What a difference eight pounds can make. After terrorizing part of the middleweight division to the tune of 10 IBF title defenses between 2005-2009, including several via sickening knockout, Arthur Abraham has become somewhat of a lame duck.
Since moving up to super middleweight for the Super Six World Boxing Classic in 2009, Abraham (34-3, 27 KO) has gone 4-3, and he lamely and controversially bowed out of the tournament after entering as one of the popular picks to win it all.
After a spectacular 12th round, one punch knockout of faded former undisputed middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, Abraham’s Super Six tournament dramatically unraveled. In Abraham’s next bout, Andre Dirrell comprehensively out-boxed him, and the fight ended in the 11th round when Abraham was disqualified after blatantly clocking Dirrell with sweeping right hook/uppercut while the American was on his knees after slipping to the canvas.
Despite mild protests from Abraham’s camp, the foul was heinous, but more significantly, the Dirrell fight exposed Abraham’s weaknesses as a predictable puncher and sluggish starter. This lack of imagination carried into a lopsided points defeat to Carl Froch who, while a world-class fighter in his own right, isn’t exactly slick, yet managed to make it appear as if Abraham was fighting Pernell Whitaker.
After an out-of-tournament, confidence building win, Abraham was again outclassed by an elite super middleweight when Andre Ward—the current undisputed champion—flustered and outfoxed him en route to a lopsided unanimous decision. Having bowed out of the Super Six with his reputation as a feared puncher reduced to that of a plodding, robotic former champion, Abraham embarked on the arduous path to redemption.
In his two wins since the loss to Ward, Abraham has captured and defended the WBO European super middleweight title against respectable opposition, which has set up his looming title shot against current WBO champion and countryman Robert Stieglitz (42-2, 23 KO).
A loss against Stieglitz could prove to be the end of Abraham as a relevant, championship caliber fighter. Given this sense of urgency and magnitude, let’s look at Abraham’s three keys to victory.
Start Fast and Fight Off the Front Foot
When Abraham sensationally knocked out Edison Miranda in the fourth round of their 2008 rematch, it seemed that there was a method to Abraham’s methodical albeit molasses slow start to fights. Despite throwing little and absorbing most punches off of his arms and gloves from a high guard position, Abraham always appeared dangerous and calculated.
Abraham’s experience in the Super Six, however, proved that biding his time and absorbing punches (even if most of them are blocked) is a liability. At middleweight, every Abraham punch seemed to carry fight-ending intentions; this frightening power, however, has been largely absent since the Taylor fight, and it seems that Abraham can no longer afford to fall behind on the scorecards.
When fighting at an elite level, it obviously makes sense to fight for the duration of every round, and Abraham cannot afford to become a plodding automaton who throws predictable counter hooks that loop in and are easy to dodge, especially against someone of Stieglitz’s class.
Abraham’s old strategy of starting in a defensive shell gives him poor leverage for power punches as he is often forced onto his back foot. By the time he propels his momentum forward, his lack of elite speed renders his punches wild and telegraphed. If Abraham comes out throwing combinations and backing Stieglitz up, he has a chance to win some of the early rounds, which will serve to build his confidence.
Also, Stieglitz isn’t known as a power-puncher, so Abraham should feel comfortable and be willing to take offensive chances early in the fight.
Fight Off the Jab and Be First
Being first naturally follows the tactic of starting fast and fighting off the front foot. However, if Abraham moves forward without punches or purpose, he risks being picked off by the precise and fundamentally sound Stieglitz.
In his fight against Froch, Abraham fell victim to this trap of aimless stalking. Abraham appeared foolish as he missed wildly with looping hooks, and Froch was regularly able to plant himself and unload combinations on a forward-moving yet surprisingly stationary Abraham (stationary in terms of Abraham’s lack of head movement or feints).
Against Stieglitz, Abraham must use his jab to initiate offense. This will serve to set up his combinations and also act as a range finder. The jab can help negate any lateral movement Stieglitz might employ, and it can also act as a smokescreen for Abraham’s powerful hooks.
Using the jab will also allow Abraham to initiate less predictable offensive bursts. When he leads with hooks, Abraham tends to wing his shots in an attempt to load up on power, and when these massive blows miss, they sap a tremendous amount of energy. Jabbing will force Abraham to be more compact and contained, which will ensure he has the energy to throw combinations in the championship rounds.
Furthermore, Abraham must also incorporate feints and head-movement into his arsenal. If he resorts to always leading with his jab, his offense will again become predictable. Thus, a combination of stalking behind the jab and feints must be used to set up Stieglitz for those heavy hooks.
Counter with Straight Shots From High Guard Defense
Naturally, it is unrealistic to expect that Abraham—given his style and tendencies—will spend the entire fight backing Stieglitz up and fighting off of his front foot. As such, Abraham would be wise to employ an active defense out of his high guard posture.
Abraham has a tendency to use his fortified high guard to absorb and parry punches without offering an immediate response. Often times, Abraham will block punches and then move forward, only to find himself under assault again, which forces him to cover up anew. This frustrating pattern was especially evident against Froch, and Abraham needs to rectify this passivity if he wants to defeat Stieglitz.
When Stieglitz attacks and forces Abraham into his shell, “King” Arthur needs to be prepared to launch straight counter shots immediately after absorbing punches. This is obviously easier said than done, but if Abraham simply blocks punches passively, Stieglitz will pile up points based on effective aggression.
Instead of launching off balance hooks, Abraham should look to land his straight right hand as a potential counter shot. Also, ripping hooks to the body could prove effective if Stieglitz gets overzealous and starts to crowd Abraham. Regardless of how he does it, Abraham needs to use his defense to transition into offense more seamlessly.
Abraham-Stieglitz is the start of a great stretch of championship fights that will entertain fans well into September. If Abraham is busier and maintains his fundamentals, he could become a two-weight champion and set himself up for another major bout. Abraham certainly has an uphill battle, but this Saturday remains his best, and perhaps last, chance of becoming a world champion.