In the last decade, American heavyweight Tony Thompson had lost just twice, both in failed world title opportunities against Wladimir Klitschko.
Thompson, THE RING’s No. 9-rated heavyweight, was denied his chance to get a third try at Klitschko on Saturday night when he was soundly outpointed by unbeaten Bulgarian contender Kubrat Pulev in Germany in an IBF eliminator.
Fighting for the second time in less than 50 days, the 41-year-old Thompson got off to a great start, clearly winning the first two rounds while also likely winning the third, giving him an early cushion to work with. Thompson’s right jab set him up for some solid left hands that had Pulev looking a little out of his depths.
Pulev (18-0, 9 KOs), THE RING’s No. 4-rated heavyweight, was fighting for the first time in nearly a year. The former amateur standout shook the rust off and went to work in the fourth as he began landing right hands on a consistent basis.
Thompson (38-4, 36 KOs) may have started feeling the effects of the quick turnaround as his nearly 10 years younger opponent began to pick up the pace. Thompson began laboring a bit more, partially due to Pulev’s tactics of leaning on him and pulling him down as the fight hit the middle rounds.
Pulev never lost his momentum once he found his way into the fight, and Thompson had no answer for his opponent’s aggression. As Thompson got tired, he began looking more and more for one shot to change the trajectory of the fight. The problem with that gameplan was that Pulev took Thompson’s left hands without a problem when they did land flush.
As the fight reached the championship rounds, Pulev began landing pretty significantly to the point there was a possibility Thompson wouldn’t see the final bell. Thompson fought in a manner that helped his weary legs reach the finish line, where Pulev would prevail on clear scores of 118-110, 117-111, and 116-112.
Thompson, of Washington DC, represented a significant step up in opposition for Pulev, who has now placed himself at the top of the list in terms of worthy challengers to either Klitchko brother. In beating Thompson, Pulev showed a competency in dealing with a much taller man.
Thompson will likely take a step back towards being a gatekeeper, but given his availability and willingness to fight tough fights on a regular basis, he shouldn’t be out of work long. He’ll serve as a solid litmus test for any heavyweight that wants to be considered as a future hope of the division.
In the main event of the Sauerland Events-promoted card, former middleweight and super middleweight titlist Arthur Abraham had a tougher than expected night, narrowly edging the unheralded Willbeforce Shihepo in a twelve-round bout that many felt he lost.
Abraham is in pursuit of a third fight with Robert Stieglitz, who reclaimed the WBO 168-pound belt from Abraham earlier this year. If his fight with Shihepo is any indication of what he has left in the tank, a third fight with Stieglitz could be bad news for the Armenian.
Shihepo got off to a good start, taking advantage of Abraham’s usual low punch output and earmuff defense. Abraham started picking things up late in the fight but was behind on many observers’ scorecards. Shihepo would land solid right hands that rocked Abraham and put him on the defense, but the judges favored Abraham by scores of 117-111, 116-113, and 116-112. The fight was much closer than the scores indicated.
Photos / Martin Rose-Bongarts