Marco Huck edged Ola Afolabi in their first cruiserweight title tilt in December 2009, a razor-thin bout. On Saturday in Erfurt, Germany, they battled to a spirited draw in Huck’s return to cruiserweight after fighting Alexander Povetkin at heavyweight in late February, quite a short lay-off for a fighter of his caliber.
Scores were 115-113 for Huck, overruled by scores of 114-114 and 114-114, a majority draw.
Afolabi (19-2-3, 9 KOs), THE RING’s No. 5-rated cruiserweight, appeared to drop Huck in the second round, but referee Robert Byrd called it a slip.
The 32-year-old native of London controlled the first half of the bout. He deployed his sneaky right as he bobbed and weaved out of harm’s way, sticking and moving. Huck had no answers for his movement and athleticism, as his nose began to spout blood, perhaps the result of a broken nose.
Huck (34-2, 25 knockouts), THE RING’s No. 1-rated cruiserweight, held his gloves up high, but Afolabi punched through his guard as Huck, 27, was content to lay on the ropes while he attempted to pick off Afolabi’s punches to no avail.
Afolabi appeared to work the body, wining combinations. But Huck came on in round six, landing uppercuts in the inside and finding his target more often.
But Afolabi’s right eye began to close in the middle rounds, as Huck began to zero in on it. The pace slowed, more to Huck’s liking, as he won the exchanges on the inside, exerting his superior strength on the Los Angeles, Calif. native.
Huck had Afolabi reeling badly in the waning moments of round nine. He rocked him with power shots, as Afolabi was wobbled, and tried to put his foe down, but Afolabi was saved by the bell.
In round 10, Afolabi acquitted himself nicely, apparently clear of any cobwebs, as he controlled the frame, pushing Huck to the ropes.
The championship rounds were spirited, with the pair fighting aggressively for the duration of the bout.
The 12th round in particular was a grueling stanza, with both fighters throwing caution to the wind and letting their hands go with power shots, a sure-fire candidate for round of the year.
With the draw, a third bout obviously makes sense.
In the co-featured bout, which was a battle between RING-rated heavyweights, Kubrat Pulev scored an 11th-round knockout of Alexander Dimitreanko to win the vacant European heavyweight championship.
This was the sternest test to date for the 31-year-old Bulgaria native and he passed with flying colors, dominating the second half of the bout to capture the signature win of his career to date, firmly putting him in the mix for a bout with a Klitschko brother in the near future.
THE RING’s No. 4-rated heavyweight, Dimitrenko (32-2, 21 knockouts) picked up the second defeat of his career, his only previous loss coming to Eddie Chambers in July 2009.
Dimitrenko, 29, of Hamburg, Germany, pressed the fight over the early rounds, with Pulev (16-0, 8 knockouts) initiating most of the clinches. But Pulev was too much down the stretch.
Pulev, rated No. 9 by THE RING, found some success on the inside with punishing right hands. Oddly enough, Dimitrenko gave his 2.5-inch plus height advantage by repeatedly dipping and fighting out of a crouch.
Pulev opened up a nasty gash over Dimitrenko’s left eye in the sixth round, the result of his right hand. The cut seemed to bother the Ukraine native and Pulev found his mark throughout the round, punctuated by a devastating left hook which shook his foe.
In the seventh, Pulev opened up a cut on Dimitrenko’s other eye, as Dimitrenko started to fade.
Round eight saw Pulev teeing up Dimintrenko, landing one-twos down the pipe as he forced his opponent into the corner.
The undefeated Pulev was the fresher fighter down the stretch, as Dimitrenko labored with swollen and cut eyes, seemingly exhausted and mentally beaten. Pulev sensed it and continued to march forward.
In the 11th, Pulev ended matters, dropping Dimitrenko for a count of 10 with a power jab. Dimitrenko seemed like he could have beaten the count, watching the ref the whole time with attentiveness, but he was a beaten man.
Mike Coppinger is a regular boxing contributor to USA TODAY and THE RING. He is a member of THE RING Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Sports Boxing Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger