Germany's Marco Huck redeemed himself after two controversial decisions by putting in a solid performance to beat Britain's Ola Afolabi by majority decision in Berlin on Saturday. In doing so he retained the WBO cruiserweight world title for an eleventh time since winning it 2009. After twelve action packed rounds, two of the judges awarded their decision to Huck, the third official unable to separate the pair, scored it a draw.
This was the third time these two world class cruiserweights had met in the ring and now, after having boxed 36 rounds, the chapter can finally be closed. Even when one remembers how fortunate Huck had been with the decisions in his fight last May with Afolabi and then against Arslan last November, no-one could argue with the outcome this time.
Interim-champion Afolabi claimed to be in the best shape of his career ahead of the fight. He started the bout well but was equally matched by Huck who had clearly made some improvements of his own. Instead of planting his feet and covering up for long periods, he had learned to walk backwards and use the ring well, resisting the temptation to go toe-to-toe too early on. The opening round saw the challenger focusing primarily on low body shots but mixing it up enough to keep Huck guessing, giving Afolabi an early lead on the scorecards.
Round two started the same way, Afolabi pressing forward hoping to make life uncomfortable for the German. In typical Huck style his reaction was to fight fire with fire but Afolabi stayed elusive, moved his head well and was quick on his feet. Unperturbed he survived a brief flurry and got back into the thick of things, continuing to tenderise Huck's midriff.
An easily excited crowd were cheering indiscriminately at any sign of their champion throwing punches with little regard for whether they were landing meaningfully or not. Afolabi showed little evidence that he was being hurt. Business resumed in the third but now Huck was light on his feet and moving nicely out of range, forcing the Briton off the target he had started to get used to.
Things had been chugging along nicely for the challenger right up until around the last minute of the fourth round. Huck launched a trademark flurry of punches, stunning Afolabi and pushing him to the ropes. Again, Huck's aggression was dealt with in nonchalant fashion by the Londoner who emerged unscathed and sat down for his minute rest unshaken.
Rounds five and six followed a similar pattern with several weighty exchanges but by the seventh it seemed as though Afolabi was starting to run out of ideas. His defence was beginning to eluded him and now Huck could sense opportunities opening up.
The German's jab was landing with proficiency and with Afolabi struggling to find the target, the champion finished the round strongly with a series of quick-fire punches to the head that rocked Afolabi as the bell rang to end round seven. In round eight, the jab was back working again for Afolabi. Getting in some nice clean punches to the head whilst Huck was dishing out some unpunished low blows, casually shrugged off by Afolabi who must have tucked the tackle well out of harms way.
Afolabi found himself climbing up from the canvas in the ninth after an exchange in the centre of the ring. The referee did not call a knock down and presumably judged it to be a slip or a push. The brief respite would have come as a welcomed break for both who were now feeling the burn. Round ten and Afolabi was doing all he could to up the work rate but was missing wildly and with heavy arms, his hands were dropping low. The tide had turned and now Huck was the one to come forward and start to turn the screw.
The referee was kept busy as both men were nearing the bottom of the tank and clinching regularly. The last two rounds were a test of who had the hardest chin and the will to go the scheduled distance. The last drops of energy were squeezed out on both sides but it was Afolabi that finished the stronger and deserved the final round even if he'd not done quite enough to win the contest.
Once again it was an entertaining scrap that sadly someone had to lose. Traditionally when you are fighting in Germany you have not only out-box your opponent, you have to look good doing it because feints and blocked punches don't often bring you favour with the officials. Afolabi was gracious in defeat and gave an honest assessment of the fight. "This time the goal was to start slow, box him, counter and just pick it up in the latter rounds but he was so aggressive, so strong" said Afolabi after the fight. "He has the style that has my number."
So the chapter is now closed and both men can move on. Huck looks likely to rematch Firat Arslan next, while Afolabi may take an alternative route with a different governing body. "Losing to the best cruiserweight in the world isn't something to be ashamed of," commented Tom Loeffler of K2 promotions and was positive about the future for Afolabi. "With two or three more great wins I think he could be right back into another title shot."