RingSide Report

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Ringside Report Looks Back At Former World Middleweight & Super Middleweight Champion Arthur Abraham

By Donald “Braveheart” Stewart

In the United Kingdom there is a lot of political heat around immigration and the need to have a policy which stops people from coming into our country. It is a worldwide phenomenon, though we do not have a wall to build, given there is plenty of sea between us and mainland Europe. The current state of geopolitics makes these things that bit trickier in terms of who we let in and who we refuse sanctuary to. The issue for most of our politicians is that we should be no more generous to “these people” as any other country – and we are not. It is therefore quite heartening for those of us who have a lot of time for the spirit of the 1930’s when the Kindertransport brought Jewish children across from Nazi Germany and were sent by their parents to a new life without them in Britain, to hear of the positives that immigration can bring. Just getting your head round those ideas is quite a the stretch and difficult as a parent to contemplate.

But now and again a personality, actor or sports star shows that immigration can bring tremendous results as those who benefit from it, in their adopted country, thrive. No matter the reason for their turning up in a foreign land, they bring some focus and prestige.

Ironically one of the most open countries in Europe today is Germany. Within the boxing world, that has benefitted both Klitschko brothers from Ukraine, Wladimir and Vitali as well as the Armenian born, Arthur Abraham, 47-6, 30 KOs. Born Avetik Abrahamyan, in 1980, in Armenia, then a part of the Soviet Union, which was to become part of the new Europe once the Soviet Empire was dissolved. Whilst his history as a fighter is well worth celebrating, it was not without its controversies for this world class operator who fought at middle and super middleweight, becoming IBF middleweight and WBO super middleweight champion, has divided people throughout his career.

Abraham came to Germany, aged 15, with his parents and siblings. Initially he showed great skill in cycling, but it was in boxing that his pedigree was to take shape and become the platform for the world to see how much of an athlete he was. The move to boxing came after he and his brothers served in the military back in Armenia. By that time Abraham had begun his career in the amateurs managing to become both German and Armenian champion, the former at junior welterweight whilst the latter at middleweight. An unsuccessful attempt to compete at the Olympics in 2000 for his home country saw his amateur career close with an impressive 90 fights, apparently, where he was only defeated a reported 7 times. It included no fewer than 3 amateur Armenian titles at light middleweight.

His debut on the professional stage came on the 16th of August 2003 when he beat Frank Kary Roth in Nuerberg by 3rd round stoppage. It was on the undercard of a controversial disqualification – Danny Green fighting WBC champ at 168lbs, Markus Beyer sent out the ring and beginning a relationship with controversy, that kept going right up until Abraham’s last every professional fight.

Promoted by the Sauerlands, Abraham began his rise through the ranks and on the 4th of September 2004, won his first belt – the WBA intercontinental middleweight belt – in Essen by stopping Nader Hamden in the 12th round. On the 12th of February 2005 he had to go and win it again by beating Ian Gardner on points in Prenzlauer berg. Then in Dortmund on the 23rd of April 2005 in Nuremberg he added the WBF intercontinental belt by knocking former WBO champion, Hector Velazco, out in the 5th round. Then came in July 2005, a successful defense against British boxer, Howard Eastman in Nuremberg, winning on points.

It led him to world honors and on the 10th of December 2005, in Leipzig, he managed to claim the IBF middleweight belt when he knocked out Kingsley Ikeke in the 5th round. In an interview with Ring Magazine, as translated by his wife, Abraham described his win as “… indescribable. I cried with joy and couldn’t stop. I had waited for 25 years and worked towards this with my trainer, Ulli Wegner, and my team.”

Abraham defended successfully his title on ten occasions, on the 5th of March 2006, when he beat Shannan Taylor on points in Oldenberg on the 4th of March 2006, then on the 13th of May 2006, when he beat Kofi Jantuah on points in Zwickau.

He followed that up with wins against a dirty Edison Miranda – Miranda was docked no fewer than 5 points for low blows and headbutts, after Abraham broke his jaw – 22 screws were used to help it heal after the fight – in two places in round four – on the 23rd of September 2006 in Wetzlar. In his interview with Ring Magazine, Abrham reflected further as he spoke of how, “that was one of my toughest fights. I’ve never had so much pain in my life, but my trainer taught me: ‘Only those who can take it when it gets difficult will be really big.’ Mine and my trainer’s motto: ‘We don’t know pain.’ Edison Miranda was born strong; he was physically very strong. When he hit me, I felt pain in all my body. But I was smarter than him.”

Then came a knockout win against Sebastian Demers in Bamberg, and a victory over another Armenian – Khoran Gevor on the 18th of August in Prenzlar Berg, by 5th round knockout, and then on the 8th of December 2007, stopping Wayne Elcock in Basel. Abraham had a busy 2008 as he defended successfully against Elvin Ayal in March stopping Ayala in the 12th round, then in June the rematch with Miranda, in Hollywood. At catchweight, with the IBF strap not on the line, Abrahams floored Miranda three times in the 4th round on the 21st of June, stopping his opponent and having his hand raised in victory against him for a second time. Finally, against Raul Marquez in November in Bamberg when Marquez retired after the 6th. 2009 saw him defend successfully against Lajuan Simon on the 214th of March in Kiel, on points, then against Mahir Oral in Prenzlauer Berg on the 27th of June, knocking him out in the 10th round, after his corner threw in the towel and metaphorically so was Abrahams about to do too.

With 10 defenses, all that was left for him to do was to get a unification fight but he was unable to get either the WBA champion, Felix Sturm or the WBO and WBC champion Kelly Pavlik to share the dance card with him. Just at that time the Showtime’s Super Six World Boxing Classic was announced, and Abraham took the step in and the step up in weight to compete in it. He joined WBA champion Mikkel Kessler, WBC champion Carl Froch, Andre Dirrell, Andre Ward and Jermain Taylor. His first fight, on the 17th of October 2009 was against Jermain Taylor. Taylor and Abraham had been supposed to fight in a unification battle prior to the tournament but it never came off, so this was a great way to begin the competition. Taylor was stopped in the 12th and ended up in hospital afterwards. His injuries were so severe – concussion, short term memory loss – he was replaced thereafter in the competition by Allan Green. Abraham spoke of the joy he felt winning, to Ring Magazine again when he told them, “I won the fight in the last seconds with a KO. All the people were very happy, and I am double happy.”

By the end of 2009, Abraham was, according to the Ring Magazine, the 14th best boxer in the world. The format of the Super Six would test that theory. Andre Dirrell was next in the competition for Abraham and on the 27th of March 2010, in Detroit, Abraham was again to send an opponent to hospital, however it came after he was disqualified for hitting Dirrell when he slipped in the 11th round. Dirrell was beating Abraham before being floored in the 10th – ruled a slip, and then being sent again to the canvas in the 11th, again a slip, but on the way down, Abraham knocked him spark out. The disqualification meant that, for the very first time in his professional career, Abraham lost. The ring was filled with angry people baying for blood, but after a brain scan at hospital, Dirrell was pronounced well, and the riot threatened but never broke out.

But waiting for a shot at the WBC super-middleweight title, was Britain’s Carl Froch. And so, on the 27th of November 2010, in Helsinki, Abraham, having been well behind in the scorecards against Dirrell found a similar problem against Froch – he was being well beaten. It was, according to Froch, his best performance to date. It was clearly Abraham’s worst as he was shut out over 12 rounds.

Abraham then found himself in the semifinals and up against Andre Ward. It was to be his 3rd defeat in his career as Ward simply grew into the fight and no matter what Abraham tried, and try he did, Ward was simply far too good. The WBA super title was on the line and Ward won it at a canter in Carson on the 14th of May 2011.

If Showtime’s new format had shown Abraham anything it was that the very best in his sport were involved as he pronounced that Dirrell had the best footwork, Taylor, the best jab and was the hardest puncher and Ward the smartest, with the best boxing skills, defense and hand speed of all the boxers he ever faced.

Having had the experience of the Super Six, Abraham stayed at super middleweight and won the WBO European super middleweight title on the 14th of January 2012 when he beat Argentinian Pablo Oscar Natalio Farias by knocking him out in Offenburg in the 5th round. He then defended his title on the 31st of March 2012 in Kiel on points against Piotr Wilczewski.

The European belts were all well and good. Abraham had loftier ambitions. The WBO obliged by allowing Abraham to challenge Robert Stieglitz on the 25th of August in Berlin for Steiglitz’s title. It was tough and it was tight, but it was what made Abraham a two time, two weight world champion as he won on points to become the new WBO super middleweight champ. His first defense was against Mehdi Bouadia in Nuremberg on the 15th of December 2012. 10,000 people saw Abraham deliver punishment to Bouadia that led to the fight being stopped in the 8th round after Bouadia got cut above his right eye.

But his next defense, a rematch with Stieglitz left Abraham defeated as he was to suffer an eye swollen to the point of being unable to see – and so on the 23rd of march in Magdeburg, he relinquished his latest bauble.

He began the climb back up the rankings with a win against Wilbeforce Shihepo for the WBO intercontinental belt on the 24th of August in Schwerin and then successfully defended it against Giovanni De Carolis in Oldenberg. It brought another world title on the horizon.

And so, on the 1st of March 2014, Abraham/Stieglitz III back in Magdeburg, on a split decision Abraham won back his WBO title. A simple enough defense followed against Nikola Sjekloca – Berlin, in May of the same year and simple points win.

Then UK audiences got another taste of the man when he went in against Paul Smith for the first time. Smith, one of the four Smith brothers of Liverpool, and the eldest of them was blazing a trail as the first of them to get to world title contention. On the 27th of September, in Germany – the Sparkassen Arena in Kiel – Abraham successfully defended his title in a points win described by promoter Eddie Hearn as “a disgrace”. And it was. The margin of the win was embarrassing. British fans who had made the journey rightly booed. The WBO were forced to act but they fudged it, in many people’s opinions as they did not order an immediate rematch. Abraham did, however, agree to one and on the 21st of February 2015, he took Paul Smith on for a second time in Kreuzberg and this time, Abraham, as acknowledged by Smith after the fight, was the better boxer. It was settled in the ring as it ought to have been though Smith ought to have been the defending champion and not the challenger for the second time.

The second fight may have settled the controversy of the first, but controversy was never far away. There was a feeling that to beat Abraham when he fought at home, you needed to stop him as the judges were never going to do you a favor.

After his second fight with Smith, Abraham was to have yet another challenge from Robert Stieglitz, in Nordrhein-Westfalen, ordered by the WBO, this was the fifth contest between them and Abraham on the 18th of July 2015, managed to stop Stieglitz in the 6th round, again defending his title in Halle.

Having seen off one British title contender, it was time now to face another as Eddie Hearn and Matchroom, by now making waves on the boxing scene, negotiated for Martin Murray to face the champ. And so, on the 21st of November 2015, in Hanover, Murray emerged after a creditable loss to Gennady Golovkin to face Abraham. Murray lost a close split decision, leaving Abraham increasingly looking like the guy nobody could beat. There was a rematch set up, but Abraham withdrew citing an injury. Though Murray was very keen for the fight to be rerun, it never materialized and given the number of rematches, Abraham did entertain, it would be wrong to suggest he did anything than just have scheduling issues and challengers waiting in the wings for their shot.

And so, off he went to Vegas and on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao/ Timothy Bradley III he went in against an unbeaten Gilberto Ramirez. At the MGM Grand, Abraham was outworked and outfought with a wide points loss seeing him lose his belt on the 9th of April 2016. That made Ramirez the first Mexican super middleweight champion and Abraham, was faced with rebuilding. But time was against him.

There was a clear fade in his powers and though he beat Tim-Robin Lihaug for the WBO international belt in Berlin on the 16th of July 2016, his proposed rematch with Martin Murray in Monte Carlo to become the mandatory for the WBO belt, descended into farce: Abraham having to withdraw due to an elbow injury.

Despite the faltering nature of his career, Abraham was to have another hurrah as he beat Tim Lihaug on the 16th of July 2016 in Prenzlaug Berg for the WBO international super middleweight title, and then fought Chris Eubank Jr. on the 15th of July 2016 in Wembley as part of the World Boxing Super Series event – Abraham’s second huge multi boxer contest. Abraham struggled with the weight – took him 3 attempts to make weight – and Eubank Jr. basically boxed the head off him in a very dominant win. At the weigh in, it had been obvious to anyone that Abraham was weight drained, whilst Eubank looked fantastic.

And the end was nigh. Abraham’s final fight of note was against Danish boxer, Patrick Nielsen. on the night, the 28th of April 2018, in Offenburg, Abraham managed a close win by split decision. Abraham took possession of the WBO international title. It was his final fight and final controversy as the scores were far wider than anyone who watched the fight live would give credit for. Two judges gave the fight at 116-111 for Abraham. Germany was now cemented in the minds of neutrals as the place to expect home decisions. Ringside people saw Neilson gather an effective lead before the final four rounds belonged to Abraham. But this was not what happened – at least – not according to two of the ringside officials, however that rankled.

Having retired, Abraham is now a businessman and Armenia shall at some point benefit from a boxing school that he will found and run. It’s a very decent and welcome legacy for a poster boy, for me, who is exactly why free movement of labor between countries brings such advantages: both for the home and host countries.

As he told The Ring magazine, in his interview: “I’m a businessman. My money, what I made in boxing, I’ve invested in real estate. I work even harder now as I want to advance my projects and make them come true. I employ 62 people. [I have a] hotel [off the coast of the] Baltic Sea, and real estate, around Germany. It is my goal that I employ 100 people.”

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