Lee Groves

10: Greatest “above and beyond” performances

8. Zsolt Erdei KO 12 Mehdi Sahnoune – Oct. 22, 2005, Brandberge Arena, Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany

Injuries: Broken rib, hematoma

Erdei was making the fourth defense of the WBO light heavyweight title he won from Julio Cesar Gonzalez in January 2004 and was fresh off his second victory over Argentine Hugo Garay. The Hungarian was meeting his sternest challenge to date in Sahnoune, a hard-hitting former WBA titlist who carried a 31-1 (27) mark into the bout. The fight originally had been scheduled for July but was pushed back due to an Erdei gastrointestinal illness, and if trainer Fritz Sdunek had his way it would have been postponed a second time.

Because Sdunek had been in Los Angeles preparing Vitali Klitschko for Hasim Rahman (a fight that never happened), he wasn’t aware that Erdei had suffered an injury in training. All attempts to persuade Erdei to fight another day were rebuffed.

“Zsolt got a blow on his rib during his training which caused him serious pain,” Sdunek said after the fight. “He wanted to fight by all means. He did not want to cancel the fight again.”

“One-and-a-half weeks ago, we nearly had to cancel the match because my rib was shot with injections as I had a hematoma, which hurt more than the broken rib itself,” Erdei added.

Erdei began the fight on the move, and both men exchanged at a bristling pace. It was unclear whether Sahnoune knew about Erdei’s injury, but he nevertheless focused his attack on the champion’s body throughout the early rounds. Though Erdei won the first round on superior activity and accuracy, his reign already was in mortal danger of ending, as he told his corner he couldn’t catch his breath.

Erdei played a numbers game in rounds two and three by throwing more punches, countering well and executing well-schooled fundamentals. But Sahnoune picked up the aggression in the third and his body punches slowly were taking effect. By the fifth, Erdei’s form became ragged. He dropped his arms to the side and leaned his upper body forward, all the better to protect his broken rib. He often tugged at his trunks, pulling them downward with his gloves to ease the pressure.

By the sixth, Erdei’s situation forced him into what normally would be a no-win situation for him: A toe-to-toe battle in the trenches with a harder punching man. His face no longer radiated its usual confidence and his customarily straight blows had a definite loop to them. Erdei clearly was laboring, but late in the round he unleashed a spurt in an effort to put Sahnoune away. With only 13 knockouts in 22 wins – including just one non-title KO in his last seven bouts – Erdei lacked the pop to put the Frenchman away at that juncture. At the bell, Sahnoune, convinced he had just taken Erdei’s best, raised his gloves over his head.

“When the bell rang to end the sixth round I was badly hurt,” Erdei told THE RING’S Brian Doogan. “But I had got through it and I knew then that it could get no worse. Of course, I had reached a point where I did not know if I could reach the final bell, but all fighters, I think, want to have this kind of fight at least once in their career. They want to experience this kind of test and come through it.”

Sahnoune stayed on the attack, throwing plenty of lefts and rights to Erdei’s injured body while Erdei did just enough to keep the challenger off him. But in the ninth, Erdei found the answer he needed – going back to the basics that led him to a successful amateur career capped by a bronze medal in Sydney and an undefeated pro career. Erdei moved side to side and worked his faster hands in combination to pile up points and close the gap on the scorecards.  Meanwhile, Sahnoune began to wilt under the pressure he had forced round after round.

Entering the final round, the fight was still in the balance as Erdei was ahead by three points on one card and by a single point on the other two. With a little more than a minute remaining in the fight, Erdei fired a right-left-right that drove Sahnoune to the ropes, after which a flurry culminated by a huge right-left hook combination prompted referee Joe Cortez to stop the fight. Awash with relief, Erdei dropped to his knees in thanksgiving as his handlers swarmed into the ring to congratulate him.

“All I wanted at that moment was to see my family,” Erdei told Doogan. “Without Fritz Sdunek, I would probably have given up. The pain was incredible from the injury to my ribs. Honestly I could not breathe. That’s why I’m really proud of the way I fought my final fight of 2005, a fight that really proved I’m a fighter for the future.”

“After the fifth, he had serious pain around his ribs, so we constantly supported him that he should not give up and he could do it,” Sdunek said. “I am very proud of him, because he could overcome his pain and he has made such a great victory.”

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