Who is Alexander Povetkin? And how does he match up with Wladimir Klitschko?

On some of the various forums I browse, I’ve seen a number of people… even fairly dedicated boxing fans… who frankly don’t know much about Wladimir Klitschko’s next opponent. I’m somewhat surprised people are seemingly unaware of Alexander Povetkin (or at least, unaware of him beyond his name and the fact he holds a world title). This is the 21st century and youtube/dailymotion and a whole host of other video sites exist. Basically Povetkin’s entire career is there to be seen.

For those who really haven’t seen Povetkin, here’s his latest bout against the unheralded Andrzej Wawrzyk.

And here is his far more entertaining encounter with Marco Huck.

To start with the fairly objective stuff, Povetkin is 6’2” and at this stage of his career comes in at between 225 and 230lbs. So he’s not a big heavyweight, but neither is he a particularly small one. He’s currently 34, meaning he’s basically still just about in his physical prime. Much like Vitali he started out as an amateur kickboxer, winning the WAKO world title in the late 1990’s, before transitioning over to full time amateur boxing during 2000. Between 2002 and 2004 he was the dominant superheavyweight in the world, winning the European Championship twice, the World Championship and a Gold at the 2004 Olympics. While few of the people he beat in this period went on to have significant careers either as amateurs or pros, he did twice beat future two time world champion and Olympic gold medallist Roberto Cammarelle twice relatively early in Cammarelle’s career.

As a pro he’s 26-0 with 18 stoppages and holds the “normal” version of the WBA title. His key wins are probably a victory over Eddie Chambers to win an IBF eliminator tournament, beating Ruslan Chagaev for the vacant “normal” WBA belt and the above narrow victory over 200lbs kingpin Marco Huck. Outside of that his record is solid enough but fairly uninspiring, consisting mainly of has-beens (Byrd, Rahman, Larry Donald) or never were’s (Boswell, Estrada, Sykes).

Stylistically Povetkin’s probably best viewed as an aggressive but intelligent pressure fighter. On the outside he comes forward behind his jab (and an occasional stepping overhand right) and tries to get into the pocket and then on the inside, from where he throws in combination to the head and body. While not a particularly dangerous one-punch knockout artist he clearly has some weight behind his shots; if he lands an opponent will know about it and he can break opponents down over a number of rounds. His individual punches aren’t the most accurate he makes up for it by throwing in flurries and he’s good at sneaking shots in when opponents think an exchange has ended or are moving away. At his best he tends to throw in 3’s and 4’s, primarily using hooks and uppercuts, wearing opponents down with pressure and power. He’s occasionally show stamina issues, but is generally able to box at a fairly high pace over 12 rounds. Despite having gone through a number of trainers (notably including Teddy Atlas) during his pro career, Povetkin’s style has remained basically the same and in truth still resembles the amateur style he used to such effect in the unpaid ranks.

It is perhaps a bit unfair that after only really spending the above paragraph talking about his strengths and now going into far greater detail about his weaknesses. Suffice to say, Povetkin is a good boxer and would give most of the heavyweights in the world some fairly serious trouble. But he’s not taking on most of the heavyweights, he’s taking on the best heavyweight and in those circumstances I think his weaknesses come to the fore.

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To “boxrec” his weaknesses, it’s worth noting that his two most impressive performances, Chambers and Chagaev, both come with a form of asterisk over them. Chambers has never really been more than a gatekeeper at world level. Prior to facing Povetkin Chambers’s had only just moved to contender from prospect status with a one-sided win over Dominick Guinn and then a very narrow victory over Calvin Brock (that tragically indirectly led to Brock nearly going blind and being forced to retire). After Povetkin he picked up decent victories over Dimitrenko and fat Sam Peter (although the Peter bout was closer than it arguably should have been) but was then outclassed by Wlad before ending his heavyweight run with a loss to Adamek. In the bout itself, Chambers basically pulled a Clottey; he was doing well early and was likely winning before seemingly deciding to simply stop punching which allowed Povetkin with his more constant work to take over. Chambers has been guilty of this a number of times and Povetkin was one of the main beneficiaries.

With regards to Chagaev it’s a case of wondering how much Chagaev has left physically or mentally after his own one-sided loss to Wlad. He’d looked pretty underwhelming in beating the limited Kali Meehan, frankly pretty awful in very narrowly getting past the somewhat abject Travis Walker over eight rounds and since the Povetkin bout he’s been content to feast on completely overmatched opposition. My thoughts are that like a number of other Klitschko victims (notably Gomez) his career after losing has simply been a case of him collecting pay cheques without any real intensity or intention to do anything special with his career.

Looking at how Povetkin boxes himself there are some key weaknesses. He uses his jab a lot but it’s not a particularly good one; it’s slow and he tends to paw with it, rarely dictating a bout behind it. It’s a distraction to set up either his leaping right or merely to let him close the distance rather than a weapon in and of itself. Defensively he’s fairly flawed; he head movement is rudimentary at best, his chin is almost always on centreline and his body movement tends to be non-existent, consisting of little more than a slight dip as he comes into the pocket. He can (and has) been caught at all ranges and stages of the bout; on the outside many boxers have been able to split his guard to land punches and on the inside his amateur history shines through with him favoring offence over defence, often leaving his chin open for his opponent to hit.

Povetkin is also far less effective when made to box off the back foot rather than the front. When opponents refuse to concede ground to him, either by simply standing still or pushing his back his own skills drop off considerably. Chagaev found real success when Povetkin was forced to box going backwards and Marco Huck gave Povetkin hell (and I think Povetkin was very lucky to win that bout) when he refused to give an inch and started aggressively brawling with Povetkin.

There have also been questions about Povetkin’s intensity and ability to “step up” when needed. He tends to box in a very one-paced manner and while that helps him to keep up a constant effort over 12 rounds it’s not clear that he has the ability or mentality to really raise his output if and when he needs to. He’s simply not the sort of boxer I can imagine being down going into the 12th round and then having a guts and glory come from behind win; I just don’t think he has it in him.

The reason I list so many of his weaknesses is that stylistically they generally play into Wladimir’s hands. Wladimir has made a career out of pushing boxers back behind his powerful and accurate jab and I simply can’t see Povetkin having the ability to even come close to winning a battle of the jabs, being able to push Wladimir back or even really being able to stand his ground. Huck of all boxers managed to repeatedly snap Povetkin’s head back with a jab and walk him onto a fairly wild right hand; Wladimir should have little difficulty doing the same. When put on the back foot Povetkin’s offence falls apart and his defensive flaws become more apparent. Povetkin isn’t a particularly hard boxer to hit at the best of times nor does he have much in the way of lateral movement; if Wladimir can get him on the ropes and covering up then I can’t see much from Povetkin that will stop Wladimir breaking him down.

Even if Povetkin does manage to come forward it’s not all roses and gold for him. He has a nice sneaky right from the outside but Wladimir has spent the last decade or so avoiding sneaky rights from opponents and Wladimir has also become one of the best in the world at tying up and neutering an opponent who does manage to get inside. I think whenever Povetkin does manage to come forward Wladimir is simply going to do what he does to anyone who gets close to him; take a half step back to avoid the incoming right hand and then if Povetkin keeps coming forward, step in, clinch and lean on Povetkin’s neck, taking away the Russian’s offence and physically draining him. A lot of people mocked the way Haye kept dropping to his knees when Wladimir did this but so far he’s been the only man over recent years to have any success preventing Wladimir from (illegally remember) doing so.

The other thought to consider is somewhat mental. This bout could have happened at any time since early 2008 when Povetkin won the IBF tournament to become Wladimir’s mandatory contender and at any time since picking up the WBA belt Povetkin could have opted to unify… and yet for the five and a half years since he’s had excuse after excuse not the make the bout. There were mystery injuries that magically healed as soon as Wladimir booked another bout, there was Teddy Atlas flat out saying he wasn’t ready and there were a whole litany of other excuses. Povetkin hasn’t seemingly improved a vast amount since then and neither has Wladimir seemingly started to slip. There’s a slight feeling that Povetkin’s people are somewhat cashing out with him now, knowing that they can always go back to getting good money in Russia facing scrubs afterwards.

Of course, boxing being boxing, Povetkin has a chance. If he can slip past Wladimir’s jab, if he can catch him with that sneaky right coming forward, if he can avoid being tied up and let his punches go on the inside, if he can reach Wladimir chin with his shots, if he can do those things he has a decent chance of victory. But so far in his career there’s little evidence that he’ll be able to do that. Far more likely he tries to come forward during the early rounds but finds Wladimir jab constantly planted on his face and forcing him back, when he does get into his effective range Wladimir ties him up and neutralises him and he spends the majority of the bout stuck on the ropes, desperately covering up as he eats jab after jab and right hand after right hand from Wladimir.

It seems to me the more reasonable question isn’t whether Povetkin will win but whether he’ll be stopped. And I somewhat suspect he will. He was wobbled by Huck a number of times… and Huck’s not a particularly big punching 200lbs boxer… and Chagaev, not a noted power puncher at heavyweight, gave him some real food for thought. Wladimir hasn’t always shown real killer instinct in his bouts but his tendency to sap an opponents will and break them mentally as well as physically mean he still picks up stoppages and I don’t think Povetkin has the offensive nous to stop Wladimir’s assault or the defensive nous to avoid it.

3-4 semi-competitive rounds before Wladimir takes over to win either a fairly wide decision or a late stoppage.

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