Super middleweight contender Sakio Bika lands a punch to the chest of Joe Calzaghe during thier 2006 title bout. Bika, who was coming off a technical draw with beltholder Markus Beyer, lost the bout by unanimous decision. He has since lost title bouts against Lucian Bute and Andre Ward. Photo / John Gichigi-Getty Images
ATLANTIC CITY – Time is ticking on Sakio Bika, although he doesn’t feel it.
The 33-year-old veteran has a new trainer and a new outlook, however, possibly an old destination if the super middleweight contender can beat undefeated Nikola Sjekloca (25-0, 7 knockouts) on the 2013 debut of HBO’s World Championship Boxing on Saturday at Boardwalk Hall.
At stake is a title shot at super middleweight world champion Andre Ward, who Bika lost to by unanimous decision in November 2010. The Australia-based native of Cameroon came up short in three previous title shots – against Markus Beyer, Joe Calzaghe and Lucian Bute – before facing the undefeated American.
An accidental clash of heads produced a fight-ending cut to Beyer, ending their 2006 title bout in a four-round technical draw, but while the rugged and awkward slugger was competitive in his other three title challenges, he was ultimately outclassed by better boxers.
This version of Bika will be more polished, more disciplined, he promises, and very aware that an emphatic victory over relative unknown Sjekloca would leave no doubts.
“The first fight with Ward was really difficult with the referee and I think with a neutral fight, I could really shock and beat Ward,” Bika told RingTV.com during a media roundtable on Thursday. “I have a new trainer, Kevin Cunningham, and we’re always working on different strategies in the gym. Sometimes a new trainer can help show you new technique. It’s just about the strategy and the game plan with a different trainer. I have to show people that I’m the better fighter and make the people around the world and HBO happy.”
Cunningham says he’s not going to have teach an old gnarled dog like Bika (30-5-2, 21 KOs) any new tricks. He says it’s a matter of fine tuning all of Bika’s muscle-memory skills that have been imbedded through the years.
“You don’t want to make any drastic changes,” Cunningham said. “But what I try to do with Sakio is adding to what his strengths already are and tighten his defense. I want him to turn his defense into instant offense.”
Cunningham has been honing Bika’s footwork and punching angles, tweaking minor things, while smoothing out a potent arsenal.
“Sakio is one of the most tenacious fighters that I’ve ever trained,” Cunningham said. “He’s going to be there all night. He’s strong, well conditioned, he has good power. I wouldn’t say he had bad habits, just some things he had to tighten up, like shorten his punches a little bit and straighten them out. I wouldn’t call them bad habits. You have to know how to implement things and keep reiterating.”
What’s loomed over Bika like an omnipresent specter in recent years was a first-round disqualification against Jean Mendy on the July 31, 2010 Juan Manuel Marquez-Juan Diaz undercard. Bika was pummeling Mendy when his emotions seemed to get the better of him. He hit Mendy when he was down on one knee, causing referee Joe Cortez to DQ him.
“I think I learned from that fight, I learned a lot, I have to be patient,” Bika said. “I learned not to go too crazy, not to rush. It’s what I’ve been working on in the gym with Kevin, walking in and winning the fight in good fashion.”
Cunningham interrupted to point out that Bika still needs to be aggressive against the untested Serbian.
“We’re not trying to take the aggression away, we’re just trying to use it in a smarter manner,” Cunningham said. “Just winning is always enough, but in Sakio’s situation, and in most cases, you want to win and win in spectacular fashion. You don’t want to do anything stupid, make a mistake and put yourself in a bad spot. We want to win in spectacular fashion. That’s what the mission and goal is.”
Sjekloca will try and upset those plans. It should be noted the last time Sjekloca stopped a fighter with a winning record came back in October 2008, when he finished someone named Pierre Moreno, who had lost three of his last six bouts, in the 10th round. This will be the first time he’s fighting as a professional in the United States. He fought as an amateur in the world championships in Houston in 1999.
“I know that Bika is a very stronger boxer, I saw him online, on Youtube,” Sjekloca said through interpreter Alexandra Pecanac. “I think that my advantage is Bika isn’t technically very good. I have a lot of things to show and I can hit very strong. My expectations are huge.”
As are Bika’s.