The Seminole Hard Rock Arena in Hollywood, Florida, is fast becoming one of the hottest venues for boxing in the States (not including the big casinos in Las Vegas, of course). Last Friday, it hosted one of the best heavyweight fights in recent memory. Neither Sultan Ibragimov nor Ray Austin is ranked among the top 10 by Ring Magazine or ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael, but both are capable of beating anyone.
The only frustrating part about this 12-round affair was the ultimate result: it was a draw. Yet this time the judges didn’t screw it up. Scores were 114-112 (Austin), 115-111 (Ibragimov) and 113-113. I had it even.
The winner was supposed to get a shot at Wladimir Klitschko sometime next year. (But Dr. Steelhammer must first take care of the undeserving Shannon Briggs on November 11.) Whether a rematch will be mandated, or they’ll just flip a coin over who gets the IBF titlist, is yet to be determined. In the interim, jaded boxing heads hitting the message boards will be slightly less cynical when discussing the heavyweight landscape. Two more ingredients were just added to an increasingly tasty heavyweight soup.
The Russian southpaw Ibragimov—19-0-1 (16)—might be undersized but he doesn’t behave that way. 35 seconds into the first, he caught Austin reaching in with a long right; a bulletlike counter left had the T-Rex-sized man looking drunk. Ray wouldn’t go gently, however. Throughout the bout he’d get wobbled, but with a combination of savvy and grit, he not only survived but punished Sultan soon as he’d recovered.
The former street fighter from Cleveland found his equilibrium midway through the round, then had it taken away with four seconds left. Ibragimov slipped a lazy left, drilled two hooks to the body, and landed a hook to the jaw. Austin collapsed into the smaller man, smothering him.
One of the most sought after sparring partners in the business, Austin, 35, didn’t develop that mentality or compile a record of 24-3-4 (16) by being dumb or soft. He made the proper adjustments in the second, keeping the fight on the outside, and using his 6’6’’ frame and 80’’ reach. He pawed with a jab that was more rangefinder than weapon. He was looking to land a big right.
Each fighter took turns stalking the other in the third. As the seconds ran out, Sultan pounced with a wide overhand left he’s partial to. But Austin slipped in a gorgeous right uppercut first. I can’t think of a current super-sized heavy who would’ve reacted so deftly. Most are jocks that failed at some other sport before giving fisticuffs a whirl; “The Rainman” is a fighter through and through.
With 40 seconds left in the next session, Sultan leapt inside again. This time he caught Austin unawares. As his customary overhand left missed wildly, the southpaw stepped forward with his left foot and put all his weight and momentum behind a right hook thrown from the orthodox position. A chin can’t be hit more squarely or with greater malicious intent.
Austin oozed over the canvas like 245 pounds of runny eggs. Somehow he rose at four. Ever the warrior, he even nodded at Sultan and saluted him with his glove. “Nice one, man!” he seemed to say, not a hint of fear or panic or retreat in his eyes. More impressive was how he survived the round on rickety legs—wits and guts. Ibragimov’s not finishing him off then would come back to haunt him. Shattering glass somewhere was Panama Lewis, his infamous trainer who’s barred from working the corner.
When Ibragimov tested him next in the seventh, Austin got the better end of the exchange. He drove Sultan back to ring-center and temporarily stemmed his aggression. The Ohioan kept his height and controlled the distance—“Boxing tall 101,” Teddy Atlas remarked.
In the eighth, when the Russian struck again, he was rebuffed with a right uppercut, left hook combo that rearranged his features. Undeterred, Sultan kept moving forward, only to walk into a blunt left-right. Austin controlled the landscape in the ninth.
Early in the tenth, a two-punch combo had Austin tap dancing to a beat of his own. Once again, he weathered the ensuing blows. And about a minute later, he stole a page from Ibragimov’s book, flattening him with the same basic move that had gotten him earlier. In one fluid motion, he reached with his right while moving back foot forward, and then got off a short left hook standing southpaw. An impaired Sultan lurched forward and grabbed onto a backpedaling Austin. The 31-year-old, who had never touched the canvas as a pro, slid down his giant opponent’s body like it was a greased pole.
Not to be outdone by Austin’s magnificent courage, he rose at four, and survived the remaining time like a seasoned vet. At the bell, Ray gave him a respectful pat on the stomach, appreciative of his moxie. Kindred spirits, these two.
They saved themselves in the eleventh. Going into the final round, the evenly matched competitors received contrasting advice from their respective corners. Sultan was told to “just box,” as if he had the fight locked up. What fight were they watching? Ray’s trainer, Jeff Mayweather, kept it real: “This is it!” Meaning: knock his arse out.
Lucky for Sultan, he’s incapable of riding a bicycle when he can take a tank. He attacked for the entire three minutes and even had Austin badly hurt. Naturally, Austin, who should change his handle to “Rasputin” since he just won’t die, made it to the finish.
In the other TV bout, Colombian middleweight Samuel Miller won an eight-round UD against Jason Naugler. Miller’s now 15-0 (12) and worth keeping an eye on.
Jnr. welterweight Randall Bailey stopped Russell Stoner Jones in four.
Middleeweight Felix Cepeda won a MD over Jameson Bostic.
In a four-rounder of jnr. featherweights, Eylon Kedem decisioned Angel Torres.
Welterweight Richard Abril KO’d Flud Lawson in one.
Jnr. middleweight Eliezer Cepeda stopped Jesse Francisico in one.