Golovkin
Gennady is not a bad fighter, don’t get me wrong, but he hasn’t proven himself and backed up the talk he and especially his management talked. By the way, there was never a real offer from his side for a fight against me. It’s just talk. He has to prove himself and get known before a fight would make sense, both financially and from a boxing perspective.
4 - Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
He has improved a lot over the years and with his size and strength, is a great challenge to anyone at middleweight. You have to be really careful in the ring with him.
5 - Dmitry Pirog
Good fighter, but his inactivity might be hurting him.
6 - Matthew Macklin
He is a tough kid and we had a close and great fight back in 2011. He fought valiantly against Martinez and had a great comeback fight against [Joachime] Alcine.
7 - Peter Quillin
Quillin has talent and raw skills but needs to improve before taking on the elite. But if he continues to work on himself he might have a bright future. Heck, he is already the WBO champ.
8 - Martin Murray
Martin always fights his heart out. Nevertheless, I believe I won our fight quite clear. I wish him luck against Martinez and I think he will give his best but fall short in the end.
9 - Hassan N’dam N’Jikam
He gave Peter Quillin an amazing fight and without the knockdowns, he would have kept on to the WBO title. If his chin holds up, he could be in title consideration again pretty soon.
10 - Grzegorz Proska
I believe he will have a difficult time coming back from that devastating loss to Golovkin. He definitely needs to alter his style and become better defensively to survive at the top of the game.
RTV: Could you tell us about your early years growing up in Leverkusen?
FS: I had a great and cared childhood. I got into boxing when I was 11 years old. A friend took me to the gym. That friend quit after three months but I became instantly addicted and trained as often and as hard as possible. I remember that my school teacher once asked my class about our dream jobs and I answered that I would become world boxing champion. The other kids laughed – but I did it.
RTV: You were a very good amateur, could you talk us through your amateur career and how you feel this helped develop you for the pro game?
FS: My amateur career was the cornerstone for all I archived as a professional fighter. I had about 180 fights, went to the Olympics and fought on the world championship level. You have to have amateur experience to be a good professional, in my honest opinion. At least some experience. There have been exceptions to that rule, just as to every rule. But it is what I believe.
RTV: Presumably boxing has helped give you many of the things you enjoy in life, could you tell us a little about yourself as a person and what life is like away from boxing for you?
FS: The best thing that ever happened to me is my family; I’m a true family man. I have a beautiful and loving wife and a great son. When I’m around my family, I can relax. I can take a break and get my power back up. I love to watch my son growing up and I’m always excited about seeing him and my wife in the evening after I finished training. After a fight, I go on vacation with them. I love that time. It’s real quality time. I also play soccer and basketball in my free time and between camps. My boxing career gave me a lot of things and it made it possible that my family and I are financially safe. Financial stability is an amazing gift and I’m incredible thankful for it – and I worked my ass off to have it.
RTV: In closing Felix what is your message for the middleweight division?
FS: I’m far from done, yet. I have a couple of years left and I will get back to the throne. Do not make the mistake to count me out.
Photos / Joschka Grimm-Sturm Box-Promotion, Joern Pollex-Bongarts (Sturm-Geale), Team Sturm